I was quite looking forward to visiting Salt Lake City. Partly as it was supposed to be a rather charming place; partly because it had interesting stuff to see; partly because it enjoyed an excellent reputation for food and drink; and partly because it is home to the radio station (Z104) that is constantly blaring out the finest country music into the scullery at Roberts Acres.

I recommend that everyone listens to an overseas radio station every now and then. Listening to Z104 is awesome: in addition to some corking tunes, one is able to listen to some brilliant/awful ads, become startled by deeply disconcerting weather/traffic reports and then – on Sundays – enjoy hour-long programmes about stuff like the importance of cleaning one’s boat propeller to prevent the spread of invasive species of mussels. Beats Radio 2 any day.

One reason that I wasn’t looking forward to visiting Salt Lake City for was any sort of supermarket retailing excellence, so stumbling across the Harmons Neighborhood Grocer store in downtown was both unexpected and wonderful. It’s generally unusual to see fully-fledged supermarkets in downtown locations. There are a few I can think of in NYC, Boston, Chicago and Charlotte, but generally speaking, most US downtown areas are served only by indies, c-stores and deli-style outlets.

After a pleasant couple of hours wandering around the city and then shopping / eating in the City Creek development – owned and managed by the development arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – I happened to spot the Harmons sign a couple of blocks away. I’ve no idea how I dredged it up from the recesses of my ageing brain, but I definitely remember reading something in the trade press about Harmons being rather good, so me and my long-suffering travel companion went down for a look.

Luckily, we entered the store via the 18,000 sq. ft. mezzanine. This was lucky, as entering the store here afforded me some wonderful overhead views of the fresh and floral departments below. The mezzanine itself featured some very noteworthy features, not least a cookery school (which was advertising a forthcoming cheese and beer pairing workshop) and an onsite dietician.

Rounding out the mezzanine offer was a food-to-go-counter (sandwiches and sushi), gelateria, coffee counter, seating area and an area devoted to the retailer’s recently introduced click & collect service.

In a nod to Harmons’ heritage, there was also a lovely graphic that detailed the growth of the business from a fruit stand established in 1932 to the current 18-store operation – still family-owned and -operated. Throughout the store were constant references to family ownership and the importance of the retailer’s employees. Indeed, the company’s mission is to “value our associates and exceed the customer’s expectations,” and it’s fair to suggest that it is very much mission accomplished. Colleague engagement and customer service shone through at every turn.

Descending into the 50,000 sq. ft. lower level pitches you into the excellent fresh departments. Produce, featuring some great fixtures and merchandising, is festooned with graphics highlighting local farmers and growers and espousing the various benefits of sourcing and eating locally.

The array of fresh and service counters is phenomenal. The Crust & Crumb bakery is among the best bakery counters I’ve encountered, while the seemingly endless deli counter was awash with tempting delights.

Cheese was housed on a nearby island fixture, offering an incredible array of domestics and imports, while the pizza counter – complete with roaring oven – was a beautiful affair. The meat section, boasting USDA credentials, also housed one of those beef-ageing glass-fronted cabinets at the rear. No idea if these are any good commercially or not, but they look amazing.

The service self-service areas including a salad bar, soup bar and Wok bar for Chinese food, all of which could be taken away or consumed upstairs on the mezzanine.

The rest of the store was very good stuff indeed. I really like the retro shelving and signage: it really added to the look and feel of the store while at the same time making categories pretty easy to locate. Highlights in the rest of the store included the ‘craft your own six pack’ end-cap in beer (loads of US retailers do this to great effect – I’ve yet to see it in Europe) and some thoroughly well-executed displays in HBC.

Harmons’ value credentials were communicated through a wealth of special offers, plenty of PL (Harmons in dairy and Western Family throughout other grocery categories) and the use of the Foodie Club loyalty scheme. In a departure from the norm for many US supermarkets, the card is not required to access discounts or promotions; instead it enables shoppers to accumulate points that are exchanged for free items automatically uploaded to the loyalty card. Nice work.

This store was notable for a number of reasons: a rare example of a US supermarket totally nailing a downtown proposition; a rather splendid store design; a brilliant example of the power of employee engagement and empowerment; and some state-of-the-art blackberry ice-cream.

Harmons states that its vision is: “Be remarkable. People will be disappointed shopping anywhere else.” I’m afraid to say that they have succeeded. *sad face*

Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director

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