Monday, May 26, 2008

Brownies as a Differentiator

Now, I can make homemade brownies. But certain people in my family prefer the gooey fakeness that is a specific type of grocery-store brownie covered in frosting.

And yes, I admit: when they're in the house, I eat 'em, too.

So with a barbeque on tap for Memorial Day weekend, I set out to go to said grocery store to purchase these brownies.

In response to ever-increasing competition in my area with other, newer, better, more gourmet-ified grocery stores, this store has been undergoing major construction for what seems like a good six months or more. So every time I've stopped by, I leave in frustration because nothing is where it should be and nobody's around to help you figure it out.

But I forged on, knowing that a certain someone was itching for some frosted-brownie deliciousness.

My plan included, as a good counter-balance, baking a homemade Cooking Light lemon cake as a dessert alternative for whomever preferred citrusy sugar to chocolatey awesomeness.

So I get to the grocery store, bracing myself for a construction nightmare, when I find that lo! The construction has abated. It seems - dare I say? - finished, or reasonably close to it.

There's a new food court (why a grocery store needs to have a food court is really beyond me, but I've lost that battle), a facelifted modern design that shows they've been reading Grocery Retailer Today or Today's Grocery Shopper or whatever the industry publication is noting that people want sophisticated color schemes and cool fonts telling them where they'll find their artisanal-style bread.

Despite the construction being finished, the overall effect is disappointing. Because they still have the same bad selection of groceries as before. The same inferior-level produce. The same haphazard displays. Only now the aisles seem narrower, and people have to squeeze to get by if someone is stopping in the aisle to select a can of soup or load up on Cheez Doodles.

Still, I make my way to the bakery department.

A little history: This store used to be a Genuardi's store, a locally owned chain in the Philadelphia suburbs that emphasized fresh produce and friendly service. A few years ago, they were swallowed up by the Safeway behemoth and almost overnight, the quality of nearly every product I shopped for there had degraded into less-than-stellar offerings.

Still, with the new facelift, I thought I'd give them a try.

So I ventured to the new bakery section, to fetch the pan of frosted brownies I came there to get.

I see a couple of stray packs of three gourmet brownies, but no frosted. Hm.

A bakery employee zooms by with a cart full of product and starts stocking, so I ask her where I'd find the brownies.

Well, you can predict from this long preamble what happened next: Genuardi's no longer carries their delicious frosted brownies. The employee proceeds to tell me that many customers have demanded they bring them back.

Apparently, this person tells me, it was decided to discontinue the frosted brownies, "because no other stores in the area were carrying them." Apparently, it also takes six months for a new product (the tri-piece gourmet version) to be phased out and a new product phased in.

But this isn't a new product - it's an old product! A standby that seemed to do perfectly well!

And another thing... Doesn't having a different product from everyone else give you an edge on the competition, then? Last time I checked, differentiation was a good thing.

I do not understand this. A product that's popular, that they have cornered the market on, they decide to do away with?!

What is it with all this me-too thinking? Carve out a niche for crying out loud! Take a stand, Genuardi's/Safeway!

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