Grocery stores: Anchoring neighborhoods in Detroit
By Mimi Pledl
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Five years ago, did you even know what “gluten-free” meant? What was your opinion then of produce that was marked “organic?” Now think about your last trip to a full-service grocery store. Chances are you encountered many options for health-conscious eaters or people with special diet requirements. Grocery stores are changing across the country as they try to respond to consumer demand for healthier choices, convenient locations and food that has local origins. Many of Detroit’s independent grocers are a strong part of those trends.
The vision of Detroit spelled out in the Detroit Future City strategic framework embraces these changes and even anticipates that grocery stores and other neighborhood retail centers will be community anchors that can help stabilize neighborhoods. The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation’s (DEGC) Green Grocer Project is supporting many projects in grocery stores throughout the city that, in addition to improving stores, are benefitting the communities.
It’s a new look
Remember a time when you could identify a grocery store by the large, hand-painted signs in the windows promoting the weekly specials? That look has largely disappeared from stores with big parking lots, but grocers are still very conscious of the importance of a store’s street presence. An attractive, well-lit exterior invites consumers in, and sets up their expectations for a clean, well-stocked shopping experience within the store. We have worked with a number of neighborhood grocery store owners who wish to positively impact the look and feel of their stores. They have renovated their stores, inside and out. Those improvements are contributing to a changing landscape and perception in some Detroit neighborhoods. Shoppers at 7 Mile Foods have given positive feedback to the store owner following the extensive renovation of the store. And customers at Grand Price Supermarket are looking forward this summer to the renovated and expanded store that will be nearly double the size of the current store and feature an in-store pharmacy.
Addressing a community’s wants and needs
However, it’s not just about the building. Looking beyond the physical aspect of a neighborhood anchor, a true neighborhood grocery store is a fixture in the community because it understands and responds to the needs and preferences of the community. Detroit consumers reflect some of the 2013 food trends identified by Supermarket News as they seek more ethnically diverse foods, healthier options and locally produced food. In response to the community, many Detroit grocers now have larger produce departments and substantial choices of organic and gluten-free products. Detroit shoppers are rewarding the neighborhood grocery stores where their preferences are being heard.
As independents, Detroit grocers often have more flexibility to stock the food products requested by the community. When grocers stock food items produced and grown in Detroit, it creates new markets for local products, further creating jobs for residents and supporting local entrepreneurs and local food businesses. Detroit has long been an important location for food-related companies and DEGC is actively encouraging emerging food businesses to locate in the city, multiplying the economic impact of the trend to “eat local.”
New roles for grocery stores
As a neighborhood anchor, shoppers can reasonably expect the grocery store to be more than just a location to purchase food. It can also be a place to find food and health-related activities. As stated at the 2013 National Grocers Association show consumer panel survey, “Price is no longer the only consideration in choosing where to shop — consumers also want an environment that feels fresh, upbeat and innovative, while making them feel welcomed and appreciated.” Grocery stores can provide a significant and meaningful opportunity for diet-related health education and pursue health-related interventions and promotion of healthy eating practices.
Several Detroit grocers routinely have healthy food preparation demonstrations, provide in-store nutritional information and make available a wide variety of healthy recipes. For example, Metro Foodland Supermarket in the Grandaunt-Rosedale neighborhood has had a demonstration farm stand and artisans market that included cooking demonstrations, immunization clinics and fitness classes. The store established a Healthy Rewards Program that provides nutritional information throughout the store and offers financial rewards from the purchase of a multitude of healthy food items. All Metro Foodland employees have received professional customer service training. Additionally, Halal meats and complete vegan meals prepared on-site are also available at Metro Foodland.
As we have said before, consumers have an important role to play, too. As stores improve, adding new features and products and moving closer to becoming a neighborhood anchor, perceptions about Detroit grocery stores can change. Take another look at your neighborhood grocery store. Notice any changes, talk to your neighborhood grocer and make your requests known.
Mimi Pledl is the business development manager of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and DEGC Green Grocer Project program manager. She is also a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313.237.6092.