As regular readers know we have been following Ron Burkle’s interest in the Wild Oats chain closely. So far, despite his nearly 25% ownership and placement of many of his people at the helm, things have remained pretty much the same at Oats. At least so far.
More recently we’ve talked to folks who suggest that the Oats brand might be worth more than the Oats stores. These folks suggest that offering the Wild Oats line to conventional grocers is a strong business opportunity.
One thing that’s clear is that conventional stores know little about about natural and organic. As much as they claim to want more of the natural shopping dollar they still know about as much about it as NBN knows about rebuilding the clutch in his 1983 Ford pickup. And what NBN knows is that he should talk to somebody else, someone who knows about clutches. Ditto for conventional grocers.
So the incentive is for mainstream markets to bring Oats brand onto their shelves instead of creating their own natural and organic private label line. The pitch that they should rely on the expertise of a store that knows natural and organic is a strong one.
Thus the Wild Oats products recenly introduced at Pathmark and Price Chopper stores offers these retailers with immediate access to a strong line of natural and organic products without the year or two of work, sourcing, bidding and creating specs to make their own products. Yet NBN wonders if the Oats products are geared toward the mass market tastes. In other words will they sell?
Whether the sales of Oats products makes the case for more chains to bring on the Oats brand will be hard to tell, at least in the short run. Both Price Chopper and Pathmark have informed their data house, AC Nielsen that Nielsen cannot report the Wild Oats products in their data as branded items. Instead these are to be reported as private label items which means, that sales figures for these products will not be released.
As noted by Nielsen in a letter sent to clients:
We have been working with these retailers to allow the items to be coded as branded and not private label. However, based on the feedback from Pathmark and Price Chopper that they refuse to share this data with us unless it is coded as private label we will keep the coding as private label at this time.
For readers not familiar with retail measurement data what that last sentence means is that clients buying ACN data (item and brand level scan data based market research) will not be able to track sales movement of Oats products. In other words, only the store itself will know.
As for the products, so far, we’re impressed. The price points are strong and the quality of these items is, overall, very high.
Current merchandising at NBN’s local Price Chopper in Northeast Pennsylvania was done haphazardly. Products are integrated (not isolated in a dedicated natural foods section),something we love, but seem to have been stocked without any effort at merchandising or resetting shelves. Not a large issue, but to NBN, a certified grocery geek, a little odd looking, or shall we say, lacking grocery feng shui.
Okay time for NBN to eat some Wild Oats blue corn chips.