The Berks-based, no-frills grocer is starting to court shoppers who are seeking something different.
It’s the grocery industry version of “crazy Ivan,” a nautical term describing how Russian submarine commanders during the Cold War would suddenly and dramatically change direction to expose any pursuers hiding in their baffles.
Redner’s Markets, the Berks County-based grocery chain founded in 1970 and perhaps best-known for its no-frills, low-price, stuff-on-palettes warehouse-style grocery store is serving sushi at two of its stores, including 1149 Berkshire Blvd. in Wyomissing.
And that’s not all.
There’s a breakfast bar, a salad bar, a soup bar, a grain bar, and even a bar bar with seating for 30, four craft beer taps and two kombucha taps.
There’s a gizmo that can pump carbonation into your growler.
There is an array of grab-and-go foods and nutritious, chef-inspired, heat-and-eat meals for the hurried masses. There are large displays of meats, including organic chicken and grass-fed beef, some of which is slathered in signature marinades or coated in rubs or breadings.
There’s a meat-du-jour carving station that makes custom paninis and other sandwiches.
The signs of change are everywhere, including on the actual signs: What was Redner’s Warehouse Market is now Redner’s Fresh Market.
They still have the familiar rows of grocery items, but there is a whole new look, feel and smell.
The vibe has become a little less “canned goods for the big camping trip,” and a little more “brie and fresh grapes for Oscar night.”
So what in the name of sauteed, marinaded, grass fed grocery-shopping succotash is going on?
Time’s are changing, industry experts say. Shoppers are changing. What people buy, what they eat, when they eat, and how they prepare it are changing. What they like to see in their stores are changing.
Convenience is king. Fresh-looking produce and prepared entrees are essential, according to a 2017 Harris survey commissioned by the National Grocer’s Association.
Neat stores, courteous employees, organic foods, quality produce and high-quality meats are part of a long list of things that keep people coming through the doors.
Over the next two days, beginning with an invite-only event Wednesday at the Wyomissing Redner’s, store officials will hold a ceremonial unveiling of the renovated 20-year-old Wyomissing store and a possible glimpse into the future of the 43-store chain.
Reading Eagle: Susan L. Angstadt | Cousins Gary M. Redner, chief operating officer, and Ryan Redner, Redner’s Markets CEO, in the newly updated bakery and produce department at the Wyomissing store at Berkshire Boulevard and State Hill Road. The Maidencreek Township-based grocer, which culivated its image as a grocery warehouse, has created a new look and feel in its Wyomissing and Audobon, Montgomery County, stores.
Where’s the warehouse?
Redner’s, started by Earl Redner, first tried its warehouse concept at its store in Palmyra, Lebanon County, in the mid-1980s, according to chain spokesman Eric White.
The model focused on making large purchases from local manufacturers, growers, farms, meat packers and others, and distributing them from Redner’s own warehouses. It was a high-volume, low-margin approach that had the warehouse feel from cement floors to wood palettes stacked with product, and it worked, White said.
“Volume tripled,” he added. “And soon we moved all our stores to this format.”
“Redner’s was Walmart before Walmart was here,” said CEO Ryan Redner, Earl Redner’s grandson. “No games, no gimmicks, no chandeliers, no hardwood floors.”
Twenty years ago the warehouse model was “a big disrupter in the industry,” said Laura Strange, a spokeswoman for the National Grocer’s Association in Arlington, Va., a trade organization representing about 1,500 family-owned, employee-owned and other such independent stores.
But, she added, “people don’t shop like they did 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. There’s a lot more choice out there and channels.”
Reading Eagle: Susan L. Angstadt | Health and nutrition, and awareness of locally-sourced foods are two big grocery industry trends contributing to change in the grocery industry, experts say. There has also been a rise in grab-and-go food items. Those trends are reflected in the remodeled Redner’s Fresh Market concept now at two of its stores including this one in Wyomissing.
“The supermarket industry has always faced a lot of change,” Strange said. “Now the change is coming at a more rapid pace than they have seen in the past. It’s definitely a very intense time in the industry,” she said.
“Competition used to be other supermarkets,” Strange said.
“Nowadays there are more competitors — for example, it’s super centers, dollar stores, Sam’s Club and BJ’s, natural and organic grocers, Walmart, Target, Amazon,” she said.
Hard discounters like Aldi and Lidl have further complicated the picture, Strange said, and the new age of competition has exposed a divide where stores found themselves choosing between competing on price or in-store experience.
“Times have changed,” said Gary M. Redner, chief operating officer for the Redner’s chain. “And if you’re going to go head-to-head with Walmart solely on price, you’re not going to win, so you have to have all these value-added items and make people want to come into the store.”
Redner’s took a big step toward change in April 2018 when it hired Tim Twiford, former executive chef at the Crowne Plaza Reading in Wyomissing, as its first executive chef.
Twiford now oversees development and implementation of all prepared food services for the supermarket chain, and was key to making the grocery chain competitive in the prepared foods arena, according to Ryan Redner.
“Independent grocers continue to evolve and work to figure out who their niche market is,” Strange said.
Stores need to find their niche, and they must be agile enough to meet changing consumer needs, she added.
Health and nutrition, and awareness of locally sourced foods are two big grocery industry trends contributing to change, according to Strange.
Convenience is a big deal too.
“We’ve definitely seen a rise in ‘grab and go,’ ” Strange said.
“In the prepared food section a lot of our members are starting to create areas where people can come in and sit and eat,” Strange said.
Also, she added, “millennials are willing to spend more on higher quality produce, pre-cut vegetables, even the grab and go side.
“We’re starting to see people cook at home more these days but who are also looking for ways for it to be more convenient … it’s the millennial mom who is working, and some of the prep is already taken care of.”
And the days of one huge shopping list, and one trip to the market each week are pretty much over. These days, shoppers are more apt to shop multiple stores and make multiple trips, according to Strange.
Reading Eagle: Susan L. Angstadt | Redner’s is changing the look and feel of their stores to meet the changing demands of the shopping public. The store at 1149 Berkshire Blvd features a bakery near the entrance as well as a special station that makes several styles of popcorn.
Shoppers at the Wyomissing store enter onto stylish wooden floors and are greeted by an oasis of colorful produce laid out on attractive new display islands.
As the eyes feast on the natural rainbow of produce, the olfactory senses are wooed by the smell of various, store-popped popcorns, and fresh baked goods wafting from nearby bakery.
The glass display cases, a veritable museum of desserts, are stuffed with cannoli, pies, cakes, cream puffs and other things that make it hard to look away.
A large display island at the back of the store, nicknamed by employees as “the aircraft carrier,” is a convenience store unto itself with all kinds of prepared sandwiches, hot soups, gourmet salads, heat and eat wings, pre-cut cheeses, meats, store made salads, pizzas, yogurt parfaits and myriad other consumables.
The meat on display is sold by “the each” instead of by the pound.
“Some people get a little sticker shock when they see filet mignon, as an example, at $12.98 a pound, but you might be able to get a 6-ounce portion for, you know, $7,” he added. “It doesn’t sting as much.”
“When you get to that grass-fed beef stuff he’s talking about, it could be $30 a pound, but if you get one it might be $7,” Ryan Redner said.
The meat featured daily at the carving station is smoked the night before in the in-store smoker.
Customers can order right from the butcher too, Gary Redner said.
“So everything that is being produced is coming out of this kitchen,” Redner added, gesturing toward the abundant display of lunch and dinner possibilities.
Reading Eagle: Susan L. Angstadt | Above: The new-look Redner’s Fresh Market in Wyomissing is a step away from the chain’s familiar warehouse concept and a step toward a different shopping experience. The bakery has been moved closer to the front of the store to help showcase that department’s work.
Recently, a shopper approached Ryan Redner in the new-look Wyomissing store and said he was glad he didn’t have to drive 45 minutes to a Wegmans, Redner said.
The comparison has been made more than once, Gary and Ryan Redner said, and while they are a little uncomfortable admitting it, Ryan added, “it’s great to hear.”
While the new, Redner’s Fresh Market concept may be the chain’s future, it will not arrive overnight at most of the chain’s 43 stores.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Ryan Redner said.
“A slower rollout is more effective for us to make sure the guest is getting the best experience consistently,” Gary Redner said. “We really want to be careful … We’re going to get this one done, and we’re going to get Audobon (Montgomery County) done, and then we’ll see.”
“They were a low-price warehouse, a friendly place, and brands have to do that,” said Bob Kelley, president and founder of Pure Culture Consulting in Midlothian, Va., who consults with clients, including Redner’s, on rebranding and change.
“Redner’s was a brand-repositioning assignment,” Kelley said. “I fell in love with them. Some companies want a quick fix.”
But Redner’s took a more thoughtful and careful approach.
“They still had to stay affordable, but they’re also going to go after the customer experience,” Kelley said.
The goal is to find the new customer without alienating the old customer, Kelley said.
“You go out and work hard in a certain market, learn from that, then you tweak it then roll it out,” Kelley said. “Often times do baby steps and work things out that way.”
“We did the really hard work,” Kelley said.
That included detailed surveys and intercept studies.
“At some point, every brand has to go through this, and if you don’t figure out how to reposition, you struggle and maybe die,” Kelley said.
“The landscape right now is littered with brands that didn’t figure it out.”
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