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The Washington Post reports that small, privately owned ethnic food stores are finding it difficult to compete as their corner of the food industry is swamped by bigger ethnic food stores, not to mention mainstream chain stores – ranging from Whole Foods to Safeway – that have decided to increase their offerings in ethnic and specialty food categories.

Indeed, the Post notes that at a Wegmans store in Fairfax, Virginia, “long aisles are dedicated to Mediterranean, Latin American, Thai, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese food.”

The challenge being faced by small ethnic stores is virtually the same as the one posed by big box stores to all small independent retailers – bigger companies have bigger ad budgets, greater purchasing power, and a sometimes simultaneously overwhelming and irresistible appeal to shoppers. Which makes it tough to compete.
KC's View:
It is worth noting that the Post story also suggests two ways in which these small ethnic retailers can survive. One is to seek out and sell small, distinctive products that the big guys can’t or don’t carry. This is, of course, only a temporary advantage, since if a product catches fire, the big guys are going to carry it and the process starts all over again. It is, in fact, an endless challenge…but retailing these days isn’t for the faint of heart.

The other way to compete, the Post suggests, is to offer services that other people don’t – and at one Virginia-based Japanese store, that means actually speaking Japanese to immigrants and expatriates.