The Traver Village Kroger just completed a major remodel, with enhanced deli, meat, and seafood sections. It also boasts a new Asian section with a Chinese-speaking supervisor, Jin Jing, a nod to the north side’s large Asian community. The aisles have been widened, and the number of checkout lanes increased. Co-manager Eric Morgan points out that the crazy diagonal aisles, inherited when the supermarket expanded into a neighboring storefront in 2002, are now in line with the rest of the store.
But you know what all this really means: you’re going to be trapped there for hours playing Find the Kleenex.
Dale Hollandsworth, from consumer communications over at corporate, explains why Kroger keeps moving the groceries. Basically, if you’re having trouble finding things at Kroger, maybe you should stop thinking and use your intuition. It turns out Kroger is constantly reorganizing its stores according to what it’s learned about consumers’ buying patterns.
“A wealth of sales data go into that process,” Hollandsworth says, and gives an example of why products like Kleenex, ramen noodles, and peanut butter get moved around so much. “Based on the buying data, we might find that people who buy peanut butter and jam also always buy bread. So [we’ll try to] make sure that the peanut butter is always near the bread aisle.” But depending on whether the store is a 65,000-square-foot behemoth like Traver Village, or one of the smaller 45,000-square-foot models, that can play out differently. “Maybe we can’t put the peanut butter in the same aisle, but we’ll put it in the aisle just before you walk into the bread.” Hence, there is no master plan, and no two Krogers are alike.
And that’s not even taking into account the local ethnic variations. “When you look at the size of the Asian population in Ann Arbor that lives around that [Traver Village] store, you’re going to find a good many products that are unique to that neighborhood. If you go to our stores in Dearborn, you’ll find stores are more dedicated to the Middle East and Muslim dietary needs. And many of our stores approach eight to ten percent Hispanic population in the Detroit area. It’s a constantly changing, highly variable process to develop what goes into a store.”
“Usage pattern” rules in determining product placement. Peanut butter goes with jelly, which often goes with bread; pop goes with salty snacks; paper plates go with plastic forks, which might go with napkins. And with new products coming on the market all the time, new usage patterns are continually being discovered.
For shoppers whose personal intuitions don’t match the collective’s, that means continually relearning what’s where. Even Hollandsworth himself is sometimes stumped: “I’ve been with the company for forty years, and I can never find toothpicks.”
Kroger, 2641 Plymouth Rd. (Traver Village Shopping Center), 994-0600. Daily 6 a.m.-midnight. www.kroger.com