The demise of Earth Fare

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

25 February 2020

Never responding to all the competition killed Earth Fare

Let’s talk grocery chains for a moment, and in particular, the now defunct Earth Fare.

In my hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, there’s a wellspring of top-tier groceries hitting abandoned strip malls or simply being constructed from the ground up near thriving shopping districts. Seems like we’re getting a new grocery every other month.

Several years back, all we had was Earth Fare and The Fresh Market among the top tier groceries. Both served my interests well enough, and I paid double for the good stuff. Even after signing up for the rewards programs. May I add, they also had good sushi on the go.

Soon enough, however, it was back to Harris Teeter for me. Who the hell can afford to live that way?

Earth FareNext came Whole Foods. Nice enough. Then Sprouts, which really was not any different than the rest — high prices, that’s for damn sure, and mediocre hand rolls. Then the holy of holy, Trader Joe’s. Haven’t even bothered to shop there since it’s always so packed. Lidl came in that time, too, which is not all that high end. But heck, it’s a step up from ALDI, and its bakery is superb.

Just like Borat in the now classic cheese aisle segment, we ask ourselves, “Do we need this much?”

Turns out we don’t. On my 7-mile drive into work, I pass Harris Teeter, Walmart, Trader Joe’s and Sprouts. In the middle was Earth Fare.

Its demise was bound to happen. And I anticipate more casualties are coming.

The failure of Earth Fare happened because it never truly responded to all the competition. Forty-five years after it was founded, Earth Fare is finished.”

Earth Fare became increasingly redundant

Earth Fare, of all options, felt the most rigid and the most likely to perish. The joint sported the highest prices and became increasingly redundant with more competition and more meaningful brands.

Its “Healthy food for everyone” and “Everyone’s healthy supermarket” themes failed to resonate for several reasons. One, saying you’re for everyone means you’re for nobody. But even adding the “for everyone” line wasn’t believable because of the high prices. The Earth Fare theme became a throwaway, meaning little to the grocery shopper.

The grocery market often sees itself as a series to tiers. There’s Sprouts, Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s on top. There’s Harris Teeter and Lowe’s in the middle. And there’s Walmart and Food Lion at the bottom.

Each tier is incredibly competitive, but shoppers don’t just go to one tier or one store. Meaning, even if you think of yourself as a top-tier grocery like Earth Fare did, Walmart and Food Lion are STILL competitors.

The definition of a competitor is something that can replace what you offer. Consider this, fax machines basically died out because the manufacturers never realized that email and texting were competitors.

The failure of Earth Fare happened because it never truly responded to all the competition. Forty-five years after it was founded, Earth Fare is finished.

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