Experience Economy: / n.  1. Economic order that promotes provision of memorable experiences on top of quality services. 2. Economy that relies on the creation and sell of experiences rather than physical goods or services. 3. A current trend of global economy that consumers are purchasing memorable experiences instead of only physical commodities. (source: IGI Global)

“Change is the only constant in life.” These immortal words, attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, are as relevant today as they were when first spoken over 2,500 years ago. And they’re applicable not just to one’s own self and life, but to retail business as well, including the retail food sector. 

Like retail as a whole, the retail food sector is experiencing an evolution, driven by changing demographics, eating trends, and lifestyle choices. Gone are the days of the town supermarket being the only player in the game of grocery shopping. 

Today’s consumers have a growing number of food channels to choose from, including discounters, convenience stores, and online providers. These alternative channels are vying for a share of consumer spending dollars, making the retail food landscape as competitive as ever. 

So, the question becomes, “What must a supermarket change in order to build customer loyalty and attract new shoppers?” 

To remain competitive and successful in a changing retail landscape, supermarkets should examine not only the products they sell, but also the “experience” they create for their customers. This retail attribute is becoming increasingly vital, forming the basis of what is commonly known as the “Experience Economy.” 

First coined in 1998 by authors Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, the Experience Economy is a concept whereby businesses engage customers not only through products and services, but also by adding an experience to shopping occasions. This experience focuses on four key factors: entertainment, education, esthetic, and escapism.

While these may not be words one typically associates with supermarkets, the fact is, supermarkets can be prime establishments to create these experiences for shoppers. Let’s look at a few possibilities:

Entertainment: Cooking and pairing demonstrations, or beer and wine samplings. 

Education: Teach shoppers about food and how to prepare it. Think in-store cooking classes, meal ideas, and “storytelling” about how foods are sourced. 
Esthetic: In-store food merchandising and services like restaurants, wine bars, and cafes.

Escapism: Food tasting, including new cuisine and flavors that transport shoppers to new and exciting locales. 

With a proactive approach, an understanding of shopper behavior, and a little creativity, stores can offer an experience that more and more shoppers look for in the locales they shop.


Taking a major cue from the principles of the Experience Economy, this year’s Show and Sell — an interactive marketplace of merchandising ideas, displays, and education — at IDDBA 17 will feature several concepts designed to engage and inspire attendees and provide take-away ideas to share with their colleagues and coworkers. 

These Show and Sell concepts include: 

A breakfast bakery and coffee bar: The term “bakery” has always been associated with one’s senses, from fresh-baked bread and fresh-brewed coffee, to the sights of bakers in the midst of their trade, making delicious baked goods and continuously manning the ovens. This display will capture those components of a traditional breakfast bakery service, offering freshly-made bread and baked goods, made-to-order coffee and drinks, breakfast sandwiches, and a seating area to enjoy the experience with colleagues and friends. It will also offer a variety of single-serve and on-the-go food and beverage options, as well as a “refuel” case filled with protein-packed and other health and wellness offerings. Other concepts include a focus on the allure of fresh-baked bread; and a donut station where attendees can experiment with a variety of different flavored dips.

A cheese pub. Given the rise in cheese consumption in the United States and the variety of ways it can be utilized in engaging the senses, cheese can play an important role in a store’s Experience Economy model. This year’s Show and Sell will feature a cheese pub, focusing on concepts such as: small plate and snacking ideas, such as open-faced melted cheese sandwiches on artisan bread, and artisan toast featuring combo toppings like Manchego/artichoke/roasted red pepper and Gorgonzola/arugula/balsamic glaze; an educational tasting counter showcasing cheese board concepts, as well as cheese and beverage pairings; tapas and portable food ideas, featuring artisan cheeses, breads, crackers, and charcuterie; and cheese tray entertaining creations. 

Foodservice evolution. Prepared meal options not only are becoming increasingly common at food retailers, they can also play an important role in attracting and engaging shoppers through sights, sounds, and smells. In-store food service can provide the in-store experience more and more shoppers are looking for. On trend with the emerging grocerant model, this year’s Show and Sell will feature the BOOM! Kitchen, a concept where shoppers can select quick made-to-order cuisine and enjoy it in a special seating area. Another concept this year is the Pop-Up Wok, a flexible station that could feature on-trend cuisines or local chefs to give shoppers a unique experience.

Deli exploration. A store’s deli department is an ideal location for engaging shoppers with new food and flavor trends; it’s a place where shoppers can explore dining options for all dayparts, including snacking. Show and Sell attendees will view concepts that they can readily implement at their own stores for engaging with today’s shopper explorers. Among the concepts planned are: sandwich ideas that reflect current eating trends and tastes, including wedge sandwiches, wraps, breakfast-anytime options, and sliders (which supports the growing demand for snacking choices) that incorporate ethnic/international flare, such as Italian Piadina, Cuban, Bahn Mi, Korean pulled pork, Num Pang, and vegetarian options. Offering meal customization is another way to engage today’s shoppers, and Show and Sell is supporting this trend through a build-your own lunch/snack service whereby shoppers pick two, three, or four hot or cold grab-and-go, snack-sized products, and a build-your-own salad service. New ways of using charcuterie—think pizza, salad, and sandwiches—will also be highlighted. 

Cake design and “cakescape”: Entertaining is not confined to the physical store. It can be brought to the home, office, or an event in the form of cakes.  Attendees passing through the Show and Sell Cake Studio will see captivating and creative cakes ideas that appeal not just for traditional occasions (like birthdays and graduations), but also more everyday celebrations. Maybe it’s an anniversary at work. Or perhaps a small recognition cake for a child’s accomplishment. And they can co-create and experience the fun of designing their own personalized cake by mix-and-matching flavor combos, such as salty, sweet, and bitter. Additionally, the Cake Shoppe will feature a “cakescape” display, an interactive creation with a California theme that will grow and transform throughout the three-day show. It will be another example of engaging shoppers through the Experience Economy model.

As in past years, Show and Sell will also feature a full lineup of well-known industry speakers in the Show and Sell Workshop. Presenters will share their knowledge and expertise on a variety of techniques and concepts, ranging from how-to cooking demonstrations from celebrity chefs to informative sessions on how to energize your staff. Among the speakers in attendance this year are: Giada De Laurentiis, chef, writer, television personality, and Food Network host; Harold Lloyd, speaker, presenter, and mentor in the retail food industry.; Doug Rauch, founder of Daily Table and former president of Trader Joe’s.

Change is not something to fear. It’s something to embrace, especially given the numerous and untapped opportunities supermarkets should capitalize on in today’s Experience Economy.