Popular Food Retailers We Love To Hate and Love to Love

Some say success breeds contempt. It also breeds more sales.

Whole Paycheck. German billionaires. CEOs who drive employees to tears. There's a lot to hate about the most successful food retailers in America. AND a lot to love.

The Keys to a Great Grocery Experience

Retail experience expert Kevin Kelley says that baseline promises like good price, variety, convenience, quality and service are not enough to pull in customers and build loyalty.

The most engaging grocery and food stores navigate us through their brand much like a movie. Huh? Yes! The best stores either draw us in...or make us take the popcorn and leave early.

At the Fancy Food Show, he outlined The Retail Theater Process - a brilliant framework for creating retail experiences customers that lead to sales and loyalty...or a totally forgettable experience.

He points out that real stories are honest and compelling, about the good and bad, the positive and negative sides of a debate like animal husbandry, natural vs. GMO, and local vs. organic.

  1. What is the story of the store?
  2. Where does the story take place?
  3. What are the key scenes of the store?

The customer leaves a triumphant hero, hopefully without the Disney-like pitfalls and villains.

As you read through these love / hate lists, think about your own experience with the story of these retail brands. 

Trader Joe's Love / Hate List

Trader Joe's store display made of frequent flyers on a dog house
Here's one way to thank Trader Joe's for your appreciating home value. Susie Wyshak

Trader Joe's the multi-billion dollar company that grew slowly and created a cult following with a pretty much flawless customer experience. The big question is: Why has no other retailer replicated Trader's success?

  1. LOVE: Food shopping becomes a taste adventure we can trust with visual signage fun at every turn.
  2. LOVE: Customers can return food if they just don't like it, which makes #1 possible.
  3. LOVE: The selection is just big enough with unbeatable prices.
  4. JUST PLAIN JEALOUS: The owners are German bazillionaires.
  5. HATE: The minute you get hooked on a product they stop carrying it — and they hook us very well with ample sampling.

The story begins with beautiful flowers and plants.

Whole Foods Market Love / Hate List

Whole Food Market store
Whole Foods Market has tried to overcome its Whole Paycheck reputation. Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market may signal "gentrification" more than any other supermarket. For eaters of healthful, tasty foods it's a boon. And the smaller format 365 by Whole Foods stores promise a lot more convenient shopping experience. For now... 

  1. LOVE: Shopping at Whole Foods is a delicious experience, with almost too many interesting choices.
  2. HATE: 
  3. LOVE: The private label brand makes organic packaged food more affordable.
  4. HATE: Sometimes it's hard to know if you're getting a bargain. The Whole Paycheck reputation got worse with one store's pricing issues.
  5. LOVE: The company offers lots of support to local food makers wanting to sell at Whole Foods, starting with the Producer Loan Program.

The story usually begins with the warm feeling of baked goods and coffee. 

Amazon Grocery and Fresh Love / Hate List

Amazon Fresh example
Amazon Grocery and other Amazon food delivery services bring sellers visibility and shoppers easy ordering. Amazon.com

By the time you read this, Amazon will very likely have added or changed its food shopping options. That's the nature of this fast-moving giant. For now...

  1. LOVE: They're one-stop shopping if you're already an Amazon addict.
  2. HATE: The price for prime is a show stopper - $299 a year up front?
  3. HATE: There's that question about the Amazon work culture and its employees .
  4. LOVE: The selection isn't great, but the service is always changing and improving.
  5. HATE: The carbon footprint of receiving food in big boxes or bags can be a little cringe-worthy.

Amazon delivers a short story, driven by time-saving search, much like the CliffsNotes of grocery shopping!

Costco and a Jumbo-sized Love / Hate List

Costco delivery truck brings office supplies and foods to the city
Costco delivery truck brings office supplies and foods to the city. Susie Wyshak

The retailers that sells more than $100 billion every year had a love / hate list that was just too long to cram into 5 items.


  1. Super low prices on everyday and unique items as well as ready-to-eat foods and drinks like pizza and frozen yogurt.
  2. Costco's huge organic food selection and the magic of sampling make a store visit rewarding.
  3. Businesses can stock a kitchen with good food and get it delivered.
  4. Costco's services from tires to trips (and diapers to coffins) simplify our lives. 
  5. A liberal return policy takes the pain out of trying something new.


  1. The membership fee makes you want to shop there to make the membership fee worthwhile.
  2. Big sizes, big parking lots, big lines.
  3. No express lane can make Costco a time-suck if you don't plan your shopping trip strategically — which also leads to more spending.
  4. Have you ever had a question for a Costco employee? Keep looking.
  5. Once you get hooked on a product, Costco stop stocking it if it's not a big seller. (Learn more about how brands get in and stay in Costco in Good Food, Great Business.)

The action thriller jumps right into the action, with the hero (us) navigating a busy parking lot. Like a good romance, shopping at Costco delivers some predictability and some surprise. 

Wal-Mart for Food Shopping - Love / Hate List

Walmart Neighborhood Market
Walmart is opening smaller more convenient neighborhood markets. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Wal-Mart sold nearly $500 billion (that's half a trillion) of goods worldwide in 2014. The company sais that 70% of Americans live within 5 miles of a Walmart store, which might explain those mind-boggling numbers.

In 2015 Walmart began rolling out a drive-thru grocery pick up service — specifically to compete with Amazon and Target — that may be the key to increasing food sales.

  1. LOVE: WalMart welcomes women-owned food businesses to pitch the store on carrying healthful food products.
  2. LOVE: The company's organic selection keeps growing, which especially helps food shoppers located in food deserts. A Good For You label helps shoppers find these good foods too.
  3. HATE: The news on how the company treats workers might leave a bad taste in your mouth.
  4. LOVE: Cheap prices are good for consumers, and can be good for food manufacturers who price smartly.
  5. HATE: The low-cost organic initiative is not good for growers. Is this necessary? The family is not hurting for money

Wal-mart's own grocery story has had its ups and downs, as the company works to become a primary food shopping destination.

To me, their retail experience story is fuzzy. If you shop there, how would you tell their story? 

What Kind of Food Shopper / Store Relationship Do You Want?

Like a passion-filled relationship, it seems the most popular food retailers have wild fans and rabid haters. Then there are the supermarkets of the world which deliver a good, reliable experience without all that love / hate baggage. For retailers, it's interesting to decide which kind of store you want to be, with a story that will engage customers and get them to repeat your story to other consumers. As a shopper, it's also interesting to think about which kind of store speaks to your shopping style and if this changes depending on your needs and mood.