Pop Up Grocer puts down permanent roots in NYC

Photo: Pop Up Grocer
Mar 08, 2023

Pop Up Grocer, a specialty grocer that built its reputation by opening short-term pop-up stores across the U.S., is now establishing a permanent retail residence with a New York City flagship.

The grocer announced the opening of its permanent Manhattan storefront on Bleecker Street earlier this month, Time Out reported. The store will carry an assortment of 130 “emerging” better-for-you products and will rotate its selection quarterly (except for store favorites). The store also features an on-site cafe, which will have a rotating assortment of baked goods from small vendors and host food-related events and classes.

Founder Emily Schildt launched Pop Up Grocer in 2019 when she had an epiphany about the difficulties small consumer packaged goods brands face getting on the shelf at big retailers, according to Thrillist. As a result, the grocer stocks exclusively small brands.

Beginning in late 2020, Pop Up Grocer began opening seasonal pop-ups in major U.S. cities, first in Brooklyn, then Chicago (Spring 2021), Miami (Winter 2021), Washington, D.C. (Spring 2022) and Denver (Fall 2022).

Around the time Ms. Schildt started the store, getting visibility in national retailers was becoming more challenging for small CPGs. Whole Foods, for example, centralized its buying function, removing a once-promising chance for small, local brands to get on the shelves of individual stores.

Pop Up Grocer’s website features a list of more than 600 brands that sell through the retailer and lists their availability in a given store location/pop-up.

Better-for-you snacks took the CPG world by storm in the years leading up to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Consumer tastes turned away from conventional potato chips, candy and sodas and toward products made with fewer, healthier and less processed ingredients. By 2017, the trend had grown prevalent enough to lead major CPGs such as Hershey and Campbell to add several better-for-you brands to their portfolios.

Pop-up retail, in general, experienced surges in popularity at points during the pandemic, with retailers seeing them as a way to get nervous shoppers back into stores during periods of reopening. Landlords also became more open to short-term leases.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you expect the pop-up store trend to increase, decrease or remain the same in the next several years? Will Pop Up Grocer’s “emerging brand” value proposition differentiate it enough from other specialty grocers in New York City?

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"With so many smaller brands competing for shelf space, having more outlets like these stores will be good for them, the consumer and the store operators."

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13 Comments on "Pop Up Grocer puts down permanent roots in NYC"

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Ken Morris

A permanent location for Pop Up Grocer? Confusing, yes, but it makes total business sense. I see this trend continuing as consolidation of both CPG companies and retail brands continues. Plus, with slotting fees keeping local products off shelves at chain grocers, this gives hope to food and beverage startups. The quality of these emerging brands is frequently very high, and there is a buy local trend afoot across the country. This trend will expand as the number of national players contracts.

Zel Bianco

With so many smaller brands competing for shelf space, having more outlets like these stores will be good for them, the consumer and the store operators. These smaller venues are often the only way for smaller brands to enter the market. More power to them!

Georganne Bender

Unless we are talking markets or festivals, pop-up shops that happen in suburbs generally involve Halloween or Christmas merchandise. The good ones are almost always in NYC. We do have them in Chicago neighborhoods, but I can’t remember ever seeing a unique pop-up near me. But I digress.

Pop Up Grocer looks like it would be a fun place to discover new products, so a permanent location makes sense. Do I expect the pop-up store trend to increase? Absolutely, but only in high traffic, cool zip codes.

Melissa Minkow

This is a fun concept for discovery-oriented shoppers. I don’t know that I see them going everywhere, but in areas where consumers are already in an “explore” shopping mindset, these are a great fit.

Gary Sankary

This a very smart move for Pop Up Grocer. One of the biggest benefits, in my opinion, for pop-up retailers is they can test markets and products with minimal investment. If Pop Up has found a niche in New York City that they want to exploit, good for them. If these stores are successful, I expect to see other more of this strategy. Target has used this strategy effectively in NYC in the past. I suspect more brands will do the same.

Gene Detroyer

This is not a new concept for Manhattan. At least three small chains of small stores provide unique selections of non-bigtime CPG brands. Each of these small chains has different choices of products and slightly different positioning. All seem to focus on good-for-you products. Regular shoppers discover new items on every trip.

The success of this type of operation largely depends on population density. There must be enough shoppers looking for something different, either regularly or on a whim, to hop in without making a special trip.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Pop-up stores are a great way to test concepts. Pop Up Grocer has been running these stores for awhile, has learned what consumers want and do not want, and has the data gathering and analytics in place to continue that learning, so continuing the process seems to provide confidence for continued success. Other retailers wanting to test new locations, product assortment, or processes should consider using pop-up stores but only if they have the technology and processes in place for continued analytics.

Neil Saunders

There are lot of things to like about Pop Up Grocer. First, it helps translate the hotbed of innovation in the snack and CPG world into an interesting, highly shoppable curated offer. Second, it is a pleasant and engaging format that is so much better than many traditional grocers and convenience stores, especially in NYC. Third, it appeals to younger shoppers who are highly engaged with its categories. True, this isn’t going to replace other grocery stores nor will it work everywhere, but there is scope for the concept to expand.

Brandon Rael

The competitive advantages of the retail pop-up model are clear. It allows retailers, brands, and grocers to experiment with new format stores and stores of the future that focus on innovation and new capabilities. This customer-centric approach to new store formats, without the long-term real estate lease financial commitments, provides the flexibility for companies such as Pop Up Grocer to experiment with new strategies and markets.

While the appeal and value of pop-ups are well known, Pop Up Grocer entering the NYC market permanently is a significant challenge. The specialty food and grocery market in NYC is congested and is serving a customer base overwhelmed with intense inflationary pressures, rising rents, and struggling to find affordable and healthy groceries. These factors all have to be taken into consideration by Pop Up Grocer. Otherwise, this experiment will not scale to the levels they are hoping for.

Doug Garnett

I’m confused. Is this a pivot? The idea of a store built on these emerging products is interesting — and it reminds me some of Trader Joe’s and their unusual assortment.

What’s confusing to me is matching it to the idea of a pop-up store — an idea fully disconnected from what they carry. So my sense is it needs to be a pivot away from the pop-up idea and into dedicated stores.

Andrew Blatherwick

This sounds more like Pop Up Brands than Pop Up Grocer as it is now a permanent site. There is a place for a grocery store that is different and for selling brands that do not appear in major grocers, particularly if they are local. It may not be a mainstream grocery shop but an exciting additional shop for new things. The trick is going to be to keep it exciting, and continuing to find new brands that have the quality and differentiation to justify their space in the store.

Steve Montgomery

Pop Up Grocer’s growth is dependent on two factors. The first is securing the unique products it is dependent on. That does not currently seem to be an issue but as more grocers see this as an opportunity, Pop Up Grocer may find its uniqueness diluted. The second is finding sufficient locations in markets with the population density necessary to make the stores profitable.

Craig Sundstrom

I believe the pop-up trend has a lot to do with the ever-growing glut of vacant retail space, more than their inherent value. Even though I voted for “stay the same,” I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some growth.

As for this particular effort, I guess they had success with their trials, but as is always the case when you start in NYC, now what? The largest market in the country is hardly representative, so there’s always the question of how expandable the concept is.

"With so many smaller brands competing for shelf space, having more outlets like these stores will be good for them, the consumer and the store operators."

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