The Best Innovations Grow From Your Roots: Kroger’s New Restaurant, Kitchen 1883, Brings Digital-Era Customers Back to the Store

Monday, January 22, 2018

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When Barney Kroger opened his first grocery store in 1883—The Great Western Tea Company—it wasn’t long before he started rapidly expanding his enterprise. Within a few short years he owned 4 stores. Twenty years later, it was 4o, plus a factory in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Barney Kroger’s success was the result of a shrewd knack for innovation that he started honing at the age of 13, when he left school to help his family through a period of financial hardship. There’s no doubt that experience contributed to his notorious drive to win. Beginning with a job selling coffee and tea door-to-door, Kroger developed an innate understanding of the logistics of the grocery business and a keen sense of customer preferences. It was a foundation that set him on a course to conceive some of the biggest innovations in the history of retail (think in-store bakeries and meat markets, as well as store-brand products), making The Kroger Company the giant it is today: the biggest grocery retailer in the United States.

Walk into any Kroger store and you’ll see that the modern grocery experience has evolved into something quite different than Barney Kroger’s early neighborhood markets. As we increasingly make purchases online and are more and more pressed for time, grocery shopping now often takes place alone. It’s done quickly and hastily in order to pick up food items and to move along. There is little enjoyment in the process and often the goal is to spend minimal time in the store.

To get customers to not only want to be in the store, but to look forward to the trip, retailers are racing to up their wow factors with experiences that inject something enjoyable and authentic into the routine shopping trip. But, Kroger has been in this game for a long time. Expanding on their early innovation of incorporating specialty services and products, like bakery and deli, you can now find best-of-the-best merchants like Murray’s Cheese and Starbucks in your neighborhood Kroger store.

The Kroger Company’s most recent innovation to the store experience is a nod to their historical past. This fall, Kroger opened its first-ever, sit-down, casual dining restaurant, “Kitchen 1883,” in one of its stores in Northern Kentucky not far from corporate headquarters in Cincinnati. Not only does the name reference Kroger’s founding year, but it also harkens back to a slower-paced era, when food was created from scratch—with simple, fresh ingredients—and could be appreciated for the time and craftsmanship that went into making it.

With a bar that features local craft brews and a menu of modern takes on American classics (made with ingredients that can all be sourced in the store), Kroger’s 1883 is a completely new offering in the world of grocery. But, it’s firmly grounded in the heritage of the Kroger brand and Barney Kroger’s skill for finding ways to evolve current organizational systems and structures with innovations that are just one step ahead of evolving lifestyles—creating new and sought-after experiences that delight customers by being forward-thinking and offering just the right thing, all at the same time.

Photo by Ali Inay on Unsplash.

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