Small-format stores capitalize on “fresh” opportunities to boost sales

By Published On: December 31, 2021

By Margie Proctor
Hillphoenix Marketing & Design Specialist

Whether they’re stopping at Starbucks or a convenience store, Americans increasingly want fresh options. The desire for fresh and healthy foods runs the gamut from snacks to ready-made meals. Just look at the research:

  • 78% of consumers are on a mission to eat more fresh and fewer processed foods, according to the 2014 Gallup Study of Cooking Knowledge & Skills.
  • “Health” to consumers now is more about food purity than traditional dieting, and they are eating more fresh foods, reports global information company The NPD Group.
  • Fresh-format retail sales are growing 12% per year and will reach $60 billion annually in 2025, according to food industry research firm Technomic.
  • But this migration toward good health doesn’t mean consumers are willing to give up convenience. A fifth of U.S. households “overspend” on fresh-but-convenient foods such as packaged salads, cooking greens and fresh-cut fruit, according to research firm Nielsen.
  • Indeed, offering fresh prepared foods will help convenience stores boost their sales by 3.5% a year through 2025, Technomic forecasts.

So how can small-format stores capitalize on this fresh opportunity? It takes a two-pronged strategy, part operational and part inspirational.

The right refrigeration preserves fresh foods — and store budgets

First, the operational: To increase their fresh offerings, many small-format stores will need to upgrade refrigeration to higher-performing cases that can support a supply of fresh fruits, vegetables and prepared meals — equipment that can reduce the spoilage that leads to product shrink. The challenge is to make the upgrades fit within smaller stores’ tight budgets and finite footprints. Small stores are seeing a solution in AdvansorFlex, the new CO2-based refrigeration system that’s part of Hillphoenix’s Second Nature line.

AdvansorFlex is designed for small footprints; it takes up about 20% less space than standard commercial refrigeration systems and full-size CO2 options. It’s also less expensive than full-size CO2 systems. And it competes with traditional refrigeration systems on price if retailers consider total cost of ownership — lower installation and maintenance costs, reduced energy consumption and the lower price tag of alternative CO2 refrigerants.

Plus, another major benefit for small-format stores expanding fresh offerings is that CO2 case controllers keep fresh food fresh longer — extending shelf life and salability. That’s because CO2 case controllers use electronic expansion valves that regulate temperature better than traditional mechanical valves, reducing the temperature swings that can ruin perishable foods. Small-format retailers who really know their product shrink rates understand this major advantage of AdvansorFlex the minute we start talking about it.

Small stores can go big on fresh merchandising

Now, let’s talk about the inspirational strategy for selling fresh. It’s true that many of the same merchandising best practices that work for fresh sections of large supermarkets will work in smaller stores, too. For example, grouping refrigerated fresh produce by color and shape has just as much impact — maybe even more — in a small store as it does in a large one.

But small stores can use their size to inspirational advantage by going big on merchandising in a way that’s just not practical for large food retailers. Here’s one big idea: Use a “fresh” theme throughout your whole store. Do “Summer is for Salads” for the month of July. Use signs (artsy chalkboards add a gourmet touch) to lead shoppers to your refrigerated cases for pre-washed and cut vegetables and fruit, deli meats, cheeses and bacon. Guide them to the dry goods aisles for nuts and dried fruits.

Use clever signage to remind shoppers that no salad is ready until it’s dressed, and put baskets of bottled dressing on display near the checkout. Print up recipe cards for creative salad combinations. Place signs around the store that inspire customers to buy fresh. “It only takes 3 minutes to make a salad from our prepared ingredients” and “Did you know a cup of cantaloupe provides 108% of daily recommended vitamin C, 1.5 grams of protein — all at just 60 calories?”

You want your customers to know that by shopping at your small-format store, they can achieve their goal to eat healthier — without sacrificing convenience. Then you can achieve your goal of selling more food.