Disrupting the supermarket

Why there aren't more of these in South Africa, is a mystery.

Competition amongst supermarket brands these days is tough.

Designing a defendable competitive strategy is therefore critically vital for supermarkets if they are going to hold onto their customer base and remain profitable, but often the thinking used to create these strategies is 'a bit safe'.

In the US - a relatively new and increasingly viable supermarket business model (we haven't seen it before) is emerging; and understandably (considering the tough economic conditions we are enduring), drawing a substantial new customer base.

Salvage stores are fringe supermarkets where 'a crushed box is never a problem, package dates are mere suggestions and questionable marketing attempts (Hostess SnoBall-flavored coffee pods?) go to die.'

With names like Sharp Shopper, the Dented Can and Stretch-a-Buck, salvage stores have long been a salvation for families on tight food budgets and the naturally thrifty. Adventurous shoppers looking for bargains use them for culinary treasure hunts. Now, the inflation-weary are joining their ranks.

Many of these salvage stores are rebranding to appeal to more affluent customers and in another ironic twist; hipsters are turning to salvage stores 'intent on doing what they can to reduce the $161 billion worth of food the Department of Agriculture estimates is dumped every year into landfills.'

@lifewiththelinks Here’s how I spent $30 on Groceries!😱#cheapeats #oklahomacity #oklahoma #budget #groccerystore #groceryshopping #cheaptok #budgeting #family #producer #fyp #toddler #cheap #mealprep #dinner #fresh #eatfresh #LizzosBigGrrrls #OscarsAtHome #WomenOwnedBusiness #familyof5 #momsoftiktok ♬ Say So (Instrumental Version) [Originally Performed by Doja Cat] - Elliot Van Coup
Salvage shopping has even spawned a tiny subgenre on social media, where people record their trips to the stores and display their hauls like trophies, piled on kitchen counters. In March, one TikTok video went viral, sending hundreds of people into an unprepared Oklahoma City store, where they stripped the shelves. The store closed shortly afterward.

Supermarkets and supermarket brands are largely commodities. They tend to all offer very similar products and compete on price. What the salvage store concept offers is something completely new.

It's not just food items at a great price - it's grocery shopping bargain hunting mixed in with trendy planet-saving consumer behaviour that you just don't get from a normal supermarket experience.

It's like the thrill of a market's market experience without the Mumford and Sons soundtrack.

It's the food version of vintage fashion buying, and for us, puzzling as to why big supermarket brands (especially South African ones) are not actively pursuing a strategy to open up a few salvage stores of their own.

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