You got those jeans at Hy-Vee?

Joe Fresh departments like this one that have begun popping up in Des Moines and Kansas City area Hy-Vee stores may soon be coming to the Corridor. PHOTO HY-VEE


By Dave DeWitte
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The venerable Iowa-based Hy-Vee chain is betting that Midwestern shoppers will top off their grocery shopping carts with items like skinny jeans and puffer coats.

Hy-Vee opened apparel departments last month in its Des Moines and Kansas City metro stores. The new departments offer the easygoing Joe Fresh fashion brand familiar to shoppers across Canada, who can find it in superstores operated by its parent company, Loblaw.

The announcement attracted a lot of attention in both the fashion and grocery retailing worlds, for the insight it provides into changing retail strategies in the competition between brick-and-mortar grocers and e-commerce.

In one word, it’s “convenience,” explained Hy-Vee spokeswoman Christina Gayman.

“Our main mission is to make people’s lives easier and more convenient,” Ms. Gayman said. “With the clothing departments, we’re trying to target a certain type of customer. Moms, for instance, are busy and it’s hard to get out and about to do things for yourself, but you have to go grocery shopping.”

It may seem unnatural at first to buy a onesy for the baby or a blouse for the daughter at Hy-Vee, however history has shown that consumers quickly warm up to new retail platforms. Think Menards home improvement centers when the chain began selling grocery items.

And Hy-Vee isn’t new to fashion retailing, having offered the F&F fashion brand at some stores in the Des Moines and Minneapolis markets for a period in 2016 and 2017.

Ms. Gayman said the international fashion brand didn’t resonate with Hy-Vee customers, but Hy-Vee believes the Joe Fresh brand will. Although high in quality, it’s not high fashion. Advertising for the brand tends to use words like “basics.”

They are “basics, things you can mix and match,” Ms. Gayman said, “modern, everyday wardrobe favorites.”

Conversations with some shoppers at Hy-Vee’s newest Corridor store on Crosspark Road store in Coralville, where no plans for a Joe Fresh department have yet been unveiled, suggested the grocery chain will have some convincing to do.

“I would be skeptical they would have anything I would be interested in,” said John Downing of Iowa City, who works nearby and stopped in for lunch. He conceded that some consumers like to shop for clothing and groceries at superstores like Walmart.

“Hy-Vee doesn’t strike me as a superstore, but maybe that’s the direction they’re going,” Mr. Downing said.

A shopper with several children said she’d happily consider picking up a T-shirt or occasional fashion item for her family, but a visitor from Blue Springs, Missouri, called Hy-Vee’s foray into fashion “over the top,” potentially worsening the grocery shopping experience.

Hy-Vee says the apparel will be affordable – not the least expensive apparel around – but at prices that won’t cause everyday Hy-Vee shoppers to clutch. Women’s Wear Daily calls it a mid-priced clothing line.

The size and selection of Joe Fresh departments in Hy-Vee stores will vary, partly because of store space limitations, and partly based on the judgment of local store directors about what would best serve their clientele.

Eight newer stores built by Hy-Vee in the Twin Cities a few years ago are expected to have a full line of infants, children’s, men’s and women’s Joe Fresh apparel and footwear. Incorporating a full-fledged apparel department in those stores was relatively simple because they were designed with an apparel department in mind, Ms. Gayman said.

Many Hy-Vee stores will limit their Joe Fresh selection to infants and children’s items because they just don’t have the space for a fuller line. Two of the Joe Fresh departments that recently opened in Kansas City metro Hy-Vees fall into that category, Ms. Gayman said

The in-store apparel departments with a full Joe Fresh line will have dressing rooms like any other clothing store, Ms. Gayman said, however, stores with limited children’s and infants clothing lines likely will not.

The frequency with which shoppers visit the grocery store could be a blessing for Hy-Vee’s apparel efforts in two ways. Shoppers will have more opportunities to view the selection, which will change seasonally. They will also have less difficulty with returns than an online shopper.

An overwhelming 79 percent of adults shop for groceries at least once per week, according to a study by the International Council of Shopping Centers based on 2017 data. Just under two-thirds of shoppers – 62 percent – said they shop for groceries twice a week.

Millennials go to the grocery store more frequently than any other age segment of adults, according to the study’s findings. Eighteen percent of millennials go for groceries three or four times a week.

Hy-Vee customers won’t be able to order Joe Fresh apparel online and have it delivered, although that could happen eventually.

The rollout is a work in progress. While it’s the intention of Hy-Vee to offer Joe Fresh in all its stores, no rollout schedule for Corridor Hy-Vee stores or most other locations was offered with last month’s announcement.

“We didn’t want everyone to think they were getting one when we couldn’t promise them that,” Ms. Gayman said.

Hy-Vee didn’t say exactly what kinds of merchandise will be removed from its stores to make room for Joe Fresh. Many of the chain’s decisions of that nature are made at the local or store level.

“We will be looking to see how the locations are received by our customers and the type of clothing mix we have could change,” Ms. Gayman said.