What's Old Is New: Grocery Store Courts Seniors

BERLIN, Feb. 17, 2007 — -- In a quiet Berlin neighborhood, there's a retail revolution underway.

At Generation Market, they aren't trying to sell MP3 players to teenagers and they're not trying to sell designer clothes to hip 20-somethings. They're trying to sell groceries to old people.

The shopping carts have magnifying glasses attached for help reading product labels. There's a seat attached to the back of the cart for the weary shopper to take a break.There are steps up to help shoppers reach items stacked high in the brightly-lit cabinets. And on the shelves, there are smaller portions for the person who lives alone and doesn't need a six-pound block of cheese to feed eight kids.

This store is a mecca for the senior citizen who lives alone. But don't for a second think Generation Market is about charity.

Good Company, Great Service

"It's a matter of fact that older people spend more money for foods," Tobias Tuchlenski told me, in a very matter of fact way. Tuchlenski is the sharply dressed regional manager of Kaiser's, which owns this store in what was East Berlin.

Seniors spend more on food, he said, and as the years go by, Germany's population of seniors is growing. Tuchlesnki sees an expanding market. Reports say that by 2010, one in three Germans will be aged 50 or over. Like elsewhere in the developed world, birth rates are falling and people are living longer.

Generation Market is a pilot project for Kaiser's, and the company opened it in a part of Berlin known for having a large population of seniors. If it goes well, similar stores will open across the country.

I toured the store with a sprightly 65-year-old, Giselher Sorge. The big draw for him is the staff. The store employs a lot of cashiers and assistants in their 50s.

There's an easy rapport between staff and customer. I watched in amazement as one elderly lady ay the check out handed her entire pocket book to the cashier and asked her to take whatever was owed.

Sorge, with a mischievous glint in his eye, tested the "help button" service for me. Red buttons can be found throughout the store for customers to summon assistance.

Sorge pushed the button, I heard the announcement and 10 seconds later, "Guten Tag!" a friendly assistant skipped into the aisle to see what was up.

As he was bagging his groceries, Sorge had just one gripe.

"In America, you have some help. Packing in, you know," he said with a smile. "Not everything is okay."