Marsh Supermarkets

Marsh Supermarkets 1

Marsh Supermarkets is celebrating 85 years in Indiana

while extensively remodeling many stores and opening new ones.

By Russ Gager

With a virtual food fight occurring in Indianapolis’s oversaturated supermarket scene, Marsh Supermarkets is moving aggressively to stand out among the mostly national competitors. The company is planning to open up to 13 new stores by the end of 2018 to add to its current total of 72 stores in Indiana, three of which retain their original brand of O’Malia’s Food Markets.

“O’Malia’s is a brand many, many people have fond memories of, and there are a number things we do a little differently in those stores,” explains David Kuncl, Marsh Supermarkets chief merchandising and marketing officer. Marsh Supermarkets also operates pharmacies in 38 of its grocery stores.

Marsh Supermarkets infoThe company has been on an aggressive remodeling schedule for its stores during the last 16 months. It remodeled 18 stores in 2015 and is planning to remodel another 30 in 2016. How extensive the remodeling is varies. “It depends on the facility and the marketplace that it operates in,” Kuncl points out. “In some cases, it’s been fairly simple. It’s been décor, a reset, some basic maintenance and refreshing of the facility. In other cases, there have been structural changes and much more extensive movement within the store with new fixtures, new refrigerated cases and a completely transformed experience.”

A recent remodeling of the 25,000-square-foot New Palestine, Ind., store was extensive. New service meat and seafood departments were added, along with hot foods and a pharmacy. Physical fixtures, the exit and the overall flow into the store, along with the location of the checkouts, were changed. “The customer experience is greatly improved from what was a pretty nice store when we started,” Kuncl declares. “We think it is a very good example of a convenient, modern grocery store that really fits people’s hectic lifestyles by allowing them to get in and out efficiently– it still has full selections and everything you’d expect in a supermarket – but without necessarily having to traipse through a 200,000-square-foot box to get it.” The entire remodeling was done without shutting the store down – most of the store was remodeled while it ordinarily is closed from midnight to 6 a.m.

Big and Small

Marsh Supermarkets range in size from 15,000 up to 90,000 square feet depending on the store’s area, which ranges from Indianapolis to small, rural communities. In some cases, the age of the location or whether it was acquired from another company determined its size.

“There are a lot of stores we’ve owned for a long time, and so over the history of the company there’s been different prototypes and different thinking, and that’s reflected in the variances that you see in the store base,” Kuncl says.

Despite the differences in size, many Marsh Supermarkets are getting expanded fresh departments such as produce, meat, seafood and bakery. “In produce, the primary focus has been two-fold,” Kuncl says. “One is to continue to expand the amount of produce that we source locally, and the other part is what I call semi-prepared and prepared, mostly cut fruit and vegetables. We have a very strong program in those areas.”

Some customers are purchasing precut fruits both for the convenience and for portion control. “The customer seems more than willing to pay a premium for the convenience,” Kuncl observes. Marsh Supermarkets purchases some of the fruit already cut by the supplier, and other fruit is cut by Marsh employees.

“We focus the store team on what we consider to be the higher, value-added components – the bigger trays and what I would call a little more custom work – whereas the things like chunked melons or chunked pineapple come in already prepared, and there is less skill involved and less work to it,” Kuncl explains.

Certified Tender Beef

Kuncl maintains that, to his knowledge, Marsh Supermarkets is one of only four retailers in the United States that sells beef certified “tender” by the United States Department of Agriculture. “It is a specific grade that undergoes a shear test on the product to determine how tender it is,” Marsh Supermarkets 2Kuncl says. “It goes through a unique process during the harvesting of the animal that ensures tenderness in the prime cuts.”

That level of quality extends to other products in the meat department, all of which are cut in the store. “We offer a higher-grade product day-in and day-out than our competition in this market,” Kuncl insists. “We’re the only retailer in this area that has a full selection of locally produced beef, pork and chicken. We have a whole line of Indiana- or Ohio-raised meat produced primarily on small family farms.”

Meat isn’t the only department that sets Marsh Supermarkets apart. Approximately half of Marsh Supermarkets’ bakery departments fry their donuts fresh each morning. “It’s a pretty noticeable difference in the overall flavor profile,” Kuncl asserts. “It’s an indulgent item – it’s not health food, but few people are eating donuts because of the nutritional profile.”

The bakery departments also are known for their cakes. “Our cakes have been part of a lot of family celebrations over the years,” Kuncl notes. “We’re very proud of our decorators and their skill and ability to create special cakes for special occasions.”


Deli Developments

Marsh Supermarkets is experimenting with the preparation and specifications for the fried and rotisserie chickens it produces in its deli departments. The company’s goal is to continue to improve the customer experience with fresher and healthier preparations. It also cooks up Noble Roman’s pizza in many of its stores and is working with that company on hot and refrigerated takeaway products.

“Behind-the-glass” foods such as salad bars and deli items including potato and pasta salads are being improved to have cleaner labels while being healthier and tastier. Portion-controlled meals (such as Blue Apron) that need minimal home preparation are being provided by a local company, Fresh Artistry.

Marsh Supermarkets have also been equipped with transmitters called beacons to wirelessly send special offers directly to customers’ smart phones based on their location in the store. “We were the first grocery chain in America to be fully beaconized in all our stores,” Kuncl maintains.

At checkout, customized offers printed on receipts are targeted to individual customers by technology from a company called inStream. Marsh Supermarkets also is participating in a pilot program for the ViVino app, which provides smart phones and tablets with access to information and reviews about wine.

All these efforts – the remodeling, expansion and technology – are contributing to Marsh Supermarkets’ continuing success for the last 85 years, which Kuncl says will be celebrated with customers and employees in August. He attributes the company’s longevity to its employees.

“We have a lot of very experienced, highly caring associates who have spent a lot of time at the company,” Kuncl emphasizes. “We have multiple generations working for the company and many employees are friends of friends. It’s been a pretty good place to work for a lot of people for a long time. We are proud of the business we have built together.”

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