After three years on the road, Pop Up Grocer goes permanent in New York City

The grocery discovery concept is using the larger space to bolster up-and-coming (and aesthetically pleasing) brands.
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Ori Harpaz

· 4 min read

Those used to shopping in standard grocery stores filled with conveyor belts and long aisles may realize they’re not in Kansas Kroger anymore when they step into Pop Up Grocer. The store has swapped out muted tones for pops of color and checkerboard tiling, generic category names for terms like “Breakfast-ish,” and heritage brands for up-and-coming Instagram CPG favorites.

After nearly three years of short-term stays across the country, Pop Up Grocer is finally ready to do things slightly more like a traditional retailer by settling down in a permanent location in New York City.

The traveling grocer, founded by CPG branding expert and Chobani alum Emily Schildt, first popped up in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood in 2019. The pop-up’s goal was to create a destination for shoppers, influencers, and even retail buyers to discover emerging CPG brands that follow three criteria: being new and interesting, responsibly made, and visibly appealing. It eventually headed to cities like Austin, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles before returning to its hometown to put down roots in Greenwich Village, with a store opening March 3.

“Having done this for three years now, in more or less the same format, I’m really itching to do something different…to reach more people, to provide more exposure and visibility to our brands, maybe eventually taking some shelf space away from some of the bigger guys and bigger retailers,” Schildt said.

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Setting up shop: If you ask Schildt why now was the right time for this move, she’ll tell you, actually, it’s not, given the ongoing pandemic and an impending recession. “I thought the right time was almost two years ago now when I started my search,” she admitted.

It took about 18 months to find the space at 205 Bleecker Street, Schildt said, as the post-vaccine real estate market in the city meant big players and well-funded startups grabbed up a lot of the space. But the location, a former Le Pain Quotidien, is on a corner that’s a high foot-traffic area, which “is every business’s dream,” she said, and also features two mosaics by street artist Invader, which serve as a tourist attraction.

  • It’s also down the street from a Morton Williams that’s facing a potential closure, which has already drawn community backlash, so local residents have been curious about what Pop Up Grocer has to offer, Schildt said.

While its previous pop-ups were around 700–800 square feet, the flagship location comes in at  ~1,500 square feet. At the center of the store is a café, serving Chamberlain Coffee and items from Librae Bakery, the city’s first female-owned Bahraini bakery. The walls are lined with shelves of CPG products, of course, organized into categories like “Puffs + Crunch” and “Bites + Chews.”

  • The shop also features a Wheel of Fortune-style game and a product hunt where shoppers can win free products.
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The flagship location will feature over 150 brands you may have seen on your Instagram feed, like Acid League, Behave, Fishwife, Fly by Jing, Ghia, and Tcho Chocolate. Products will rotate out each quarter, Schildt said, though some of the most popular items will remain.

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Buying in: While Pop Up Grocer offers a fun way for consumers to discover new products, it also serves as a showcase to help brands potentially get a foot in the door at a larger retailer. As such, it often serves as the first retail placement for many of its brands, Schildt said.

“We exist first and foremost to help our brands gain visibility and exposure in the markets of interest to them,” Schildt said. “And then we sell stuff second.”

Getting into a national retailer like Kroger or Target is resource intensive, Schildt noted, requiring $$, a sales team, and a lot of patience to wait for them to make a decision on bringing in a product. As a result, smaller, independent shops have been crucial for Instagram brands as they make the jump from the For You page to the shelf.

  • Canadian brand Wholly Veggie was featured in Pop Up Grocer’s Austin store in 2020, and caught the attention of buyers from Whole Foods, which is headquartered in the city, and the retailer eventually picked it up for national distribution, Schildt shared.

“You can create this image of being big just by being everywhere, even if it’s centralized in one market,” she said, which can give brands leverage in conversations with retail buyers.

+1: And yes, despite it being permanent, Pop Up Grocer is keeping its original name, with plans to open more pop-ups throughout the country.

“Our challenge will just be to reframe ‘pop-up,’” Schildt said. “It’s not so much about where we are, but just that we’re continuously providing something that is new and fresh and to be discovered. The products pop up. We stick around.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.