When it comes to multiple grocery departments working together to create and merchandise prepared foods, Chicago’s Mariano’s Markets are arguably the most successful embodiment of the practice. Amanda Puck, director of strategic brand development for Mariano’s and Roundy’s Supermarkets, gave us these tips on how best to market your foodservice at retail, and what the Mariano’s team has learned through trial and error during their massive growth as a prepared foods and supermarket destination.


  1. Hire a social media manager. “Social media is really like digital customer service,” Puck says. “It’s not just about posting different pictures or items, it’s actually about engaging with the customer. And nobody has time to do that in your organization except for the person that’s hired to do it. That person should curate content and engage with customers — that’s a really big part. When people post on social media they really want to be heard and it leads to a lot of great discussions. We love to monitor what people are saying. Our social media specialist is named Roxy, and she will spend all day on the computer talking to people, which is important — people have a lot of questions.”
  2. And a consulting firm. “This is important, because when you’re posting and spending all this time on your social media strategy, well, what does it mean?” she says. “What’s your share of voice, what are your competitors doing? What’s your engagement rate, your click rate? A social media consulting firm will actually give you all of those statistics. I get ours on a weekly basis so we can see what posts were top performing, what are our competitors doing, how are they comparing to us in share of voice? These are really important things that I would do, and I would at least start with having an in-house person who’s fully dedicated to it, and also takes good pictures. So make sure that when you hire them, you see their full portfolio and send them on a mission of taking pictures in the store so that you can actually see the kind of work that they do.”
  3. Share what’s in season. “Seasonality is huge for us at grocery stores — when we get produce in, we get all these awesome items. We just opened another store this year where we got the most insane variety of wild mushrooms, including morels, which were at the very peak of their season. They were very expensive, but we love posting about those kinds of items. Springtime is a really wonderful time to talk about different items, and we have our whole summer schedule planned out — we know when the best watermelon is coming, when the stone fruit is coming, when we’re going to celebrate berries — so it’s really talking about the things that are peak of season.”
  4. Launch new items regularly. “Whether it’s a special smoothie or sandwich bar, or we’re switching up our pizza menu, we really try to keep the new menus announced, and we’ll do that with a 360° approach, so we’ll do it on social media and in our different outlets, but we’ll also put it in our email blasts and talk about it in our press releases.”
  5. Host in-store events. “We’re kind of known now for our in-store events in Chicago, and the reason we do the events is that we really want to educate our consumers and the public on the things that we’re doing. So if we do oyster and wine-tasting classes that always sell out and are always great, well that’s just pushing the envelope so that our customer base and the public knows that we actually have a really great oyster selection on a regular basis at our oyster bars. We have great sushi too, and do classes for our customers to come in and learn something new, but also to teach the public on what our offerings are.”
  6. Don’t forget about kids activities. “For us, kids really build the momentum for parents’ shopping, so we do a lot of really fun activities for kids on a regular basis at the stores.”
  7. Don’t fall behind the curve with technology. “You really have to keep up with millennials and Snapchat,” Puck says. “And you don’t literally have to Snapchat, although you should at least learn how to do it. It’s really about just keeping up ... whether it’s Periscope, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine — we are engaged in all of those platforms, and you need to find out what works best for you.”
  8. Give shoppers a peak behind the scenes. “We’ve actually been really successful with Snapchat with our followship, that’s the one outlet on social media where we give our customers an insider look on what we’re doing, and our customers really like that. Whether it’s behind the scenes at an event or a sneak-peek at a new menu item, (the key is) to really keep up with your social media. It doesn’t mean that you have to be doing it, but you need to understand why it needs to be done, and be savvy at it so you can help direct the staff that does it.”
  9. Create a newsletter. “This is the most powerful tool that any of us have to promote our foodservice at retail,” Puck says. “And the reason is super simple — it’s because people that sign up for your newsletters actually want to get and read them, and engage with things in your store.
  10. Nurture, develop and work you email database. And what does that mean? Well first of all you want to make sure you’re always managing your email content into something that your customers want to see. And this will really come to you in the beginning by trial and error. What we focused on at Mariano’s is talking about the things we have going on at the store. So for example, and this is specific to Mother’s Day so a little out of date, but we did a mimosa bar for mom’s on Mother’s Day. For summer we have different barbecue specials going on, we have tea parties for kids — so the newsletters are where we put all of the hot happenings in the store for that week. Whether that’s a sale, a promotion for something that's seasonal, or for a holiday, these sorts of emails are the ones that our customers want to get. “We also geotarget them, so if we’re doing a wine event at one store we send that dedicated email just to that store list. People can opt in for different categories of emails, and we’re even going to further develop our email plan, because it really is the best way (to reach people). We went from not selling out some of our events to having a waitlist because we sent out the email and people really wanted to sign up. So I strongly suggest that when you’re marketing your foodservice at retail you really look at that email program, because it’s going to help you get the word out with people who are engaged with what you are doing.”