Thoughts From the NOSH Buyer at Grocery Outlet
In 1946, Jim Read started selling military surplus for deep discounts. Since then, Grocery Outlet has been wowing bargain-minded shoppers; delivering thrilling deals has become their mission. In fact, it’s led Grocery Outlet to become the nation’s largest extreme value grocery retailer offering brand-name, quality products at up to 60% off conventional retail prices. Buyers shop the world, traveling thousands of miles each year to find the best deals available. They have developed long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with thousands of producers and manufacturers. Grocery Outlet buyers are experts at buying product opportunistically; that is, product outside the normal retail channel, i.e. packaging changes, product overruns, and surplus inventories, to bring the best bargains back to stores.
Grocery Outlet even sources natural, organic, specialty and healthy (NOSH) center store products at low prices, saving shoppers an average of 60 percent. Shoppers shouldn’t have to avoid the healthy products and produce because of the prices. How’s it done? Retail Dietitians Business Alliance caught up with Brandie Miller, Grocery Outlet’s NOSH grocery buyer to chat about her role and NOSH.
As the buyer for this program, what do you look for in an item?
“An item can have all the buzz words and accolades, for example, Non GMO, Organic, High in Fiber, High Protein, Low Fat, Gluten-Free etc. All items don’t have everything and obviously shouldn’t! I am looking for a value; it’s the key word. Gluten-free is valuable because the cost to make the product is very high (not because of store margins but because the items are made by small companies and the raw ingredients are very expensive to procure and produce). If I can offer quality gluten-free items at a good value, I am happy. Organic has the same story BUT some things don’t need to be organic to show a high value…like hempseeds! However organic potato chips need to be organic to show value.
I buy with no equation. But we are looking to better define the category. For instance, if its good enough to be in Whole Foods, it’s good enough to be in my category – I read a lot of labels. If there is food coloring or an additive, I’ll do research and go to websites and make sure they are what they say are. I also try and buy as local as possible. I also look at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) dirty dozen list to see if what I’m buying truly needs to be organic – is it truly worth it.
Our customers are savvy, and they understand value. We aren’t going to trick them with complicated pricing tactics. We work on an Every Day Low Price (EDLP) and keep things simple- no slotting, no bill backs, no deductions. We pass the savings onto our customers.
I’m lucky because I’m able to buy opportunistically and work closely with manufacturers on excess inventory, short dated products, last years packaging, and volume buys (we can help small companies scale), I can also buy smaller quantities that companies can’t sell through normal channels."
The culture at Grocery Outlet is close and emotionally aware of their shoppers needs. Most customers have large families and are on a strict budget, some on government assistance. Brandie commented, “There was a clear need for these customers to have options – to be able to buy an organic potato chip, veggie chip or fruit snack – something which they can afford to trade up in health and value and the feedback has been amazing.”
Brandie loves visiting stores and seeing shoppers’ baskets full of her products, she says, "Shoppers are connected to the products and they know that they are getting a great deal.”
For example she gets many thanks for stocking gluten-free products. Gluten intolerance has no socioeconomic boundaries and having access to gluten-free products helps people feel better and make positive changes in their lives. Being a part of this is very rewarding.
One challenge that she faces as the buyer is that she can make the decision to get the products in the store, but who is going to be in the store to get the shoppers to put the products in their baskets? She’s currently focused on developing best practices to connect better with the shopper – NOSH puts a lot of thought into the products we choose and we want to break shoppers of their habits and help them try new things. Although it seems challenging, Brandie says the category is doing very well, and she’s on track to end 30 percent up for the year in this category comparatively
Because each Grocery Outlet is independently owned, not all stores have the same products. But each NOSH section (denoted with a green banner) stocks organic coconut oil, organic juice (apple or pomegranate), organic tortilla chip, avocado oil, flax, hemp, and chia seeds.
Brandie knows first hand about food insecurity as her family struggled growing up. She says, "Food insecurity is real and is here in the US. We at Grocery Outlet are very conscious about the growing number of people who can’t afford nutritious foods. We’re seeing a population that is obese and malnourished – and we’re hoping that shopping with us can help shoppers make better choices that wont negatively affect their wallets."