Differentiation is essential And must be maintained
When Earth Fare opened in 1975 as “Dinner for the Earth,” selling bulk goods and health supplements in the very hip community of Asheville, N.C., it was in a unique position. And, when it expanded into a full-service store and became Earth Fare in 1994, it was still largely distinct from other retailers in the grocery space.
Over time, however, the channel filled with competitors of every size — including both specialized retailers and larger traditional grocers with seemingly unlimited budgets — offering shoppers healthier assortments. As a result, the niche that Earth Fare had carved out narrowed and, ultimately, disappeared.
What was once a differentiator became a standard; it’s happened before and it will happen again. In today’s rapidly evolving grocery ecosystem, retailers must continue to key on differentiation — however and whenever they're able. That's no easy feat in this constantly morphing marketplace, but finding a way to stand apart from the competition has to be an equally constant effort.
Optimized omnichannel engagement is essential
Earth Fare’s initiative to localize each store as much as possible through its Community Advisory Boards program was, by all measures, a creative and admirable effort to enhance the in-store experience for its shoppers. But while creating a market-match between a store location’s service area and the brick-and-mortar environment is essential, it’s not enough in today’s omnichannel retail environment.
Shoppers expect a seamless omnichannel experience when shopping for groceries, and if they can’t find it with one retailer, they won’t hesitate to seek it from another. They’re “digitally demanding,” and retailers that want to capture their loyalty have to have a promotional, media and ecommerce strategy in place that accommodates consumers' desire for value, inspiration and convenience.
According to the press release from Earth Fare announcing its closure, the company tried "numerous strategic initiatives aimed at growth and expansion and enhancing the customer experience" in recent years. But despite these efforts and its genuine commitment to “being a place of wellness” for its customers, its staff and society, Earth Fare couldn’t survive. Its demise should serve as an important lesson to retailers looking to avoid the same fate.