Bringing Food to Life in Retail

Bringing Food to Life in Retail

By Lee Peterson

People want food at malls and shopping centers.

Not boring food courts. Real flavor-town foodie food.

If you missed our white paper where people said as much, here you go.

Now is the time to take food even deeper into today’s retail world. The dying brands in retail today have proven this isn’t the time to be timid. It’s time to let your brand shine. And what better way to tell your brand story than through food.

Revisiting Apocalypse to Relevance

The writing has been on the “mall” for quite some time now. The decline of malls has been heavily documented by retail reporters and by WD. Change is necessary for just about every mall if it wants to survive.

We decided to talk to consumers about what would bring them back to the mall. Our Apocalypse to Relevance study revealed an interesting pattern. We presented participants with several options to fill the void left by abandoned anchor spaces and bring them back to the mall.

Three of the top four results were food-related

Farmer's Market

Farmer’s markets are the local retail movement’s locally grown sidekick. They also provide some really smart lessons for retailers. What could be simpler than bringing together a bunch of local vendors with fresh, unique items and giving customers the chance to not only chat with those business owners, but also friends and neighbors in the community.

Food Hall

Food halls are not that different by design from farmer’s markets. Consumers are able to come to a gathering place, choose from several different types of “restaurants”, socialize with friends, and enjoy some delicious food. Many times, food halls have rotating food options, making them more friendly to consumers always looking for new foods to try and making people want to return more often.

Grocery Store

Lastly, we had a practical choice from respondents. On the surface, asking for grocery stores at the mall doesn’t appear to be that novel of a concept. When combined with the farmer’s market and food hall response, we can see just how influential and important food is to consumers. It also showed the limits of most malls of yesteryear. Instead of similar store after similar store, why not include a grocery store? Considering that younger generations visit food retailers the most1, the idea makes even more sense.

Food & Stores – A Natural Evolution?

We decided to take our research a step further. We asked more than 4,000 consumers what types of foods they would like to see in retail stores. The list was comprehensive: beer/wine/spirits, coffee/espresso, desserts/chocolate, groceries, healthy burgers, healthy fast food, healthy juice bar, pizza, prepared meals, smoothies, snacks, sushi.

Not surprisingly, Digital Natives (age 18-29) like the idea of adding food to a store even more than Digital Immigrants (age 46 and older). Digital Natives are driven by experiences. Food is an experience that goes a step further than simply going to a store to shop. When diving into the data, 91% of Digital Natives said they are more likely to visit retail areas or stores more often if those places provided their favorite food/beverage. Here are Digital Natives’ top choices:

When looking at the types of food/beverages Digital Natives are interested in and the reasons why they’d visit the store, the potential offerings feel a bit more like impulsive purchases than planned. While certain destination stores like RH and IKEA may be successful with full service restaurant offerings, more limited offerings present an opportunity for more brands.

We asked respondents why they would visit a store that offers their favorite food/beverage, and it was clear that cravings led the way for Digital Natives:

Our research indicates that Digital Natives are craving better food experiences in both stores that traditionally offer food and those that don’t.

Bringing food to life: The keys to incorporating food/drinks at your store

Have we convinced you food is viable yet? Let’s just assume the answer is yes. Now, what do you need to do in order to add food to your store? Here are our recommended steps:

  1. Find your niche
    The food offering has to make natural sense for your brand or it needs to be just quirky and unique enough that it still works with your brand. Customers wouldn’t expect to see ice cream confections while buying an $80 hat at Kith, but it’s just weird enough that it works. It takes knowledge of your brand and a thorough review of your customer journey in order to find the right offering for your store.
  2. Think locally
    Once you determine your test location, it’s time to mingle with the locals. Area businesses have established local followings, making them perfect candidates to help build community buy-in well before you even open your doors. Working with a local partner will also provide you with customer insights that go beyond the data. Plus, they can benefit from added exposure from the partnership and will often consider the collaboration at a lower cost than national chains.
  3. Pilot before scale
    Think as small as possible before you go big. If your brand has an effective Retail Portfolio Strategy, half of the battle is won. You have the opportunity to test your food offering in a pop-up, showroom store, or even a flagship, as opposed to a standard store in your fleet where traffic may not be ideal. Depending on the number of locations your brand has, you may be able to test in multiple cities, but there’s nothing wrong with starting with one spot.
  4. Don’t drop the ops ball
    Operations may not be sexy to those who don’t work in operations, but it will likely be the difference between success and failure when adding food to your store. While the food aspect of your store might feel like a small portion of the experience, it needs the proper operations design in order for it to have a chance at success. Where are the opportunities to improve layout adjacencies? What does your volume analysis tell you about labor deployment? This goes back to finding your niche. You need to determine the right food offering that’s also realistic to operate within your space.
  5. Train employees appropriately
    A proper labor assessment is necessary to determine overall and peak utilization. Doing so will reveal potential opportunities to slide labor through cross-training and redeployment. When we’re creating a food experience at a store, we do so with zero interruption to the shopping experience. Food is supposed to be a memorable add-on brand-friendly experience. Give your employees the tools to make food flourish.

Why WD?

Ok, it’s shameless plug time. At WD, we’ve been creating food and retail experiences for brands since we started. We’ve got the design chops to make the front of house look flawless, and we got the operations knowledge—in both food and restaurants—to ensure the combined experience flows effortlessly. BOPIS, drive-thru, pick-up lane, fulfillment, ops strategy & design, showroom, labor optimization, we have those covered. We can strategize the right food/drink for your brand/customers, design it, make it operate, and scale it once it’s proven successful.

Let’s create a food story for your brand. Send us a line at

Lee Peterson
Lee Peterson
Executive Vice President, Thought Leadership & Marketing
WD Partners

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