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It opened quietly, without fanfare.

However, the new Hannaford Supermarket that was unveiled last week in Dover, New Hampshire, may as much as Tesco’s new west coast Fresh & Easy stores be a reflection of how supermarkets are changing to adapt to the new marketplace.

At 36,000 square feet, it fits into Hannaford’s small store footprint, but through canny merchandising it has 6,000 more SKUs than most of the Delhaize-owned company’s small stores. It offers some fascinating service innovations that have the potential for redefining how a store caters to its best customers. It is both fresh and easy…and a highly convenient store to shop. And, as much as any store in memory, it was seen bringing genuine smiles of delight to shoppers who patronized it during its first week of operation.

Here are five ways in which this exceptional supermarket distinguishes itself:

1. The first thing that customers see when walking in the front door is a large display case featuring Hannaford’s “Cooking School To Go” program. Hannaford has pre-cut and pre-measured every ingredient that goes into more than 50 recipes, and rotates them through the case on a regular basis so that consumers never get bored. And not only are the ingredients pre-measured – right down to the teaspoon of canola oil or a quarter teaspoon of cumin – but they are packaged in small, numbered containers that make it easy for virtually anyone to follow the easy-to-use directions. They are sold in meals-for-two and meals-for-four packaging, selling for $12 and $20 respectively.

And here’s the really important thing – they taste great. Not at all “lowest common denominator” food, the chipotle sirloin fajitas that we brought home and cooked up were sharp and tangy, and set out what the possibilities are when a store really wants to make a fresh product easy-to-use.

2. The store has been remerchandised by a team led by Tricia Girard, the company’s manager of concept development, so that “family groupings” of products are used wherever possible. This means that within almost every category, everything is integrated – you can find chilled, gourmet, organic, ethnic, bulk and mainstream versions of almost all items grouped together, with chilled cases scattered throughout the aisles to make it easy for customers to find things. Of course, this may take a little time to get used to – one customer couldn’t figure out where the granola bars were, only to be pleasantly surprised when a staffer told her that they were located right next to the bulk granola. Go figure.

Adjacencies also are taken very seriously. When was the last time you were in a store that had the cream and half and half located right next to the coffee section?

One other quick note about the center aisles – numerous “street signs” make it easy not just to find products, but even, in certain cases, brands. When you’re walking down the cookie or soft drink aisles, for example, the signs point out where the Keebler items are, or where the Pepsi or Coke is.

This same centralization philosophy, by the way, is carried through to the “Service Station” approach that uses a single service counter for deli, lobster steaming and cake decorating – minimizing space and maximizing the use of personnel.

3. Guiding Stars continues to be an enormous advantage for Hannaford. As previously noted here on MNB, the program is designed to help customers choose nutritious foods by grading the good, better and best products with one, two and three stars, and Hannaford has found that sales of many designated items have improved significantly compared to a year ago – in fact, better than equivalent products without stars. This is not a new story…but it bears repeating, because it reflects the convenience-driven mentality that Hannaford brings to its retail offering.

4. Once a shopper has finished perusing the aisles, he or she finds an interesting pair of choices at the front end. One is the “Q,” which is a single bank-like line that feeds into five checkouts, each of which is staffed by two people – better to keep the lines moving swiftly. It is an unusual approach to the eternal problem of long supermarket lines, and from all appearances, seemed to be working extremely well even during peak shopping times. But that’s only the second-best checkout idea being implemented by Hannaford…

5. The best checkout idea – perhaps the best idea in the store – answers the age-old problem of how to make it easier for high-volume customers to check out. In most stores, people with a few items get the express treatment…but not at this new Hannaford store.

Here, customers with 25 items or more are able to use the “Go Cart
Curb Service.” They can simply leave the cart with store employees, who check them out, bag them, and then carry them out to the customer’s car, which the shopper can drive up to a covered bay. The customer can use a wireless unit to pay for the groceries, and then drive away. During the opening week, shoppers could be seen grinning in disbelief at being offered this service…and they all agreed to use it. One can expect that a lot of shoppers will look to buy extra products just to qualify for the Go Cart service…which is all good news for Hannaford.

This Hannaford store is a wonderful shopping experience…in its own way, as innovative as far more heralded stores that have opened elsewhere in the country.

The real lesson is that there are different ways to be convenient, to be fresh, to be easy, to be original. Hannaford needs take a backseat to nobody.

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