Digital-Native Food Brands Build Awareness Through Brick-And-Mortar Retail


While consumers’ openness to digital-only brands has increased in the last year, with the pandemic posing difficulties for brick-and-mortar retail, it would be wrong to discount the traditional in-store experience. In grocery, for one, PYMNTS research has found that most consumers are still shopping in-store, and many are eager to return to in-store shopping at pre-pandemic levels.

As  Debbie Guerra, executive vice president of merchant payments and payments intelligence solutions at ACI Worldwide, told PYMNTS in an interview, “Most of us as consumers have grown up very accustomed to our own preferences in how we select our grocery items, and that in-store experience has really been ingrained.”

Even digital-native brands are conscious of the strong appeal of the traditional in-store shopping journey. Brick-and-mortar stores may not have the monopoly on sales that they once held, but they remain an indispensable channel for building awareness. Just as many traditionally in-store brands have been bolstering their eCommerce offerings in the last couple decades, the digital-physical transition can also go the other way.

In the food world, digital-native brands across sectors — grocery stores, restaurants, and convenience stores — have been establishing an in-person presence to connect with consumers beyond their online offerings. Foxtrot Market, for instance, a convenience store company that began as delivery-only, now has over a dozen brick-and-mortar locations, which it uses to both to drive sales and to build deeper relationships with its consumers. These stores allow Foxtrot to be “deeply embedded in our neighborhoods,” company Founder and Chief Executive Officer Mike LaVitola told PYMNTS in a recent interview, offering a “sense of hospitality that you don’t typically find in retail.”

In the restaurant space, delivery-only ghost kitchens have been viewed by many as a way to pilot test concepts for brick-and-mortar locations. In Ohio, for instance, soul food concept Soul 2 Go began as a delivery-only ghost kitchen to build up a following for its eventual restaurant openings, reported 614 Now. There has been some speculation that Chili’s is doing the same with its It’s Just Wings ghost kitchen chain — according to Restaurant Business , the chain’s parent company Brinker International has hinted at the restaurant’s intention to open brick-and-mortar restaurants down the line.

Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, DoorDash has opened its own digital-brand-turned-brick-and-mortar-restaurant with Burma Bites, a formerly delivery- and takeout-only concept that as of October has a physical, consumer-facing location in Oakland, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Burma Bites is an example of working alongside a restaurant to find new ways for our partnerships to adapt to the new normal,” Georgie Thomas, head of regional merchant partnerships at DoorDash, told the publication. “We set out to take the authenticity and uniqueness of the Burma Superstar dine-in experience, and the success they’ve seen with delivery from their other locations, and build a more permanent delivery model for their business.”

As DoorDash grows its reach into the brick-and-mortar restaurant space, an even larger digital-native giant is taking on brick-and-mortar in the grocery space. Amazon, in addition to acquiring brick-and-mortar-native Whole Foods Market, has been expanding its grocery footprint with new Amazon Go convenience stores, Amazon Go grocery stores and Amazon Fresh grocery stores, which integrate consumers’ Amazon accounts and Alexa-enabled technologies to offer a hybrid digital/physical experience. These stores further blur the lines between the online world and the physical retail world, as leading businesses leverage both to inform one another, creating a seamless cross-channel experience.


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