The Friday Checkout is a weekly column providing more insight on the news, rounding up the announcements you may have missed and sharing what’s to come.
The United States might be about to mark the first Independence Day holiday since what many people might consider the end of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean grocers can afford to relax.
With supermarket prices still sharply above their level before the health crisis began in 2020, food retailers are under pressure to show shoppers they are committed to helping them manage their budgets — and the Fourth of July is a perfect opportunity for them to put their efforts on display.
Even with inflation sharply slower this year than it was in 2022, the cost of a cookout to mark the holiday will be more expensive than it was last year, according to a report from Wells Fargo’s Agri-Food Institute.
Aldi’s announcement this week that it is offering everything people need for a holiday cookout at a sharp discount underscores the link between grocery prices and summer celebrations.
The company noted in heralding the July 4th-themed price cuts that it is selling the components of a traditional Independence Day picnic for over 30% less than the “national average” of $67.73 — which happens to be the precise amount the American Farm Bureau Federation said people should expect to spend on those items this year.
Kroger is also seeking to connect the grocery store experience with July 4th in a celebratory way. The retailer put out an announcement on Tuesday highlighting the desserts and other picnic staples it sells, pointing out that it is “grateful to play a part in so many gatherings to help our customer's honor the holiday."
That might be a sentiment grocers want to send to shoppers every year. But with food retailers heavily focused this year on presenting themselves as focused on value instead of as obstacles to affordability, there has perhaps never been a better time for the industry to bring that message home to grocery shoppers.
As 210 Analytics noted in a recent report on grocery sales in May, "While 20% of consumers expect they will travel a bit more than in the summer of 2022, inflationary pressures are challenging the travel plans of others. This means fewer/shorter trips and staycations — both opportunities for grocery retailers to create memorable moments at home.”
In case you missed it
Panera Bread bakes up grocery rewards
The bakery-café chain this week launched a national reward program that links grocery purchases and restaurant savings.
Panera Grocery Rewards, which is expected to run through the fall, gives a $5 electronic gift card for in-café purchases to people who spend $20 on Panera goods in grocery stores. Panera’s lineup of packaged foods spans more than 10 categories, including refrigerated soup, refrigerated mac and cheese, packaged coffee and pizza, and is available at retailers like Kroger, Publix and Walmart, per an emailed announcement.
Panera said the new program sits at the nexus of the company’s MyPanera loyalty program, growing CPG business and in-café offerings. While it’s common for other restaurants to have branded products sold in grocery stores, Panera is taking it a step forward with its cross-retail loyalty offering that connects Panera offerings to grocery shopping.
Tuning into grocers’ podcasts
Stew Leonard’s has launched its first podcast, LegenDairy. Co-hosted by cousins Chase Leonard and Andrew Hollis, grandchildren of store founder Stew Leonard, Sr., the 10-episode podcast will delve into the entrepreneurial backstories of their family business.
The first episode, which is currently available on listening platforms such as YouTube and Apple Podcasts, focuses on just a few of Stew Leonard’s best-selling products and future episodes will explore customer service, the in-store experience and trends, according to an emailed announcement.
Separately, did you know Associated Wholesale Grocers has a retailer-focused podcast called Grocer Pod? With more than 70 episodes that stretch back to 2017, the podcast features category experts who talk about marketing trends. On a recent episode, which was released on June 21, Richard Kearns, AWG’s executive vice president of distribution and logistics, talked with Sean Kosednar about AWG's new All-in-One Distribution Hub in Hernando, Mississippi.
Kroger shareholders nix proposed packaging sustainability report
The grocer’s shareholders recently voted against a proposal for the company to produce a report about its work to reduce plastics and single-use packaging and to switch to reusables, sister site Packaging Dive reported. Less than a third (31.8%) of shareholders voted in favor of the proposal, which was submitted by shareholder advocacy nonprofit As You Sow.
Kroger recommended in its proxy statement that shareholders vote against the proposal due to claims that it would not be “additive at this time,” the publication noted.
As You Sow claims that Kroger “has fallen behind its peers in plastic packaging reductions” and noted that the grocer “is notably absent from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment to reduce plastic pollution.”
Number of the week: $5
Dollar Tree is expanding its selection of products that will cost up to $5 across thousands of its stores. Categories like frozen foods, bread and general merchandise have some products priced at $3, $4 and $5 in order for the discounter to expand its selection to shoppers. Dollar Tree noted at its investor conference last week that “breaking the dollar” improved comp sales as well as gave the retailer the opportunity to introduce new products.
Latest jobs report
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is set to release its newest employment report next Friday. The data will provide insight into the grocery industry workforce during the month of June as labor challenges persist.