I rarely complain about Kroger. I like the store, they have a good selection of the brands I buy, the manager is helpful, and the cashiers are friendly and enjoyable to talk to. They treat me like a valued customer. Through the years, their health foods department has grown and developed from a few boxes of whole wheat mac and cheese on a shelf to a section several short aisles wide with a cooler and freezers. They offer a much better selection of health foods than in the past, with quite a few of my very favorite products. I’ve been really happy with the changes—at least until now.
My Kroger store at Waynetowne Plaza has a new policy. Maybe yours has the same policy; it’s probably a decision made by someone with a desk job who’s never even set foot in an actual store and who has no idea of the havoc the policy is wreaking among health foods shoppers. Or perhaps it's actually being driven by the product makers themselves. Whichever, instead of stocking all of its organic and other health foods in its health food department, Kroger has begun placing many of them in a variety of other places around the store.
The first time I noticed this was when I could no longer find organic milk. I asked the employee who works in the health food department why they were out of organic milk, and she said, “Oh, it’s with the regular milk now.” I’m sure you’re thinking, “That’s probably in the cooler right next to the health food cooler.” Uh, no. The regular milk is clear at the other end of the store. Walking from the health foods cooler to the regular dairy cooler is like migrating to a new continent with a changed climate and a different time zone, except there are no palm trees or pretty beverages with little umbrellas in them when you get there.
I found this new milk location incredibly irritating. Plus, now that they’re stocking organic milk in the regular dairy section, they have trouble keeping the variety I like in stock. So after hiking all the way down to the regular dairy section with my cart, my handbag, and whatever else I’m carrying—just to get that one product—I find that the milk’s often not there anyway.
Wanna guess what aisle the raw kale chips are in? You might think it’s the regular chips and pretzels aisle. No, I thought that too, but they weren’t there. It would have been an interesting merchandising strategy anyway, given the fact that most people who eat fried pork rinds or Doritos have no interest whatsoever in kale, regardless of what you put it in. You could actually put kale inside pork rinds and soak it in beer, and they would still turn up their noses at it, even though—if they ever tried raw kale chips—they might like them. After hunting everywhere I could think of, I finally had to ask where they were. They’re in the baking aisle. Yep, right between the ice cream syrups and the Craisins. You explain it.
The organic tomatoes are now with the regular tomatoes. And then there are the organic eggs, which have always been with the regular eggs. Do you see a pattern here?
It’s a pain to have to track down organic products throughout the store and try to remember where they all are. Furthermore, I’m sure there are lots of organic products I would like but have no idea Kroger’s even carries them. What’s the point of having a health foods section if many of your organic foods are scattered everywhere? Doesn’t it make more sense to put products where people who want them will find them than to hide them amid unrelated products where no one will find them except through serendipity?
I tend to have a busy schedule with long work hours, and when I go to the store I usually have to buzz in and out quickly and get back to my work. That used to be easy when most of the products I bought were concentrated in just one section of the store. Now instead of getting most of the things I want in the health foods department and maybe a couple of other aisles, I have to start off on a long and meandering journey that takes me through nearly every aisle in the store. This makes my fun 10-minute dash to the grocery store 30 minutes of no fun, although a lot of days I just don’t take the time. I buy what I can find in a hurry and leave. I’m not pleased.
Apparently, the store’s merchandisers figure they’ll sell more organic products if they put them in with the highly processed, chemical-laden, genetically modified junk foods or because they figure they’ll introduce organic foods to a wider audience that way. But when I go to the health foods department, one reason is so I can see which ones are available.
I have no problem with Kroger putting organic foods in myriad weird places around the store, sort of like hiding Easter eggs, as long as they stock them in the health food department too. I realize that double-stocking is a pain for them, but any store that puts its own convenience above that of the customer is going to find itself outclassed by stores that put the customer first.
When my grocery receipt gives me a link to an online survey, I now use that opportunity to voice my displeasure over the organic foods issue, but so far nothing has changed. My time is worth a lot to me, and I don’t want to waste that much of it looking for elusive groceries that are not located in the department they belong in. Grocery shopping is not supposed to be a long, drawn-out treasure hunt; it’s supposed to be convenient. At least, that’s my opinion. If the new policy bothers you too, do me a favor and add your voice to mine when you fill out your grocery receipt survey. Savvy stores listen to their customers and adapt to their needs.