A growing number of grocers across the country are vying to be the place “where everybody knows your name.” Supermarkets are increasingly a destination for on-premise adult beverage consumption, including everything from pub food and pints to wine bars, cocktail lounges and pop-up craft beer experiences.
According to Technomic Inc., WGB’s sister market research company, supermarket foodservice has shown dynamic growth for nearly a decade, experiencing an annual sales lift of more than 10% in some years. And this segment remains among the three fastest-growing segments in all of foodservice.
Supermarket bars, pubs and cafes offer the convenience of a drinks-and-dining experience where consumers are already shopping, and they are competitive on price, which can draw value-minded nonshoppers in even greater numbers.
Wisconsin Watering Hole
“We’re a neighborhood store that’s become a neighborhood bar,” says Rob Richards, wine and spirits manager for Festival Foods in Madison, Wis. The store is home to The Mezz, De Pere, Wis.-based Festival Foods’ only full-service in-store bar. Situated in a densely populated area of downtown with ample foot traffic, the location has proven ideal for attracting locals looking to wet their whistles while connecting with community.
Boasting a full bar, as well as eight Wisconsin beers on tap, house and premium wines, The Mezz features patio and indoor seating, where guests can enjoy an adult beverage alongside free popcorn or snacks and ready-to-eat items purchased from the deli. The space is even equipped with microwaves where guests can heat Festival Foods freshly prepared heat-and-eat deli items.
To keep the regulars coming back for more refreshments and community engagement, The Mezz hosts trivia night on Friday evenings, weekly happy hours, and Sunday bloody mary and mimosa specials.
“We’ve tweaked our happy hour promotions over the years, and we’ve found the sweet spot in terms of time and days of the week,” Richards says. During happy hour, guests can enjoy $3 tap beers, rail drinks and house wine.
“Our happy hour drinks are a lot cheaper than the ones at the restaurants across the street,” says Richards, who estimates that 80% to 90% of The Mezz customers are there to enjoy the bar scene without shopping for groceries.
“Sales have grown considerably in the last three years, and there’s no sign of slowing down,” he says. “Now that people have discovered us, they’re also reserving The Mezz for private functions.” Festival Foods allows guests to reserve a portion of The Mezz for parties and celebrations free of charge.
Hy-Vee Happy Hour
With rotating daily happy hour specials that include deals such as half-price appetizers and bar drinks, $2 domestic beers, and half-price select bottles of wine and sushi, it’s not surprising that customers flock to Hy-Vee Market Grille Happy Hours.
“Hy-Vee is constantly looking for ways to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers, and foodservice is no exception,” says Christina Gayman, director, public relations for West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee Inc.
“From happy hours in our Hy-Vee Market Grille and Hy-Vee Market Grille Express restaurants to specials in our foodservice departments, such as comfort food night, we offer fresh food options in a convenient setting that differentiates us in the markets we serve,” she says.
Through its promotions, Hy-Vee attracts a variety of customers with different needs, including those who plan to dine and drink only, as well as those who are there to shop for groceries and enjoy something from the Market Grille.
“Two in 5 consumers say, ‘restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle,’ and 60% of people don’t know what they are having for dinner at 4 p.m.,” Gayman says. “Hy-Vee strives to provide a solution for each and every customer regardless of whether they want to purchase ingredients to cook at home, grab a quick meal on the go or sit and enjoy a restaurant-style meal.
“Our promotions are created to provide experiences for customers regardless of what their day looks like or how much time they have to spend inside our stores and restaurants.”
Growlers and Grills
Weis Markets of Sunbury, Pa., wows its customers with the vast selection of vino and brews at its in-store cafes, some of which showcase more than 1,000 offerings. Last month it opened two additional in-store cafes, bringing its total to 70 operating in Pennsylvania.
Its full-service in-store pub in Enola, Pa., offers a rotating selection of draft beers as well as a growler beer filling station. “The pub features an adjoining cafe that offers 800 domestic and craft beers along with 500 varieties of wine,” says Dennis Curtin, director of public relations. “It adjoins an expansive food court offering hand-rolled sushi made in-store and a selection of fresh cooked meals, pizza and sandwiches.” The food court also includes a grill counter that serves burgers, paninis and grilled vegetables.
Backroom Beer Pairings
Barons Market, a San Diego-based grocer with eight stores in Southern California, has found a clever way to promote local craft beers without an in-store pub. About five years ago, it began hosting wildly popular Backroom Beer Pairings at its loading docks, back rooms or front patios (depending on the liquor license at each store) that introduce shoppers to local brews and brewers while raising money for area organizations.
“What better way to showcase our selection [of craft beer] and introduce our customers to brand-new local breweries than to have them try the beer and talk to the brewer?” says Rachel Shemirani, SVP of Barons Market. “But instead of a typical beer tasting, we wanted to do something more exciting. We decided to pair beer from a local brewery with food, either items from our prepared dishes or super-simple recipes using our products.”
Barons Backroom Beer Pairings are held four times a year in all eight stores, and they cost a modest $15 per person. The company promotes the events with posters and postcards in its stores, as well as through its website and social-media pages. Each event accommodates 60 to 100 people, and tickets typically sell out three days prior to the pairing.
“Because we’re working with a local brewery and a local organization, oftentimes we get local TV stations to come out and do a story on the event,” Shemirani says. “While this event started out as a way to introduce customers to our store, it’s now become a community event that our customers look forward to. We’re always getting asked when our next beer pairing will be and which brewery we’re featuring.”
To pair with the local brews, Barons serves menu items such as sliders, tacos, salads, crostini, soups from its hot soup bar, favorites from its antipasto bar and decadent desserts, including its Barons Brownies and ice cream beer floats.