A South Dakota couple promotes beef, gains marketing insight

Chad and Mary Blair, Vale, S.D. were among several ranch couples that had the chance to visit Stew Leonard’s grocery chain to promote beef recently.

By Codi Vallery-Mills

For most of us, going to the local grocery store for a few hours isn’t our idea of leisurely weekend entertainment, but for customers of Stew Leonard’s grocery it is.
A retail grocery store chain in Connecticut and New York, Stew Leonard’s has pushed food marketing to the next level. The chain doesn’t just provide you with your daily meals; it provides you with an experience.
Vale, S.D. ranchers, Chad and Mary Blair, witnessed what they deem “destination shopping” over Memorial Day weekend at two of Leonard’s stores. They were there on invitation because of their involvement with U.S. Premium Beef, which is part owner of National Beef Packing Company.
The pair, along with other ranch couples from Missouri and Kansas, spent two days visiting with Stew Leonard’s customers about beef – handing out steak samples and helping shoppers pickout meat cuts for future meals.
Chad and Mary say it was a great chance to talk one-on-one with customers about beef. They helped dispel a few myths and along the way had a few of their own debunked.
“I think the TV media has us [the ag community] believing that consumers don’t trust us or our product,” says Mary. “That isn’t the case. We met tons of people that love and eat beef daily.”
Chad agrees but cautions that the ag industry still has work to do. “I don’t think that means we can ignore any issues, but I do think consumers are more accepting of beef then we have been led to believe.”
The beef promotion event aside, what stood out to the couple while at Leonard’s was the marketing prowess that seemed to be on display everywhere they looked.
Unlike traditional Midwest stores where the aisles run in rows, this grocery chain instead casually winds customers along a maze through every department.  The objective is to get you to spend more time in the store. So between perusing the pineapples and salivating over the baked goods you can stop and grab a coffee at the in-house café.
Don’t know what to do with the kids? Check out the on-site petting zoo created just for little ones. Or settle them down with an ice cream cone also available in the store.
It’s a stark contrast from the fluorescent lit, get-in-get-out shopping that many middle-of -America residents are accustom to.
“Whole families shop at Leonard’s and everyone leaves having had a good time,” explains Chad. “It something for them to do on weekends.”
Stew Leonard’s is a family-owned company that was built around the family’s dairy in Norwalk, Conn. Its foundation is bringing affordable products to families and doing it with the utmost customer service.
Mary says it was evident that customer service was very important at the grocery stores they visited. Each department had several people on-hand ready to answer questions and help customers as they shopped.
The meat and seafood departments at Leonard’s are well staffed with meat cutters and fishmongers. Customers are asked what their price point is. Whatever the price point, an employee helps them select a meat cut that fits that dollar value. Quickly gone then is the intimidation one may feel when looking at an endless meat case of cuts, sizes and prices.
It’s not only customers that appreciate this hands-on salesmanship. The grocery chain has made Fortune magazine’s top 100 companies to work for each of the last 12 years. Unlike most conventional retail grocery stores, Stew Leonard’s employs more than 2,500 full and part time employees at its four stores in Norwalk, Newington and Danbury, Conn., and Yonkers, NY. Many of them are longtime employees with over 20 years on the job.

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