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New York retailers cater to unique consumer demands

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In May, Manhattanites got their first chance to experience an AmazonGo store, located in the busy Brookfield Place mall in the island’s southwestern corner.

Amazon BB #:283186 boasts a “Just Walk Out” technology: customers download the AmazonGo app on their smartphones, scan items, and are automatically charged after exiting.

Food selections are geared toward convenience: for produce, this means fresh-cut items as well as juices and two-person meal kits.

It’s likely to be popular “especially for people in my age, millennials, who are listening to their music” on headphones, one customer remarked to Forbes magazine. “If I want to be antisocial, I can just go in and leave without talking to people. I go to Whole Foods, and I stand in line for fifteen minutes. You just walk right out here.”

AmazonGo opened a second store in June, in midtown Manhattan.

The German-based discount chain’s American division Lidl US BB #:338746 is making its presence increasingly felt in the New York area.

Lidl opened its first New York City store on Staten Island in 2018; in November it purchased twenty-seven stores of the Best Market chain, twenty-four on Long Island, two in New York City’s Astoria and Harlem districts, and one in Holmdel, NJ.

Lidl will open two new stores in Plainview and Center Moriches, both on Long Island. The hard discounter is in the process of transforming Best Markets into Lidl stores, and expects to top the 100-store mark nationwide by the end of 2020.

Another new entrant into the New York retail grocery world is the much-admired Wegmans chain, due to open its first store in the city late this fall. The 74,000-square-foot store will be located in the Admirals Row development of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The New York retail story goes far beyond chains.

“New York City is unique to the country, unique in the way we move produce,” said Joel Fierman, president of Joseph Fierman & Son, BB #:103676. “People don’t want supersized product. Stores are smaller, and people are buying more frequently,” he adds. “Every block is its own neighborhood,” and every block has its own grocery.

From the consumer’s point of view, Fierman remarks, “You’re bringing home what you can use; you don’t see too many side-by-side refrigerators in New York.”

Ethnic groups also make their tastes felt.

“Every group has their own wants,” Fierman observes. “The Indians, they like their cauliflower; Hispanics are more into root vegetables. A lot of what drives our business is ethnics. Fifteen years ago, whoever looked at an avocado? Now it’s a mainstay item on the shelf.”

This is a multi-part spotlight feature on New York produce adapted from the October 2019 issue of Produce Blueprints.


Richard Smoley, editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published eleven books.