- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Carole Safley’s secret holiday gift source for glassware, slow cookers and toys for the kids is her local grocery store.

Safley, of Ralston, has no reservations about shopping for presents at the same retailer that sells canned peaches and pork tenderloin at its fresh-cut meat counter.

“If it’s out there and it’s a good price - why not?” said Safley, who made room in her grocery cart for two $10 crockpots and a $7 set of highball glasses at the Hy-Vee.

For years, discount retailers such as Target and Walmart have been expanding their grocery aisles, adding to their mainstay inventories of clothing, furniture and electronics.

Now, some regional supermarket chains, including Hy-Vee, Bag ‘N Save, Baker’s and Super Saver, are turning the tables and beefing up their selection of general merchandise.

The Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/1Q1u8qs ) reports that retail experts say the move may help grocery retailers woo back shoppers who might otherwise head to discount stores for one-stop grocery and gift purchases.

“We’re not going to be able to sell customers everything on their holiday list, but we can try and make their holiday shopping a little easier,” said Brandon Lampkin, vice president of general merchandise at Hy-Vee, the West Des Moines-based grocery retailer.

Being able to shop for gifts and groceries can be a real plus for one-stop shoppers or time-strapped parents, Lampkin said.

Hy-Vee recently published its “Holiday Home Sale” flier, which features items such as bedding, crockpots, Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels sets, Melissa & Doug wooden toys and a 30-inch electric smoker.

Hy-Vee has been publishing a holiday flier since 2009, Lampkin said, but this year “there are more offerings.”

And the store also is taking a page from discount stores’ playbook: For the first time, Hy-Vee is offering promotional $10 and $20 gift cards with some purchases: Buy a $90 Keurig coffee maker, for example, and get a “free $20 Hy-Vee gift card.”

Sales of general merchandise accounted for less than 6 percent of the more than $460 billion in supermarket sales in 2011, though that was up from 4.6 percent in 2006, according to a 2012 report by the Food Marketing Institute.

The average American visits a grocery store one and a half times each week, according to the institute. It’s no surprise then that “food stores can be good places to merchandise items that aren’t food,” said Jon Springer, retail editor at Supermarket News, a trade publication. “People visit them frequently and they’re not hard to get to,” he said.

Baker’s, owned by Cincinnati-based Kroger, also has stocked up on holiday gift items this year, spokeswoman Sheila Lowrie said.

“We’ve always provided a selection of holiday items,” Lowrie said, and each year the chain adds to its selections. This year, shoppers will find “Star Wars” and “Frozen”-themed dolls and toys, Lowrie said, along with robes, blankets and, new this year, a vintage-style turquoise-colored turntable.

“Each year we continue to increase our variety and try to provide what is popular,” said Marty Jarvis, director of marketing at Lincoln-based B&R; Stores Inc., which includes Super Saver, Russ’s Market and Save Best stores. This year Super Saver’s offerings include winter hats and gloves, battery-operated helicopters, headphones and small appliances.

Bag ‘N Save and No Frills stores, operated by SpartanNash, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are stocked for the holidays with toaster ovens, generators, puffer jackets and toys and more toys, including “Frozen” items and Hot Wheels cars.

Georgia Noriega, shopping at the Bag ‘N Save Plus grocery store near 108th and Q Streets, said she’ll often pick up gift cards and toys when she spots a good deal.

Some nonfood items that Hy-Vee is offering will be available only during the holidays, Lampkin said. But overall, shoppers can expect to see an expanded general merchandise selection, he said.

One product you won’t find for sale this year at Hy-Vee is high-definition televisions. (The chain sold them in 2009 and 2010.) But Lampkin wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the grocery chain might put TVs back on the shelves in the future.

The competition for grocery dollars is stiff: About 60 percent of Walmart’s annual revenue is derived from grocery sales. At Target it’s 40 percent or more, said David Livingston, owner of DJL, a Milwaukee-based supermarket location research firm.

Will some grocery chains morph into discount merchandise stores?

Not likely, Livingston said.

But the line between discount stores and grocery stores may get fuzzier as supermarkets add to their stores of merchandise.

“I think they are experimenting,” he said. “Everybody wants to be a one-stop shop.”

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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