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I raved last week about Northgate Gonzales Market, prompting one MNB user to write:

I couldn't agree with you more. I first experienced Northgate when I was part of the USC FIM program in 2009. We toured all of the different grocery formats and Northgate was my favorite.

As a SoCal native I had never ventured into any of the non-traditional stores but if they built one in my part of Orange County, I'd rarely set foot in Ralphs down the street again!

I'm in my 30th year in the warehouse retail business and often refer to the atmosphere Northgate has created for its customers and the importance of creating that type of feel/relationship with our members in all areas of the operation. Northgate has a village market/square atmosphere with an experiential feel... something I want my team to be intentional about when working in the building and engaging our community of people coming through the store.

They also have a fantastic shrimp ceviche and the restaurant and bakery and fresh tortillas are amazing!

In the end, great food usually wins.

Which leads me to another discussion we've been having, prompted by Kate McMahon's column last week contrasting the sensory appeals offered by the new Broadway musical "Waitress" to the often sterile environs of food stores. Our argument is that while sensory appeals often are lost to concerns about efficiencies, the problem is that such stores also are abandoning what should be a core advantage.

One MNB user agreed:

I couldn't agree with you more, the labor cuts in the northeast chain I work for do absolutely nothing for the store, just the bottom line. The only thing baked fresh in my store are muffins and cookies, everything else is just baked off or yes even thawed out, already in its for sale container. Where is the differentiation in that?

We also had a story recently about how projections are that a lot of department stores are going to be shut down as consumer demand wanes, leading MNB reader Jessica Duffy to write:

For me, going to a Department Store is very uncomfortable….usually there are not very many people there and you kind of feel “watched” (but maybe I’m paranoid). Plus, you make the time and effort to actually go to a store to shop and they usually don’t have anything you like or are looking for anyway…so then you trek back home and order it online. I miss “shopping”, but department stores are not fun. Just uncomfortable and stressful.

We had stories last week about how Walmart was dropping the Wild Oats and Price First brands for different reasons, leading one MNB user to write:

I am a former member of the Walmart local merchandising team that assisted in executing the launch of these brands.  These 2 brands had strong sales where the stores executed the strategy and the demand planners kept the stores in stock.  For the stores that meant executing the planograms containing these brands, keeping up the shelf flags calling out the location of these products on the shelf, keeping their shelves stocked, and selectively building supporting displays in stores where the demand of these products was higher.  For Wild Oats, that meant higher income and more college-educated consumer stores.  For Price First, lower income and high SNAP customer stores that were competing closely with dollar stores.  Neighborhood Markets in particular were utilizing these products strategically in the product mix to ensure they were merchandised to their communities.  They also did not support these brands with the marketing required to get them fully established.

I see this move primarily happening due to new senior merchandising leadership in place at Walmart, along with the shifting of a strategic focus different from previous leadership.  These 2 brands were brought in during Duncan MacNaughton’s merchandising leadership, which was deep rooted in food store merchandising knowledge.  Eliminating this 3-tier private label strategy is short sighted, especially without a replacement for these products to serve a strategic and customer demand need.  This move will quickly impact customer relevancy, and will manifest itself in lower sales and category margins.

KC's View: