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Opinion: Grocery love affair ends after Ruby’s Market closes

A Wider Lens

Posted online

Hi, my name is Mar’Ellen and I grow unhealthy attachments to grocery stores. There really should be a support group.

It wasn’t but four years ago I had to end my two-decade affection for Dillons after the chain left the market and the real estate was purchased by Pyramid Foods, parent company to Price Cutter and Ruby’s Market, among others. Dillons was a pragmatic choice for me: broad selection, cost effective, friendly employees and close to home (heavy emphasis on close to home). I didn’t enjoy shopping for groceries, but they made it so I didn’t dread the chore either.

Like most close relationships, even those of convenience, I thought no other could take the place of Dillons. For me the adjustment from Dillons to Price Cutter took an unreasonably long time. Frankly, I’m still lamenting the removal of the fantastic salad bar. Price Cutter’s replacement just isn’t the same.

However, with the opening of the new-to-Springfield concept of Ruby’s Market two years ago, I found my next love. It wasn’t the option of wine sipping while shopping, convenient meal kits or even the extensive collection of natural and organic foods.

Ruby’s Market, you had me at your close-enough-to-home location, open and bright layout, small-sized (right sized for me) carts, Chop Shop and fresh selection of produce, meat and seafood — although I took a hard pass on the octopus and 20-pound jackfruit. I also loved the fact there were never any lines, which was my first hint this love affair was not meant to last.

As Erick Taylor, Pyramid Foods CEO, revealed to Springfield Business Journal in the Dec. 24 article about the closure of Ruby’s Market, it served as a secondary stop with 80 percent of grocery purchases occurring at a conventional store. In number of items, that statistic rang true for me. However, 50-70 percent of my weekly grocery budget routinely fit nicely into two Ruby’s paper sacks, which was my second hint this love affair was not meant to last.

If social media is an accurate representation, there are two jobs we in this area can do better than those charged with the actual job: coaching the Kansas City Chiefs and running Pyramid Foods.

Since I am much more familiar with sacking groceries than quarterbacks, I feel somewhat empowered to comment on the closure of Ruby’s Market. Please take it for what it’s worth from this scorned lover.

I agree with Taylor that location was the demise of Ruby’s Market. It was a wonderfully executed concept located too close to MaMa Jean’s Natural Foods Market and Harter House, the undisputed champions of natural foods and fresh meats, respectively. In this arm-chair CEO’s opinion, success of Ruby’s Market could only be reliant on converting conventional grocery shoppers like me, rather than stealing market share from MaMa Jean’s and Harter House.

So I applaud Pyramid Foods’ decision to merge the concept into existing Price Cutters. The first in-store Ruby’s Market is slated to open at the East Battlefield Road store, adjacent to the Fox Grape Plaza.

The shift will likely increase average trip spends for the chain, but will be unlikely to capture additional market share. If margins are strong enough, that’s a fair trade in a very crowded industry sector.

The grocery store business has to be one of the most difficult to differentiate and compete, particularly on a local or regional scale. Thousands of SKUs, many of which every store needs to carry, forces stores to compete on price and convenience, which is inevitably a race to the bottom with tissue-paper-thin margins. For the short-term, consumers win, but eventually we all lose because inevitably choice and selection become limited.

I congratulate and thank Taylor for his willingness to innovate, fail, re-evaluate and adapt. Alas, as a center city dweller, my love for Ruby’s Market does not extend as far south and east as Fox Grape Plaza, so I look forward to Pyramid Foods retooling the St. Louis Street and National Avenue Price Cutter. And, be quick about it before I find my next new love.

Mar’Ellen Felin is CEO of sbjLive, a video media outlet and spin-off of Springfield Business Journal. She can be reached at mfelin@sbj.net.

Comments

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Warren Gene Campbell

Ms Felin I appreciate your comments but do disagree with the fact that 1. the location is NOT the reason for the demise, and 2. the prices were way out of line; especially as to Dillon's. Pyramid Foods does not understand "price cutting." Price Cutter is not a savings place. I have found quality at Aldi's, Food For Less and the Neighborhood Market near me. Ruby's could have succeeded if they took into consideration the income levels around them and ran some decent specials to atleast attract people into the store. If I wanted Healthy Stuff, I go to Momma Jeans.

Monday, December 31, 2018
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