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Let Them Eat Cake!

The path to innovation is often set by trailblazing brands typically defined as “aspirational” in nature―ones a large portion of the market wish to own, but for economic reasons cannot. Often the supply of aspirational products is also limited, due to restricted distribution and/or production. Such was the case for years with luxury products. They were expensive, limited in production, and only available for a certain time; they we’re “exclusive.” Nowadays, what consumers perceive as aspirational may be changing.

Today, many aspirational brands are also attainable. We see people toiling at WeWork while also planning their vacations via Airbnb; their Fjallraven work bag stuffed with a four-pack of Ponysaurus craft beer for later that night. For today’s generation, aspirations are grounded in the attainable. Couture fashion is no longer Fashion Week for the elite, but rather the recent Galaxy Unpacked 2018 live-streaming event of the Samsung Note 9 phone, readily viewable for all. A democratization of aspiration.

What sets these “attainable aspirational” products apart, simply put, is they try harder to make the common more special. They don’t deliver anything necessarily all that different from their competitors (i.e., a desk to work, a place to sleep, a rucksack to carry, or a beer to quaff), but they approach their respective categories in a different manner. Their brands speak to their audience in a smart, confident, and optimistic tone and make them feel special, contributing to our emotional need to belong or be a part of something. Consumers readily embody these feelings, finding aspiration through attainment. Nowadays it’s the totality of all the little things in our daily journey―work, play, shelter, and daily necessities―that add up to a well-lived, yet aspirationally driven, life.

Which brings me arguably to the most attainable and rote purchase of all, buying food at the supermarket. We all eat and need to shop regularly, if not habitually. While retailers of all stripes are reinventing themselves in the face of Amazon, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and all the others seem to lose their ‘buzz’ of late. Where I live, in the Carolinas, Wegman’s is stretching into our state following fleeing Yankees heading south, while Kroger is leaving us for the promise of China via Alibaba. At the same time, Germany’s Aldi and Lidl are both gaining a valuable toehold locally. So much going on for such a simple task in our daily lives!

Yet, I’m not satisfied. While each of these chains has a unique position in the marketplace, I’m nostalgic for the experiences I encountered years back when entering Dean & DeLuca in Boston or Citarella in New York; regardless of the hard work and effort by modern retailers, we’ve slipped in delivering a memorable shopping experience. Recently, however, I discovered Zurheide, and I once again have hope, for Zurheide is the embodiment of the attainable aspirational experience. But there’s a hitch, it’s located in Germany, not North Carolina. But as both Aldi and Lidl have recently graced our shores, perhaps I won’t have to wait too long.

A recent review of the chain is available through an article in Monocle Magazine where the supermarket chain states “Zurheide is committed to turning an everyday errand into an unrivalled experience.” Their recent store in Dusseldorf, for instance, carries staples such as liters of milk and boxed cereal, but also contains three restaurants and five bars (have to love the Germans). The result is not a store, but that of a food hall, such as Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston or the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco.

While you may think this is a Eurocentric concept, those involved in designing the store say they received much of their inspiration from visits to Canada and the U.S. “It’s all about selling the right mix: Twix next to truffles,” according to Heinz Zurheide, founder of the eight-store chain.

Zurheide may be a glimpse of what the future of ‘brick-based’ retail will become. Nothing is truly fixed, rather the physical space is built to evolve and change with consumer preferences. Rather than a large, overwhelming space, the goal is to create unique environments within, with moveable walls and displays, so one can assimilate into the shopping journey and explore beyond normative shopping behaviors. The store becomes the destination―the mundane of food shopping blossoms into an experience itself―attainable aspiration.

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