It takes some doing to be a world-famous retailer trading through just five stores, but Stew Leonard’s has achieved just that. A must-see for any retailer geeks that happen to be in the north-east of the USA, Stew Leonard’s notches up annual sales in excess of $400 million through its five outlets in New York and Connecticut.

It is easy to see why the retailer generates such impressive sales densities: world-class merchandising, store design and shopper engagement all come together to create one of the greatest experiences in global grocery retailing. This is less of a supermarket and more of a theme park – the sort of destination store that sees families driving for hours to get to.

There is no shortage of competition in this region: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Shoprite and Stop & Shop all offer a decent local challenge, but there is so much to enjoy at Stew Leonard’s that it easily stands its ground against robust competitors. Winning with families is of paramount importance, and Stew’s has much to offer in this regard, stand-out attractions including farm animals, animatronic chickens, cheese, milk, cows and produce and a train that competes endless loops of the ceiling above the grocery section.

It would be all too easy to dismiss this type of stuff as superficial gimmickry, but it comes together to enhance the genuinely excellent retailing at the core of this store. Superb work in sourcing is combined with some excellent merchandising, keen pricing and retail theatre to create an absorbing grocery offer that is full of temptation and inspiration.

Customer service – embodied in the retailer’s famous rules that are literally carved in stone – is fantastic, nowhere more so than on the service counters where incredible ranges of meat, fish, cheese and dairy amongst others are prepared and sold with great passion and skill. The operation’s heritage as a dairy is borne out through the retailer owning two dairy farms and putting a great deal behind the pledge that “you’d have to own a cow to get fresher milk”. Mozzarella is made fresh instore, just one of many examples of instore prep and processing creating theatre and enhancing the store’s reputation for freshness and transparency.

The range on offer is extensive, with a strong focus on fresh, although there is a decent array of chilled, ambient and frozen complete with around 500 SKUs of private label. The produce department is stunning: lovely fixtures groan under the weight of fruit and vegetables, while the animatronic Cindy Celery and Larry Lettuce serenade shoppers about the benefits of consuming more produce.

The sights, sounds and smell of the produce section make for an unforgettable instore experience and the huge selection of food-for-now and food-for-later mean that it is very difficult to leave this store hungry. Over 100,000 prepared meals are sold each week, with fresh meal solutions being prepared in the chain’s central kitchens.

Stew Leonard’s is inspirational: the stores make you hungry, make you smile and make you spend. Peerless.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insight Director

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