Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges in retail is changing up the commonplace. Supermarkets and grocery stores line our streets yet we rarely enjoy the experience. Introducing a new concept to the states, Pop Up Grocer is a travelling grocery store that showcases the most innovative and exciting natural food brands today, including ready-to-eat bars, bites, butters, puffs, jerky, and more. We speak to the founder Emily Schildt about why she wants to reinvent this age-old retail staple:
Why was there was a need to create something like Pop Up Grocer?
We live in an age of excess. Brands suffer because it's nearly impossible to get noticed, whether on the shelf or online. Customers suffer because we're overwhelmed by options. I wanted to create a place where the selection is edited, and thus exciting.
What’s lacking in today’s grocery shopping?
We want an initial in-person interaction. Food, beverage, home, and body products are very intimate. They are consumed and absorbed by our bodies. They are personal choices that say something about who we are and how we live our life. We don't want to make that choice with a click of a button, at least not initially.
How did you set up and scale a brand like this? Where did you start?
I set up a home themed, small-scale pop-up shop over the holidays last year, in partnership with a new hotel in Williamsburg. From there, I launched Pop Up Grocer in April with a 100+ brand store, open for 10 days in the Soho area. In September, we opened our second store in the same area for 30 days, open now through October 20th. In February, we'll open our third in LA. It's step by step, shop by shop. We learn and iterate as we go.
You focus on showcasing new brands, was this strategic? How do you find them?
Our focus is on new and emerging brands. I was privy to these in my profession as a brand marketing consultant for food companies. I was constantly researching and sourcing products for clients and prospective work, and I realised that there wasn't one central location to find them all. Lightbulb.
The majority of your products are natural. Why?
Our current shop is 99% vegetarian, 81% vegan, and 78% gluten-free. This is a byproduct of focusing, first and foremost, on where the innovation is happening. We look for what's interesting (are you using chickpeas as pasta or cauliflower as chips?) and right now it’s the plant-based space. Sustainable sources are the future.
How have you managed to fit out the store on a budget? Any tips for those doing the same?
We have an incredible team. That's number one! More specifically, we borrow and rent a lot of fixtures, in partnership with the suppliers. A quick tip is to elevate bottom-tier pieces with paint and personality, like our coloured stools and branded grocery baskets.
How did you spread the word?
Our shop operates in partnership with 150+ incredible brands with followings of their own, so we work with them to cross-promote PUG across owned channels: social media, email, etc. We also activate our network of media and influencers, as well as a social media campaign.
What have been your key learnings from doing these two pop-ups?
People are hungry for a new grocery shopping experience. They are continuously asking us to stay permanently, make our products available online, and expand to more cities. Our merch (t-shirts, socks, clips) has also been our top-selling item across both stores. Our After Hours events fill in a few hours from posting, which proves the demand is there.
Why do you want to do pop-ups i.e. not a permanent store? Do you think that could change in the future?
I believe the pop-up model is what we need. It bridges the gap between online and offline. It allows us to support our brands, while also supporting ourselves. Maybe I'll be convinced in the future that a more permanent space, with a non-traditional retail model is better or more in demand. But today, we plan to continue to pop up in new markets, showcasing new and interesting brands to new and interesting people across the country.
What’s the best feedback you’ve had from a customer? Any fun stories?
I think it's pretty funny that people who live in the neighborhood are so excited we exist because they have "no grocery store nearby." At our current shop on 208 Bowery, there's literally a Whole Foods down the block. People in New York are funny that way. If it's not on your block, it's not close enough.
We open in LA in February! Follow us on Instagram to find out exactly where, and for all other updates: @popup.grocer
Interview by Annabel Herrick