PITTSFIELD — Jennifer Harwood has three pages full of feedback sitting on her desk from customers who are pleased with the recent rebranding of Price Rite Marketplace's Pittsfield store.
"I reached out to my team" to gauge customer reaction to the changes, which began two weeks ago, said Harwood, the store's manager.
All the comments are positive.
"You need a little feedback," she said.
It helps, because the rebranding of Pittsfield's store is part of a companywide initiative designed to make all 59 of Price Rite's stores across its eight-state footprint from New Hampshire to Maryland easier for customers to shop in and to keep the regional chain competitive in the discount grocery space.
"We really want to focus customers on [us] being a one-stop shop," said Chris Farran, Price Rite's senior vice president who attended the official "reopening" ceremony for Pittsfield's Price Rite store Jan. 24. "Many times, folks shop a discount [grocery] store and they can't fill all of their shopping needs.
"We're all about filling up the basket," Farran said. "We're all about fulfilling the customers' needs. And if you get one more item in [their] basket, they're not going to go down to the other store to get it. We're saving them on convenience, on travel time and on gas. That's very important today."
The rebranding of the Pittsfield Price Rite also has been good for the local economy. Since the store renovations began in early January, Price Rite's local workforce has increased from 26 employees to 41, Harwood said Jan. 24. The store is hoping to add 15 more employees, she said.
Shopping for groceries isn't what it used to be, because consumers have more choices now. Discount grocery stores are smaller than traditional supermarkets and don't have the same amount of shelf space, but chains like Price Rite appeal to shoppers looking for bargains.
From 2011 to 2016, the number of discount grocery stores in the U.S. increased by 17.6 percent, according to data cited by Forbes magazine. European discount grocery chains, like the Germany-based Aldi, have noticed those numbers and begun adding stores in the U.S.
Aldi entered the Berkshire market in 2015, when it opened a store in Pittsfield on Crane Avenue, about a mile from Price Rite's location on Dalton Avenue. Price Rite opened its Pittsfield market in 2006.
"There is a constant need to evolve and improve and meet the needs of our customers," Price Rite President Jim Dorey said by telephone. "We're constantly talking to customers and our associates about where we are and how do we differentiate ourselves."
Price Rite Marketplace is a registered trademark of New Jersey-based Wakefern Food Corp., a retailer-owned cooperative that is the country's largest supermarket cooperative (Shop Rite also is a Wakefern brand).
Price Rite's roots began in Western Massachusetts — the chain's first store opened in 1995 in West Springfield. Dorey, who became Price Rite's president in 2017 and has been with Wakefern since 2004, said the company doesn't view itself as a discount grocery chain.
"We say we're an option," he said. "If it's important for you to save money, we're an option. ... It is super competitive in all 59 markets that we trade in."
Rebranding throughout the chain began at Price Rite's stores in Pennsylvania during fall 2018, Dorey said, and is expected to wrap up chainwide by April.
In Pittsfield, the store has been made easier for customers to navigate so there is "greater traffic flow," Harwood said. A wall located near the store's main entrance that separated the produce department from the rest of the market was taken down, which opened up the floor plan. Self-checkout lines have been added for customers. Also, the aisles have been widened, making them easier for shoppers to maneuver.
"You can fit multiple shopping carts," Farran said.
Related products are grouped more closely together.
"It enables us to do cross-merchandising," Farran said. "If you're picking up a box of cocoa, we might have a display of marshmallows right next to it."
"It's easier to find things," said Denise Herene, of Pittsfield, a regular Price Rite shopper who was at the store the day of the rebranding ceremony.
Fresh produce abounds — Farran said Price Rite receives fresh produce from Wakefern five days a week. Every rebranded Price Rite also includes an area known as "the Drop Zone," which is stocked with what the chain refers to as "surprise buys" on grocery and private-label items.
The rebranded Price Rite also contains several products listed under the company's food and household brands, Bowl & Basket and Paperbird, which Wakefern launched last year. Wakefern reportedly has invested heavily in building support to transform its approach to store brands, according to PR Newswire.
At a recent analyst conference in New York. Todd Maute, a partner at brand strategy and design agency CBX, said investors should "pay close attention" to store brands' potential to create new winners and losers in retail.
"We're seeing a shift toward truly brand-led strategies, as opposed to merely securing a place along the spectrum of 'good,' 'better' or 'best' relative to competing products on a shelf," Maute said, according to PR Newswire. "Retailers that fail to grasp the need to fully commit to their store brands risk missing out on an opportunity to drive loyalty to their stores and create meaningful differentiation in the markets they serve."
Wakefern revamped its entire brand portfolio two years ago and is in a "good position" to capitalize on its new store brands, Dorey said.
"Bowl & Basket is a Shop Rite product as well," Farran said. "That's why we can get such a great competitive price."
Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at email@example.com or 413-496-6224.