Supermarket switcheroo: Bloom to replace Food Lion

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March 6, 2007

8:05 PM

By the end of the month, the Food Lion near the College, at which I am employed, will have undergone major renovations as part of the process of becoming the upscale superstore, Bloom. Food Lion grew its roots in 1957 in North Carolina, and is a subsidiary of Delhaize Group (that’s where the lion comes from), founded in Belgium in 1867. The updated store is partly in response to mounting pressure from neighbors Farm Fresh in Hampton Roads and Ukrops in the Monticello Plaza.

p. So what the hell is Bloom? In so many words, it’s a Food Lion on crack. It all started back in 2004 as part of a project to integrate technology with human-to-human customer service. Currently, there are fewer than 50 within the Virginia-Maryland-Carolina region. Naturally, Microsoft has a hand in this.

p. The project’s aim is to replace most of the current Food Lions with either its superior Bloom superstore or inferior Bottom Dollar one-stop shop.

p. Bloom is a concept store (whatever that means), and its concept is a radical one — to tend to the customer’s needs by adopting a “customer-centric” policy, built around the customers’ demands, as opposed to the retailer’s.

p. There will be an integration of Microsoft technologies to help customers find products with ease. Managers will be equipped with Tablet PCs, which will enable them to collect information from around the store (i.e. track inventory, manage labor deployment, etc.), and execute their tasks with unprecedented efficiency, giving them more time to spend on the sales floor schmoozing with soccer moms or in the back room, smoking.

p. Several workstations will be set up for personnel scanning, basic training, task-specific applications and communication between employees within the store, as well as with general vendors and office outlets around the universe.

p. Emphasis will be put on the shopping experience, which is expected to be personal (as opposed to the rather impersonal Wawa system), simplified (wider aisles, lower shelves, restructuring of products, segregating foods from non-foods, etc.) and quick (new parking spaces for 20-minute shoppers; now you don’t have to park in the handicapped spots).

p. One of its more ambitious goals, Bloom is attempting to bring into existence the myth of the faster checkout. I hear their average checkouts run at 32.7 seconds.

p. The new store will house information kiosks, which will be used for product information, like wine-meat-seafood recipes and Shop-to-Cook applications, and as product locators, this technology will make GPS look like a mall map.

p. The store’s boost in specialization is evident. Bloom’s design will accommodate traveling vendors, offering free samples of cheeses, wines and delicate meats. There will also be a long-anticipated seafood department, a butcher in the meat department and a noticeable expansion of the produce and deli departments, with new floors, lighting and, hopefully, music.
Paradoxically, Bloom’s speedy-easy shopping experience will turn away from low-quality ready-mades and 15-second meals, adopting a more or less health-conscious inventory of organic foods. This makes sense, since the obesity epidemic has spawned a twisted generation of hyperhealthnuts and exercise fiends.

p. I stumbled upon the article “Food Lion’s face-lift coming to Hampton Roads” in The Virginian-Pilot (Feb. 12) concerning Bloom’s specialization phenomenon where “employees bake the cakes daily, giving them names such as Chocolate Avalanche and Strawberry Sensation. The store’s bakery also constructs cookies, breads and its signature Bloomberry muffins, some topped with icing and a dollop of Maine wild blueberry sauce … Bloom’s produce area boasts more than 37 packaged herbs and eight feet of organic fruits and vegetables. A Flavors of the World display holds such items as sunchokes and boniato root … ”

p. Already the local Food Lion has experienced a change or two. The deli is now selling virile 5-pound Perdue Chickens, which look like bronze turkeys seasoned with steroid injections. We’re also expected to get a new fryer and meat slicer. What we’re hoping for is the compact, able-to-cut-thin Chef’s Choice 668 slicer in lieu of our medieval Torrey, a hulking mass of ancient steel, spitting cheese shards all over the place.

p. I feel I should say something about Bottom Dollar, since it might crop up in the area (mainly, in the Carolinas). The idea of Bottom Dollar is to return to the old days, when groceries were cheap and within proportion. It’s old-school, much like the chain Piggly Wiggly, with bold 33¢ signs, gondolas shelving 50¢ soup cans and unbroken pallets stacked with boxes of $2.00 cereal.

p. Ironically, its aim is to contend with the Costcos and BJ’s conglomerates who sell grotesque bulk quantities of food that could sustain an African village for months. The stores don’t have a deli, meat or bakery department, and let customers bag their own groceries. I hear customers will have to clean their own spills, unload the truck and stock the shelves too.

p. Word around the deli’s water cooler is that all current employees will receive a generous raise, new uniforms (baby blue button-down shirts), an abolition of the MVP card system (as well as all Food Lion brand products) and a tenfold demand for fresh, legal, exploitable employees. My personal wishes are for a return to the 24-hour schedule (Wawa is too small to loiter about drunk), a lower price on cereal and a lower drinking age — 18 should do it.

p. __Sherif Abdelkarim, a sophomore at the College, is a Staff Columnist. His columns appear every Tuesday.__

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