There were some self serving anti competitive comments made by those against Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods. As a small player in the food business representing small brands trying to establish a foothold in the market we find that Amazon is the only one to provide a wide open door to try, test and market a food product. Also its the means for a local well established local brand such as Sclafani to expand into national distribution. What Amazon has is unlimited shelf space where as traditional retailers must ration their limited space to the highest bidder, usually a big player who wants to shut out competing small brands. The power of the combination of online and retail grocery is that it expands the shelf space to make a specialty item available to the store’s customers that want it rather than leaving it to the professional buyer to determine that there is not enough of a market for an item to carry it.
For example let’s take San Marzano Whole Peeled Plum Tomatoes, a product that is mentioned on the Food Channel with the caveat to please be sure to use authentic San Marzano tomatoes. A consumer who looks into it will find out about the DOP, Denomination of Production, consortium in Italy that certifies authentic San Marzano tomatoes from the Sarnese-Nocerino valley under Vesuvius, and that it can only be labeled as Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese Nocerino D.O.P. Well, after looking at the tomato shelf at Whole Foods in Darien Connecticut I couldn’t find a can with that Italian label on it. Not anyone’s including Sclafani who happens to be located in Norwalk Connecticut, the town next door. Yes there were plenty of cans declaring that they were San Marzano but none with the official DOP certification because the buyer at Whole Foods thinks that no one would buy a product whose label they can’t understand. But now with an unlimited shelf space backbone the store could have it listed at its “Can’t Find It?” kiosk and order such a niche product. Given enough orders the store may begin to carry it for regular pick up and sale. The point is that the combination gives the consumer, not the professional buyer thinking about the store’s shelf space, the power to select what they want. The irony of progress in this particular case is portends the return of of the small local grocer as the pickup point in a modern online and brick store and demotes the big stores that you can get lost in looking for what you want.