- Mariano’s plans to remodel an additional 14 or 15 stores in 2020 and hire as many as 600 new employees to staff new stores and improve customer service, reports the Chicago Tribune. It has no new store openings planned at this time.
- Next month, the chain's West Loop store will introduce Tastemaker Kitchen, offering interactive classes and demos from local chefs.
- Some of the other transitions Mariano's has made include adding more self-checkout lanes and self-service food options. Parent company Kroger also exempted Mariano’s from a brand-wide rebranding campaign in favor of keeping its original aesthetic.
Although some shoppers told the Chicago Tribune that the banner has diminished since the takeover, Kroger stays working to modernize Mariano’s and to bring it up to speed with a number of trends in the grocery industry. This includes adding more prepared food items, expanding the wine and beer selection to include more unique offerings, partnerships with restaurant chains and offering money-saving promotions to shoppers.
The transition has meant the end of some of Mariano’s hallmarks like the Spice Shop, but longtime Kroger executive and Roundy’s division president Michael Marx told Chicago Tribune that what once made Mariano’s unique is no longer what resonates broadly with shoppers.
In an effort to revamp and refresh some of the banner’s offerings, Kroger has changed gelato providers for the store’s Vero Café while remodeling some of the cafes at other store locations to Starbucks outposts. It has also outsourced its ready-to-eat pizza offering to local provider Connie’s Pizza. At the West Loop store, a 12-foot sushi case, hot bar featuring elevated items like lobster mac and cheese and a beer bar also offer new takes on Mariano’s old standards. Instead of piano players serenading shoppers, live bands are featured on Friday nights at select locations along with specials on wine and beer.
To maintain its name as a top meal destination, Mariano’s has also launched tie-ups with restaurants like Rouxster’s Cookhouse, which opened three kiosks inside Mariano’s stores this year. It's also developing its own barbecue concept, Mariano's Smokehouse, which will replace Pork & Mindy's outlets after that chain filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last year.
Despite consumer grumblings about Mariano's direction under Kroger, the chain boosted its market share in the Chicago area last year from 9.1% to 9.8%, according to Shelby Report data. That's a sign that Kroger's streamlining efforts so far haven't alienated customers. But with competitors continuing to evolve, defections may very likely happen in the coming years. Kroger and Mariano's executives will have to continue working hard to hold onto the chain's loyal customers.