Supermarket bars transform shopping from chore to cheery

Supermarket bars transform shopping from chore to cheery
Photo Courtesy of CNN

POSTED: Friday, February 1, 2013 - 6:00am

UPDATED: Friday, February 1, 2013 - 6:04am

Your household may have to fight over who gets to do the next grocery run, especially if more than one of you enjoys an adult beverage.

As grocery stores look for new ways to bring in shoppers, one innovation has been the addition of beer and wine bars that allow customers to enjoy a drink while they collect their groceries.

Whole Foods Market has embraced this idea with approximately 70 stores across the country offering numerous beers on tap and different wines to explore.

"We wanted to change the shopping experience. It's not just a chore, but an experience," said Doug Bell, national wine and beer buyer for Whole Foods Market.

Four years since the opening of its first in-store bar, Bell says it has been a great way to engage shoppers and give them an opportunity to taste things they may have not thought to buy, as well as to educate their customers.

"We wanted to build a sense of community in our stores and these venues help offer that," said Bell.

Many grocery stores have looked for ways to create an atmosphere that makes the store more of a destination then just the location to do a quick errand. Jo Natale, director of media relations for the Wegmans grocery chain, explained that they look to provide choices to customers not just in the food they offer, but the experiences they can have. In addition to a market cafe for dining in or take out, the 81 store chain also offers on-site cooking classes, celebrity chef appearances, food demonstrations, and live music in their cafe areas.

"We often hear from customers that it is a place where they take out of town guests," said Natale.

Perhaps the idea of having a drink while shopping may seem unusual to some people, but Bell said it's not the first time such a thing has been implemented. "Twenty years ago it was unusual to walk into a beauty salon and see someone with a glass of Champagne. Times change."

The Whole Foods Market in Washington, D.C.'s Tenleytown neighborhood added bar service last October and shoppers have supported the new addition.

"I hate grocery shopping, so if I can actually walk around and drink a beer, it makes it a lot less painful," said shopper Lori Rattan.

"We have a nice group of folks who come after work for the happy hour specials," said Meg McGarry, the store's marketing team leader. "Customers seem to enjoy that they can relax and have a beer and do their shopping at the same time."

The Tenleytown store has even added cup holders that can accommodate a pint glass to some of its carts, making it even easier to roam the aisles with a drink.

When it comes to the operation of the bar, shoppers shouldn't expect to see just any of the stores employees jump behind and serve someone a pint. McGarry noted that a small team has been specifically trained and certified to serve alcohol in the stores.

While McGarry has seen a mix of people enjoying a drink in the store, she does find it heavily favored by one demographic.

"As cliché as it seems, there are a lot of men who say 'I won't mind doing the shopping now.'" 

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