Why Kale Will Save Retail
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\"kale_new\" …And Other Lessons From European Retail\’s Foodie Heroes

As many of us remember, the 2014 Chanel Fall/Winter show was a foodie dream for those who love fashion. A monumental moment celebrating the merging of fashion and food, Lagerfeld transformed the Grande Palais into the chicest of supermarkets, with over 100,000 products, ranging from Coco Flakes to Chateau Gabrielle wine.

An ode to the most fashionable trend of the moment? Or perhaps the more literal…food is fashion is food.

The fashion world’s biggest names have embraced food in a big way. NY-based Related Companies revolutionized the concept of retail dining with its 2002 launch of the NYC Time Warner Center, a fashion mecca on the West Side, anchored by Whole Foods and chef superstars. Les grands magasins of Europe have elevated food to a level of epicurean artistry with open kitchens showcasing the top chefs at work alongside thousands of food products from around the world.

Why Did Food Become So Fashionable?

Talk to developers and the directors of F&B at the major global retailers and their key marketing words are: Experience. Animate. Excite. Delight. Surprise. In the digital age, stores compete with mobile phones. One click, and the coveted Isabel Marant coat can be delivered, same day no less. Department stores need to provide a new raison d\’être for customers to shop in stores again. Many retailers are returning to their roots, bringing animation and programming back to the shop floor.

And food, in all its incarnations — restaurants, bars, food halls, markets, events and demonstrations — has taken center stage. The most democratic of luxury goods, great food, even if it’s one simple bite, can be experienced for a few dollars (a Pierre Hermé macaron, a cup of Mariage Frère tea). And when successful, F&B offerings entice customers through the front door to move inside to experience the full store. Retail F&B can be an incomparable marketing experience, which animates, delights, excites and surprises — and which, for the moment, technology cannot replicate.

In the past five years, both Galeries Lafayette and Le Bon Marché have each invested millions in upgrading their food concepts (Lafayette Gourmet and La Grande Epicerie respectively). The recently opened Lafayette Gourmet boasts over 20,000 items in 75,000 square feet and 14 restaurant concepts.

As the growth in F&B seems destined to continue, we asked the directors of the top department store F&B programs, leading designers and developers on their most important lessons in the F&B arena. Here are their answers.

Healthy is the New Sexy

Scan the Instagrams of some of the most followed fashion personalities and what do we find? Pictures post-yoga with a green juice and recipes galore for gluten-free and the perfect kale salad. A decade ago, eating healthy meant dieting, something we had to do to fit into our jeans. Today, it’s a celebration with mantras like “strong is the new skinny” that define the current mindset. The impact of healthy for the modern consumer includes looking and feeling better, increased productivity, and more mental agility. Delicious, healthy food is brain fuel. And with the advent of wearables that allow for tracking to remind us of our steps taken and calories consumed, we suddenly have a device to remind us of our indulgences and healthy choices.

Consumers are flocking to healthy options. Growth rates for “free-from” foods and healthy snacks are in mid- to high-double digits. Private investors are actively seeking the next fast casual, healthy concept. Juice bars are opening on every corner. Even Alain Ducasse has turned his three-star Michelin Paris restaurant into a temple to vegetarian and pescetarian fare.

Winston Chesterfield, Associate Director of Ledbury Research, explains the growth in healthy among high net worth (HNWs) and ultra high net worth (UHNWs) consumers. “Home dinners and at-home entertaining are key trends for these markets.” The growth in home or office delivery, i.e. “haute healthy takeaway” among HNWs who may not have personal chefs has been significant in the UK and US markets. And these healthy food offerings not only command a premium to other food items but also inspire loyalty, the “golden ticket,” for retailers who can identify the best in class in these sectors.

Finally, the confluence of these trends alongside a strong media story line and global trendsetters embracing healthy (tennis star Novak Djokovic on gluten-free to Gwyneth Paltrow on healthy food) has only served to amplify the message to a broader audience.

The Theater of Food

Creating memorable, multisensory, multifaceted F&B offerings across various price points underpins the current development strategies of many of the leaders in the space. The experience of dining and the discovery of newness remains central to why retailers and developers are investing millions in the space. “Transformation of the physical space is key,” explains Nathan Hermann, Director of Food & Restaurants at Selfridges. Consumers want to “come have an experience that you can\’t get at home.” Director of La Grande Epicerie de Paris, Alexandre Boutoille concurs. “The idea is to combine the pleasure of discovering … and tasting to achieve pleasure through all the senses.”

Greg Bradshaw, a partner with New York-based design firm AVROKO adds a new perspective: “Millennials have engaged food experiences in a way that generations before may have been slow to adopt. Their near constant exposure and access to a variety of food and wine, even in remote places, have made them the first generation where nearly everyone is something of an informed food and wine expert.”

And as with any great theater, a memorable food experience requires pacing and rhythm. Think about it, our best dining experiences deliver far more than a utilitarian way to satisfy a hungry appetite.

Hermann explains that consumers’ idea of a great experience is moving away from fine dining, instead, preferring the fast casual approach without sacrificing quality. He adds, “Selfridges newest offering, Tonkotsu, is a superior experience around modern day ramen delivered in under 20 minutes.” Ken Himmel, President & CEO of Related Urban, agrees. “We created a series of court cafés in Abu Dhabi at the Galleria that are quick serve offerings but high quality, great execution and very diverse. It has been hugely successful.”

Gourmet food markets that mix dining with fresh product has been at the forefront of the revival of European department store offerings, inspired in larger part by the success of World Retail Congress award winner Eataly. William Harris, Partner at AVROKO explains: “Luxury focused food markets have been some of the early adopters to transcend ‘retail-think’ with concierge-style employees engaging in front of the counter as specialists on single product lines, or as consultants in how to put together a full night of entertaining. Spaces are also being designed into retail locations that are more humanistic with centralized anchored seating as the core of the retail experience versus product being the center stage. This gives retail spaces the same sense of social engagement and energy as a restaurant.”

And the final ingredient to a successful offering is a robust programming menu, which serves as a key marketing and sales lever for the entire store. Selfridges is now in its second year of “Meet the Makers” where the store hosts chefs, mixologists, and other artisans to explain their crafts. Classes sell out on a regular basis.

Boutoille says the 2014 Japon Rive Gauche program at Le Bon Marché, “was supported by events at La Grande Epicerie where a selection of Japanese products was on offer as well as food presentations specially created by a famous Japanese chef. Pastries as well were created for the occasion and are still on offer due to its success.”

“Eat It, Tweet It”

Selfridges most liked tweet of 2014 focused on the store’s take on a beloved classic for the holidays — personalized Nutella jars. Hermann has been at the forefront of embracing the food meets technology space with his key support early on for Boomf which allows customers to print photos onto marshmallows for a customized sweet.

Bruce Langlands, Director of Food at Harrods, explains the impact of social media. “From a business perspective, ‘appiness’ in the food space and the ‘eat it, tweet it’ mentality will continue to revolutionize the way we talk about food and drink.”

Eating is a social experience, enjoyed with family and friends and perfect fodder for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In a world where photography has become the base language across cultures, images of a home cooked meal or the perfect dish at a celebrated restaurant are shorthand for who we are, what we value, and our aesthetic tastes. Food is the most democratic of passions for the broadest of 21st century audiences to enjoy and share. The digital community of foodies transcends experience and age. Professional chefs have embraced it as much as the home cook, and the dialogue continues to expand with producers, suppliers, farmers, technologists, etc. The connection among all is a new level of physical, mental, and even spiritual experience of enjoying food.

Food is Fashion

Great food must satisfy multiple senses, sight, taste, smell, and touch (texture). A multi-sensory, perishable, morsel must satiate and delight in equal parts; a challenge that requires chefs and food entrepreneurs to be food scientists and artists, all at once. Sarah Andelman, Founder of Paris-based colette explains, “We consider food products in the same way we consider books, beauty or sneakers. It must be about fantastic quality and beautiful packaging.” Department stores continue to build on this theme by applying the lessons of fashion to the sourcing of new food products and creating new experiences. The leaders in the sector view their craft as an ongoing exploration of craftsmanship, authenticity, provenance, affordable luxury, experience and globalization, the same buzzwords that pepper any conversation in fashion today.

We’re getting hungry just thinking about what might be coming next.

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