Supermarket Wars: Stores Use Dancing Animals, Size to Battle for Your Dollars

ByABC News via logo

Jan. 13, 2007 — -- Fifty years ago, a trip to the grocery store usually didn't have many surprises. The produce usually looked the same wherever you shopped. The clerks were friendly and the bag boys would even help you carry your groceries to the car.

The modern grocery shopping experience now includes bigger crowds, less personal attention and so many choices that it can be downright confusing.

"Supermarket shopping is a difficult experience. I never find what I am looking for. Places are busy all the time. It's frustrating," one shopper told "Good Morning America Weekend Edition."

In recent years, many shoppers have abandoned their local grocery chains for bulk retailers like Costco, and Wal-Mart, who understand consumers like to buy more for less.

But now the race to build bigger and better has reached a new level.

Welcome to Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield, Ohio. A grocery store that looks more like a theme park, the sprawling mecca for foodies has over six acres of shopping under one roof.

Hosting more than 50,000 shoppers a week, it's a world tour of food fantasy from the Fabled Sherwood Forrest to Gilligan's Island. Displays include dancing animatronic animals, an authentic shrimp boat, aquariums, wine cellars and even a fire truck suspended over 1,000 different hot sauces.

Showmanship, excess and a sense of humor translate into big business for owner and creator Jim Bonaminio. Jungle Jim's raked in over $100 million in sales last year.

"People get lost. We're ready to give people beepers here, like a restaurant, they get lost for days," Bonaminio said.

Jungle Jim's has become such a phenomenon, shoppers are actually coming from hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away just to experience it.

Events like cooking classes, shows and wine tasting help shoppers make a day of it.

But in the end, it's the food that's the big draw. The produce section stretches for 1.5 acres. The store boasts one of the nation's largest wine collections. There are also cigars, more than 1,600 cheeses, a Titanic-sized seafood section and hundreds of honeys.

If it exists, they say they can get it for you -- well, almost always.

"I can't get camel humps," Bonaminio said. "People want them because they make soup out of them. I can't get them."

Jungle Jim's is just the latest grocery store to up the ante for food shoppers. Chain stores both large and small and family-owned markets across the country are pulling out all the stops as they fight for their very survival.

Stew Leonard's, a small chain of three supermarkets on the East Coast, entertains families with petting zoos, bulk purchase options and tours of their dairy plant.

A more mainstream chain called Wegman's was recently rated the best supermarket in America by "Consumer Reports" by focusing less on the entertainment value of the store, and more on convenience and a more pleasant shopping experience: broader aisles and more attendants to help you shop.

Some Wegman's stores even have child play areas where they watch your kids so you don't have to.

The popular grocery store chain Publix in Atlanta recently outfitted shopping carts with TVs to keep the kids busy so mom and dad could focus on buying.

At Jungle Jim's, there's a monorail under construction and a hotel is being planned for the future.

Whether you prefer your grocery shopping experience to be entertaining or efficient, it's clear the supermarket wars are far from over.

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