Share This Article

Curation Cuts Through the Clutter in a Crowded Retail Market

A Focus on Curated Premium Shopping Experience Opens Avenues of Discovery for Shoppers

Couple shopping groceryWhat do Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, H-E-B/Central Market, Aldi, Amazon and Thrive Market have in common? We believe this group to be masterful curators of the food and beverage shopping experience, which is key to being among the leading retailers in food culture.

With such a fractured and hyper-competitive food retailing environment, one in which digital and physical are virtually indistinguishable from each other, what makes “curation” of food and beverage such a special thing?

Curation as an art form can best be described as the process of a retailer (whether physical or digital) moving from the role of casual editor (of say the 40,000 items found in a typical grocery store) to full-time curator (potentially flanked by docents) meeting the needs of shoppers who are increasingly hungry to discover new food and beverage frontiers.

Many successful food retailers currently align as curators of premium experiences.

How consumers purchase organic and natural products is intrinsically related to channel and retailer selection. Our Organic and Natural 2018 report finds that retailers serve a key curation role in organizing, describing and prioritizing key organic and natural product attributes for consumers, all of which ladder up to shaping how consumers source and understand organic and natural products. This is what makes retailers like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts Farmers Market, Fairway Market and The Fresh Market consumer favorites.

For consumers shopping a highly trusted retailer, the need to trust in brand names or to scrutinize organic or natural product attributes declines. Retail context shapes the willingness of consumers to explore and thus increases their adoption of new organic and natural products.

We see this issue of “trust” (and linkages to curation) play out in over-indexing of positive trust ratings across channels analyzed in our Food Shopping in America 2017 report. The following chart highlights which channels excel in providing a setting for curated discovery of premium food and beverage experiences.

The over-indexing of online grocery as “a good place to browse” is perhaps not a surprise when we consider how curation has played a role in the digital realm. Online grocers, such as Thrive Market and Amazon, are practicing curation on a detailed level, enabling shoppers to shop between a wide range of diet-driven filters (e.g., “high in protein”) as well as premium food and beverage distinctions.

 Description generated with high confidence

Reflections on Retail Curation

As consumers shop seamlessly (and increasingly) between channels for food and beverage, retailers need to determine what their value proposition is (hint: it’s not just about lowest price) and how they can become curators in the categories that matter to consumers.

  • Successful retailers are evolving from mere editors to curators. Whether focused on the premium market with high-quality product selection or limited selection, shoppers increasingly rely on trusted retailers to help them navigate their food choices. A major component of curation includes acting as a docent or guide for customers, enabling a platform for discovery. The stories behind certain foods can be compelling, and information about products with premium distinctions can alleviate confusion and build trust.
  • In the realm of products with organic and natural, specialty or health and wellness distinctions, most consumers are not so interested that they actively parse out all the different claims and certifications they see as they shop, but they do consider themselves savvy enough to peruse the grocery aisles and look for different signs of purity across categories.
  • Consumers also do not hold themselves to rigid standards; they prioritize different criteria in different categories and on different occasions, depending on their situation, their mood, what's on sale, etc. Retail context shapes the willingness of consumers to explore and thus increases their adoption of new premium products. Our research finds that store renovations or other merchandising changes can drive greater consumer engagement in categories with premium distinctions like organic and natural.


Food & Beverage Occasions Consumer Package Goods Retail/Shopper Insights Technology/Social Media


As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.


hartbeat subscribe