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    Subjective Selections

    Market intelligence data may be helpful, but you can't taste it...

    Earlier this week the staffs of our editorial offices gathered together to judge from the hundreds of products submitted -- food items to Chicago and nonfood to Jersey City -- to see which will be named "Editor's Picks" and featured in our annual write-up of the same name.

    It's a purely subjective method of selecting products we think will be successful at retail. After all, we're consumers, too. And I like to think that we are perhaps a little better educated about consumer products than your average person.

    At a time when so many decisions are based on data -- i think there's something to be said for a little subjective selectiveness. After all, you can't taste data.

    Baron's, a San Diego-based four-store independent seems to be in agreement with this. Once a week, about 25 managers from the grocer's stores gather at its Point Loma flagship to try out potential new products, looking not just for good flavor, but also for good value. The goal is to find healthy products that can be sold at a lower price than shoppers will find at specialty health food stores.

    Apparently they are a strict bunch, too. In a recent article about the grocer's tastings, it said that out of 100 items, the group may approve just two or three. But there is a reason behind this strictness; Baron's sees these tastings as a service to their shoppers, a way to help them save time in finding the best tasting and nutritious foods at an affordable price. This is also why Baron's stores only average aboiut 15,000 square feet and carry about 9,000 items. In narrowing down its customers choices ahead of time, they shorten shopping trip.

    Joe Shemirani said. “Costco carries 4,500 items. Trader Joe’s has less than 3,000 items, we carry 9,000," Baron's president Joe Shemirani told the San Diego Union Tribune. "It is our job as agents for the customers to do our research and find the best value for them so they trust us.”

    I'm all for this vetting of the selection for the customer -- and think it's a great idea for independents, particularly since they tend to know their customers a bit more intimately than chains, many of which introduce new items based on syndicated data or slotting fees. While there is nothing wrong with such data, and it should be incorporated into one's marketing/promotional plans, there is nothing like just biting into a product and trying it out directly.

    Or letting your customers try it out, as Sam Mogannam, owner of two-store San Ffrancisco independent Bi-Rite does. "We're constantly shoving food into our customer's mouths," he told me once during an interview.

    Ultimately, there is no better way to convey a product's flavor to someone, when you think about it. Nothing could be more subjective than your customers' own taste buds.



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