- Real Estate
- Food & Drink
Feb. 15, 2021
One year ago, the biggest story around Hy-Vee was its departure from 24-hour shopping.
That conversation literally ended overnight, though, as the pandemic quickly shifted and accelerated the business model for the grocery industry in ways some didn’t anticipate happening for years to come.
Now, the year that prompted massive increases in curbside pickup and delivery is driving more changes.
“COVID hit, and we had to change … overnight,” said Matt Heldenbrand, district store director in Sioux Falls. “We’ve really come a long way in a really short amount of time.”
While a new membership option is Hy-Vee’s biggest change in 2021, the grocery store chain also is looking at new ways to find employees, bringing a new store concept to Harrisburg and offering new menu items aimed at welcoming customers back into its restaurants when they’re ready to start dining in again.
The Iowa-based grocery chain launched its Hy-Vee Plus Premium Membership program just before Christmas.
Also called H+, the program costs $99 annually to join and offers free delivery, free two-hour express pickup and monthly specials. Shoppers also get additional Fuel Saver benefits with each purchase to save on gas at Hy-Vee stations.
Monthly specials vary, but in February the perks include 20 percent off flowers in-store, 20 percent off drinks at in-store Caribou and Starbucks locations and a free 12-inch chocolate chip cookie.
“We are certainly promoting all of the benefits of it, in addition to the delivery fees you would save,” Hy-Vee spokeswoman Christina Gayman said. “If you didn’t have the membership, you’d pay $10 in delivery fees with every order.”
Overall, Gayman said the membership program has already exceeded projections, though she didn’t know how many members were in Sioux Falls specifically.
Perks members also can use a personal concierge service while shopping. If they order online, their concierge can text them asking about substitutions for out-of-stock items, or customers can text and ask for any items they want to add.
As part of the expanded delivery and curbside pickup focus, Hy-Vee also is dipping its toes into the gig economy with a new flex workers program.
Essentially, these flex workers are people a store can call and ask to work on specific days when it needs a little extra help, like ahead of snowstorms, around the holidays or just on days when an extra set of hands is needed.
Flex workers decide when they want to come in based on available shifts, so they work when it works for them.
“This allows us to have that available workforce when needed,” said Shawn Brown, district vice president for the northwest region of Hy-Vee stores. “It also gives those people an opportunity to make that second income, which a lot of folks are out there doing right now.”
Harrisburg shoppers will soon have another option for groceries as Hy-Vee expands its new Dollar Fresh store to town.
It’s a relatively new concept, with the first Dollar Fresh store opening in Iowa in late 2018.
“Essentially, it’s a smaller footprint version of a Hy-Vee store, but you won’t see Hy-Vee in the signage or in the name,” Gayman said.
The Dollar Fresh stores typically are around 30,000 square feet, she said, compared to Hy-Vee stores, which range from about that size to 100,000 square feet.
They’re found mostly in smaller towns that have fewer grocery options, and the goal is to bring them to more areas where people have a need for a grocery store, she added.
Dollar Fresh will have a full selection of grocery items, a bakery, ready-made meal offerings, wine and spirits, and a “wall of value” similar to a dollar store with items costing around $1, $3 or $5.
Many of the Dollar Fresh stores also have some clothing and shoe options, though it’s too soon to say if that’ll be the case for the Harrisburg store.
Late last year, Hy-Vee submitted an application to the city of Harrisburg for off-sale liquor sales at 201 E. Willow St., which currently is a 3-acre vacant lot.
The store is planned to open sometime this year. That should bring about 30 to 40 jobs to the area, Gayman said.
As the pandemic winds down, vaccines become more readily available and people feel more comfortable going out again, Hy-Vee is looking at ways to welcome customers back to the stores.
Hy-Vee is looking at adding new menu items this summer to bring back the “coffee crowd,” which has been visiting the store less during the pandemic, Heldenbrand said.
“I think the after-work crowd is coming back a little bit quicker than the morning crowd,” he said. “The morning crowd tends to be a more vulnerable age demographic.”
Heldenbrand also has seen Sioux Falls shoppers starting to come back to the pre-made meals, which many had done less of in the past year as they spent more time cooking at home.
“Now, they’re coming back and grabbing the rotisserie chicken, pizzas, Chinese family dinner for four as well,” he said.
Overall, he’s expecting 2021 to be a great year for the city’s Hy-Vee stores.
“We’re really excited to get into 2021 and see customers back in the store.”
“COVID hit, and we had to change … overnight.” So what does Hy-Vee look like post-pandemic? We’re starting to find out.