From corner bodegas to big box stores, the future of grocery stores is both challenged and brightened by changing technologies and cities. What is the future of community grocery stores, both big and small?
The big box store is struggling, including the large-scale supermarket. Much of the North American diet is no longer immune to competition from online stores with their ability to deliver fresh produce and refrigerated goods within hours. Bloomberg claims that food is also sold in more places than ever (from dollar stores to pharmacies), and that grocery prices are falling. With all these changes in the grocery market, how do grocery stores compete? For some big box stores, it’s about taking advantage of their design to provide local, fresh, sustainable produce- straight from the rooftop. This is the plan of a grocery store in Montreal, which is now home to a rooftop farm. According to the article about the store on Next City,
“The Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent implemented a policy in 2015 requiring all new buildings to have a green or white roof on 50 percent of the surface. The Duchemin family, who owns the supermarket, IGA Extra, saw an opportunity to create an actual farm: 1.5 acres on the roof, with over 30 types of vegetables, sold under the brand Frais du toit (meaning, “Fresh from the roof”).”
Not only does this give the supermarket a competitive advantage in a market with a preference for healthy, local, artisan goods, it’s also a sustainable use of space that acts as a green roof to combat the heat-island effect and naturally cool the building. What other methods could big box stores use to stay relevant and turn their challenges into advantages?
This video provides a tour of the IGA roof top farm, but unfortunately does not have an English translation.
On the other hand, the community grocer has always been more than just a store, often acting as a centre of neighbourhood life. This became clearly visible with the recent backlash against Silicon Valley start up “Bodega“. From a Guardian article on the reason for the backlash, they draw on the work of city planner Ann Satterthwaite who “has argued that community backlash against new projects that affect places of gathering – such as corner stores and beer halls – are driven not by Nimbyism or fear of the future, but by a desire to understand the effect. They don’t want to impede progress or return to a sentimental dream of the past, only to, as Satterthwaite writes, “realistically and comprehensively [understand] the options for retailing as they relate to the long-term national goals of providing vital communities”.” How will community grocers adapt to changing technologies and expensive urban retail space, while still playing their vital role as community hubs?