Even though convenience is king to most consumers, buying groceries from local retailers instead of making a quick trip to a chain store has been trendy for several years. Consumers appreciate the value their dollars bring to their local neighborhood, the sense of community they get and jobs they help create. And that goes for grocery stores, too, especially amid COVID-19.
A great example of the power of local loyalty is what happened to California-based Oliver’s Market during the pandemic. Even with a dramatic drop-off in deli sales and the forced closure of their popular taproom where they sold pastries and coffee in the morning and tacos and beer in the early evening, Oliver’s Market found that support from their loyal customers has offset the losses.
Thanks to their customers, they haven’t had to lay off any of their 1,100 employees. They’ve even been able to maintain their $2 increase in hourly employee pay. What's more, the grocery chain increased their revenue by approximately 5 percent in 2020.
So how did Oliver’s end up with such devoted customers? As reported by The Press Democrat who interviewed Robert Eyler, an economics professor at Sonoma State University, it’s because they embedded themselves in their community.
“If they have benefited from this (pandemic), it’s because they've spent decades ingraining themselves in the community to become a first choice for spending,” Eyler said. “As they expanded, they really became Sonoma County's grocer. They're ubiquitous in terms of charitable giving. You see them at events and their logo is very well known around the county.”
Eyler conducted a study on Oliver’s Market as part of his project to track the Sonoma local economy. It yielded some interesting facts that show the grocery store’s community support isn’t just about giving to local charities:
- The grocery chain makes a 68 percent more economic impact across the county than nonlocal grocers and retailers
- For every $100 spent at the store, $186 of spillover was created for the county’s economy
- State and local taxes received $19.60 for every $100 spent at Oliver’s
And you can bet that the residents in Sonoma who push the buy local platform appreciate seeing the benefits of it in black and white.
Small grocery stores (not just chains like Oliver’s) are also seeing a boost during the pandemic. This is particularly true in rural areas; people who used to commute to cities for work are staying home—which means they’re not stopping to buy from larger chains on their way home. Also, a larger grocery retail footprint can cause more anxiety for shoppers right now, especially when stores are crowded, because social distancing is harder and it may take longer to get in and out.
As reported by Harvest Public Media, for small grocery store owners like John Paul Coonrod, that’s largely good news, but it’s stressful, too. The owner of the Great Scott! Community Market that sells basic food items, like canned and dried goods, along with craft beer and wine, has seen sales nearly double during the pandemic. He told the publication he’s seeing a lot of new faces, which may mean that people who live in metropolitan areas may also be avoiding larger chains in favor of smaller stores.
“Walmarts are always packed with people,” Coonrod says, adding that makes it hard for customers to socially distance. “[So] I think [shoppers] decided to stay local. What it ended up doing is causing my store to be packed with people.”
In the same article, Shannon McCord, owner of Ideal Market in Superior, Nebraska backs what Coonrod is seeing. His store is reporting a 20 to 30 percent increase in sales which has led to 70- to 80-hour work weeks, leading to some “tremendously difficult days.”
Small grocery stores like Great Scott! and Ideal Market are doing more than keeping their shelves stocked with essentials to keep their customers well supplied; they’re also turning to local resources to meet supply chain demands. McCord is connecting local hog farmers and butchers to keep fresh meat available and Coonrod is buying flour from local restaurants, repackaging it and selling it in his store.