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Home sweet home

Housewares in grocery are a natural fit, providing tools of the trade to home cooks.

If you ascend the stairs at one of the five Quality Foods supermarkets on Vancouver Island that house the storewithin-a-store called A Step Above, you’ll discover something that’s typically only found at the Bay or Sears: a large, fully equipped display kitchen. It’s stocked with all the housewares consumers might need when preparing the food they bought downstairs–from KitchenAid appliances to staples such as colanders and cutting boards.

Quality Foods rolled out its first Step Above location, in Comox, 10 years ago, and plans to open its sixth kitchen and home-focused boutique, in Nanaimo, next year. The department ranges from 7,000 to 10,000 square feet, perched above a Quality Foods grocery store. Dianna Rivard, Step Above’s buyer, regularly updates the 18 to 20 eye-catching displays she has at each location, including several in-glass merchandisers designed to tempt the grocery shoppers below.

Toronto-based Korean grocer Galleria has also been steadily expanding its kitchen selection over the past three years in response to customer requests for everything from food containers to kitchen gadgets. “We think the trend is going toward one-stop-shopping,” says Won Ha, Galleria’s category and marketing manager.

Galleria deployed a slow and steady strategy that has helped its kitchen category grow by a healthy five to seven per cent year-over-year. It started with the basics, such as plates and locking food containers. From there, it added toasters and design-focused Umbra kitchen accessories such as dish racks and paper-towel holders. The latter move is aligned with consumer trends. “Design and aesthetic appeal have become more important to consumers,” says Svetlana Uduslivaia, senior research analyst at Euromonitor International.

Galleria’s piece de resistance in the kitchen section, though, has to be its unrivalled assortment of rice cookers. It carries models by four or five different high-end brands imported from South Korea. It also sells a kimchi refrigerator, which consumers would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

Focusing on specialty items is a smart way to differentiate from dollar stores and big box retailers, says Ken Wong, a marketing professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. “The opportunity is there to bring in unique goods, something you don’t see everywhere,” he says. It’s a strategy that has also worked well for Quality Foods. Rivard makes sure to stock brands and items that consumers can’t find anywhere else on the island, such as local handmade products.

Both stores deploy cross-merchandising tactics to lure shoppers into their expansive kitchenware sections. Galleria found success placing stylish Umbra breadboxes in the bakery, while Quality Foods regularly showcases tools such as colanders in the produce section and bamboo cheese boards in the deli.

Kitchenware has helped Quality Foods and Galleria increase basket sizes and boost sales in a category that’s relatively stagnant across Canada. “We don’t believe going forward there’s going to be a huge spike because households are getting smaller,” says Uduslivaia, adding that activity in the category is mostly driven by replacement and gift purchases. That said, she has seen above-average growth in food storage, driven in part by the health and wellness trend as people try to avoid fast food and cook more at home.

Whatever you do, don’t expand your kitchenware just for the sake of it. “You have to go into it with a plan of attack,” advises Wong. “Don’t just stick it in an aisle and expect it to move.”

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