Ten years ago , there used to be eight supermarkets within a three-mile radius of where we live . Today there are five . Three supermarkets ( an A &P., a Foodtown and a Shoprite ) have shut up shop. With the population in Central New Jersey expanding rapidly , I’d have expected more supermarkets , not less. What happened ?
Part of the reason is the proliferation of ethnic grocery stores in this part of New Jersey. Within that same three-mile radius of our house , there are now at least ten Indian grocery stores . Actually , it is a mistake to call them grocery stores. They started out selling fresh vegetables and fruits but have long since expanded by stocking frozen foods and household necessities. In addition , there are two Chinese supermarkets , a Korean farmstand and a huge Korean supermarket, H-Mart , that I have written about before . There are also other ethnic stores but I’m not sure how many there are.
All these stores offer a wide variety of ethnic specialties but ,even in terms of price , regular supermarkets just cannot compete with any of these . In all these stores, vegetables are about 40% cheaper than regular stores and customers can pick and choose the produce . Fruits too are cheaper though by a smaller margin and all the produce is fresher than that in regular supermarkets because of the rapid turnover. The Indian stores do not stock fresh meat and fish ( a few of them do have frozen non-veg entrees) but the Chinese and Korean ones do . In fact, that is one more advantage they enjoy as regular supermarkets are doing away with the fresh fish counter . H-Mart , in particular , has a bewildering array of fresh and frozen fish , all neatly labeled in English and relatively cheap.
As if these ethnic stores were not enough competition , supermarkets also have to contend with luxe stores . A giant Wegmans has opened next door in Woodbridge . The economy may have fallen on hard times but there are plenty of food shoppers who don’t mind paying a little extra at Wegmans. The store is a delight to be in with its artfully displays, particularly the meat , fish , cheese and fresh produce .
At the same time that supermarkets are in decline , Costco and BJ’s and Sam’s Club seem to be busier than ever. Many mainstream shoppers gravitate towards them partly because of the illusion of saving money but also because they offer a huge variety of prepared entrees and it’s fun to shop there . Most families now have two working parents and it is understandable that cooking dinner , most of the time , merely involves re-heating a frozen entrée . Thank God for Costco !
Ethnic supermarkets , luxe food stores and Costco … in addition supermarkets also see their bottom line affected by on-line shopping . Recently , my wife has started ordering online from Amazon and Walgreens stuff that she would normally have bought at the supermarket. Service is fast and shipping is free on orders over a certain amount. She caught on to this alternative because we’ve always had difficulty finding Handi-Wipes at the supermarket . She ordered it from Amazon and got the delivery within two days . Now we were set for the next twelve months when it comes to Handiwipes ! It’s not only department stores that will be affected by the increasing popularity of on-line shopping.
Never , never would I have thought that supermarkets would be under threat. Yet , it seems like this will be the trend in the large cities , particularly those with sizeable ethnic populations . In price , in freshness and in the variety of produce , regular supermarkets just cannot compete. In the smaller towns , in the hinterland, supermarkets will continue to dominate as before but, there too, online shopping will eat into sales as more and more of the population becomes computer-savvy.
Like General Motors , supermarkets will continue to exist but in a diminished role.