I spent six hours on the road today visiting grocery-anchored shopping centers, and although I saw my share of Giants and ShopRites, I only got out of my car for an Aldi, Bottom Dollar and Save-A-Lot, supermarkets often linked together and referred to as limited assortment or discount operations.
The Aldi I visited had the company's more recent, modern design, was about 15,000 square feet, and served as the anchor for an attractive shopping center. A full three quarters of the products offered were store brands, with a wide variety of store brand (i.e. unknown) labels. The store was clean and easy to navigate. The manager, who cordially told me that shopping carts were available for $0.25 (fully refundable upon their return), called Aldi a "supplemental store," explaining that shoppers would most likely still need to visit a full-service supermarket in order to fulfill their grocery needs.
The Bottom Dollar and Save-A-Lot managers certainly did not feel their stores were supplemental. At approximately 20,000 square feet, each store was 25% larger than Aldi, and both featured produce sections, which Aldi did not. Like Aldi, both stores were neat, clean and easy to navigate. Other than that, Bottom Dollar and Save-A-Lot had little in common.
Bottom Dollar, which recently opened (that narrows it down to about 10 stores), was hopping. Customers were everywhere, and staff members were milling about all over the place in their neon t-shirts (see my 11/7/10 post on the North Wales Bottom Dollar; that narrows it down to 9...). I had thought the product mix was about 75% national, but a store employee set me straight by saying it was actually about 50-50. I was also informed that although business was very good, the Coatesville store was the cream of the crop (we're down to 8...)!
As for Save-A-Lot, I practically had the store to myself. The manager said business was terrible, and that it's been that way for a long time. I figured I must have visited the exception rather than the rule, as Save-A-Lot has been enjoying solid results of late; certainly better than Acme, their Supervalu sibling. As for selection, I estimated that the national to store brand mix was 50-50, but the manager disagreed. Big time.
"See that aisle over there? It's all store brands," said the manager. "Store brands account for 95% of the product mix."
"See the frozen foods over there? They're all national brands," I said. "It can't be 95%."
Just then I saw a Fanta display. Fanta! I reached for my wallet, and in the end, Save-A-Lot was the only store of the three that could label me a customer.