Monday, March 12, 2007

Bodega Gentrification

We were sent an interesting item that was first run on WNYC radio about the impact that gentrification has had on the way that bodegas are doing business in one Brooklyn neighborhood. What struck us was how adaptive the store owners are in response to the changing demands of their customers. This adaptive behavior is telling, given the level of silly discourse we sometimes hear about the marketing practices of these neighborhood groceries.

The reality is that the stores respond to demand but they don't create it. Getting bodegas to sell "healthier" products is a function of the creation of a higher level of demand. Which is exactly why we have begun to create a collaborative effort with the Health Corps and the Bodega Association working with the DOH's "Healthy Bodega" initiative. We anticipate that the HC volunteers will help the local stores generate a higher demand for healthy snacks and beverages.

Which is what we see happening organically in the grocery stores in Cobble Hill where Wolfgang Puck soups have replaced the Campbells' cans on the shelves. As WNYC observes: "Solmarz {a local store owner} says when his customers suggest new products, which they do every day, he researches them, gets samples from suppliers, and watches to see whether they sell in his store...He goes to Manhattan on his days off to see how stores there are stocking their shelves."

What we see here is a dynamic relationship between customers and store owners. If we can impact the demand side of the equation then we can push store owners to change product lines; but remember, space in small stores is limited and owners can't simply experiment willy nilly with new items that may linger on the shelf collecting dust. That's a sure fire way to bankruptcy. The key is consumer education and demand.