Lynn Dornblaser
Lynn is the Director of Innovation & Insight at Mintel. Lynn applies her unique perspective on the market and new product development to tailored client research.

Consumers today have an ever-expanding array of outlets where they can buy their groceries, either for the regular weekly shop (which is fast disappearing as a behavior), to quick fill-ins during the week. In fact, our research indicates that while they are more likely to shop at supermarkets every week, they increasingly are choosing other types of outlets. In fact, when we asked consumers where they shop, 81% said supermarkets, but 72% said mass merchandisers, like Walmart or Target.

We usually talk about the choice consumers have, the fragmentation of the market, the war for lower prices. But there’s an issue that struck me this past week–are some types of outlets just not well suited to the grocery shopping experience? That thought was foremost in my mind when I was in Minneapolis this week. As I usually do when I’m there, I try to get to the Target “mothership,” that is, the Target store that is attached to the company’s headquarters offices in downtown Minneapolis.

No exception this time. And what I saw at this store made me wonder if mass merchandisers like Target, more used to stocking different types of products, are perhaps less well suited to providing a good grocery shopping experience. What I saw at this store I have seen at other Target stores (notably my local one in the Chicago suburbs). That is, shelves were very inconsistently stocked with shelf-stable groceries.Grocery Aisle In the main, the sections of the dry grocery shelves that would be stocked by Target personnel (rather than DSD chips and the like) were messy, empty, and just not up to par. With this being the “mothership,” it was a bit shocking.

Is the issue one of what the store is used to doing? Pile it high (folded tees and tanks, only $8!), or hang it tight (jeans, tops, PJs, you name it), and leave it to the consumer to enjoy the treasure hunt. Is it the classic problem everyone is experiencing with staffing? Is time and attention going to the more high-ticket items and are the grocery shelves being neglected? Not sure of the answer. But what I am sure of is that a regular, mainstream supermarket normally does NOT have the same level of stocking problems as I’ve seen at Target.

Don’t get me wrong–I like Target for many many things. The chain has done a great job at many aspects of retailing. Here’s one that could use a bit of tweaking.