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Grocery Outlet S-1 (sec.gov)
135 points by hhs 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

... bargain market.

I live across the street from one. It's effectively my pantry, so I go there quite a bit, but the same way they have opportunistic products I'm shopping opportunistically half the time. If it wasn't so close (and Safeway wasn't so shitty) I'd probably go much less frequently, but I can't complain much.

Their produce has gotten a little better, their meat too. Some staples are variable (eggs only in Jumbo size, shit for olive oil, mayonnaise 1 week before it expires), but if you go there with an open mind and relatively frequently.

First time hearing of Grocery Outlet. Is it comparable to Trader Joe's? Or maybe Aldi?

No - Grocery outlet sells name brands at a discount, but you never know what will be there. Kind of like a Ross/Marshalls for food. Trader Joes only sells its own private label.

Despite trying to like Grocery Outlet, I can’t say I do. The lack of reliable inventory is incredibly annoying. There have been many times I have gone shopping there only to find they had no peanut butter, or no mayo or something equally as pedestrian. For me, it’s not worth the savings to forgo consistency.

A company that makes money? How boring. Yawn...

Don’t worry: they may be profitable now, but they’ll eventually make it up in volume.

30% Gross margin leading to an overall margin of under 1%, wow!

I knew margins in the grocery business were low, but never expected it to be this close.

Not that it is a fair comparison but if you look at Walmart - Gross Margin is 20ish% but net margins at 1.3%

Back in the 90s when I was building BI software for grocers, the average margin across the whole industry was 1.1%.

Since then there's been an enormous amount of consolidation in the grocery industry... but I wouldn't be surprised to learn the margin hasn't changed.

Known lovingly in my town as “gross-out”

I am very happy to see this. During my time at Berkeley, Grocery Outlet was easily the cheapest option for groceries and really spread my (very thin) budget. Unfortunately they closed the Berkeley location (it was way down University) in favor of some flashy new apartments.

The Berkeley location was also their corporate HQ.

I think 90% of my meals were from GO (with the remaining 10% split between E&J BBQ and Brennan's) when I lived in Berkeley.


I was excited to stop by their Emeryville "HQ" only to find out its a corporate office.

I love grocery outlet. I actually inquired about how to franchise one and they are serious about who gets to open one. The capital requirements are around 1MM to get started.

Their new page says $10k. I've always wanted to own a grocery store.

I actually thought that in my small town where Aldi's and Save-A-Lot already exists amongst 3 other major grocery store names..there would be a market for one.

You never know what you'll find at a Grocery Outlet, and sometimes the deals are absolutely ridiculous. I went once during lunch and they were selling five-pack boxes of Kind Bars for 25-cents per box. A month out from expiration. Insane!

I bought about 15 boxes and just shared them among my team/roommates.

If anyone is thinking investing, I'd be mindful of what they themselves call "substantial debt obligations" ($8.5B). They were bought by Hellman & Friedman, a PE firm, in 2014, who will retain controlling shares. PE firms tend to buy companies with a load of debt that the purchased company then has to pay off. See Toys R Us for the potential pitfalls of that arrangement.

I think you misplaced a decimal point there...

Can't edit

I don't have a strong opinion either way on this company (usually enjoy going to their stores), but it seems odd how many of these comments are rave reviews of them, bordering on advertisement.

This sounds like Ocean State Job Lot, Surplus Center or Marden's but with just food. The business model is well proven (be flexible about what you buy, buy stuff suppliers need to unload at a steep discount, pass some of that discount on to consumers). There's some extra complexity coming from the fact that food needs to be handled more carefully and sold more quickly but I don't see that as being insurmountable especially since they've clearly been successful at it for years.

I haven't lived in Maine in ages, but I have fond memories of the discount book and computer software bins at Marden's. I got full boxed copies of Homeworld and Starsiege there, manuals and all, for a pittance, plus lots of weird niche stuff like Vangers.

73 years from founding to IPO. :-O

The VCs just want to keep these companies private longer and longer. It's getting ridiculous /s.

You make it seem like that was a goal

More likely some key management died allowing the line of succession to punt it onto the markets for a new piggy bank

I love this place, and I love to hate on this place. We used to go in and not be able to find vanilla (!!!) ice cream. Or there’d only be whole wheat pasta. There’d often only be two people in the store and one of their best employees was deaf (just hard to locate.)

On the other hand, the prices were unbeatable, and it turns out strawberry shortcake dairy free frozen dessert is pretty solid.

> vanilla

I’m always amazed how much it is seen as a given compared how of a PITA it is to grow vanilla, at least relatively to strawberries or bananas for instance.

Vanillin, can be produced without bean

There were a bunch of reports last year about a global shortage of vanilla because bad weather in Madagascar wiped out most of the crop. Apparently at some point, it was more expensive than silver. At the same time, a bunch of big ice cream manufacturers switched to using natural vanilla instead of vanillin, which put even more pressure on the supply chain.


turns out strawberry shortcake dairy free frozen dessert is pretty solid.

Depends on the temp I guess....

Apparently in 2014 Hellman & Friedman, a private equity investment firm acquired 80% of Grocery Outlet from Berkshire Partners. (Page 6 in the S-1)

Hence the possible pressure to realize a RoI.

That’s what it smells like to me too. Could be wrong, but acquiring 80% of the company, then taking it public doesn’t seem like a particularly compelling reason for joe stock picker to buy.

Grocery Outlet kicks ass. Sure you don't know if you'll find what you wanted , but you'll definitely find something you didn't know you wanted, and at kick-ass prices.

In my family I always volunteer to go to Grocery Outlet. I have an optimized route throughout the store so I can check every shelf for anything new.

I know that route. :)

It's my favorite place to be. Reject organic food and unique flavors for dirt cheap. Wine at marked off prices with an annual 20% blanket wine sale. There are some things that act as dinners for me for $0.50.

I love this place. I live 1/2 a block away from one. Where else can you combine deal hunting, hoarding and grocery shopping???

“I don’t know when they’ll have this again, I better buy 6 of them” is something I’ve said to myself many times.

Also I have gotten seriously good Napa/Sonoma wine here for good prices (orig $120 GO 25.99).

“Value-Oriented Brand Aligned with Favorable Consumer Trends. We believe that consumers’ search for value is the new normal in retail. The success of off-price retailers represents a secular consumer shift toward value as a leading factor in purchasing decisions. Moreover, as Millennials mature and Baby Boomers age, they are increasingly focused on value, driving shopper traffic towards the deep discount channel. According to published research, between 1988 and 2016, traditional grocery retailers ceded over 45 percentage points of market share to non-traditional grocery stores, including convenience stores, wholesale clubs, supercenters, dollar stores, drug stores and discounters. These trends have continued even after the completion of recessionary cycles, indicating that value remains a leading factor in consumers’ retail purchasing decisions despite the return of stronger economic conditions. According to the National Retail Federation, 89% of all shoppers across geographies, household incomes, genders and age demographics, shop at discount retailers, including off-price, dollar, outlet and discount grocery stores. We have spent decades building our IO and opportunistic purchasing models to offer deep discounts in a customer-friendly store environment, which enables us to take advantage of this ongoing preference for value.”

This seems like most compelling argument in favor of the business model. Though, this IPO seems like a sucker bet.

I _love_ Grocery Outlet. I'm so happy that they are doing well.

When I first looked at this, my reaction was hold on! Is there a business called Grocery Outlet? Downsides of living down under. :(

To be fair, even most of the United States hasn't heard of this chain. YC's location bias makes it sound wider-spread than it is.

Good thing I kept all my old receipts with the discount meter -- can use the money I saved to buy gross-out stock!

Grocery Outlet will on occasion have significant deals on things like gluten-free ingredients, things that might not exist at Safeway, but do at Whole Foods (at significantly higher prices). This is an interesting wrinkle: a lot of budget stores just completely avoid products that might appeal to the "luxury" WF customer. But, I've seen trust start to develop with a broad demographic. People using social media to tell each other when GO has some of these expensive products.

I've not seen this broad of a demographic reach with other budget stores. GO seems to be purely about "buying cheap, sell at a margin", no matter what it is.

"Our product offering is ever-changing with a constant rotation of opportunistic products, complemented by an assortment of competitively priced everyday staples across grocery, produce, refrigerated and frozen foods, beer and wine, fresh meat and seafood, general merchandise and health and beauty care"

What do they mean by "opportunistic products"? Google fails to come up with any proper explanation.

Overstock sales from manufacturers/distributors, mislabeled, close-to-expiration, etc. I tend to fine good deals on things, but it's unlikely to be there next time you go back.

I suspect it means, "products our distributors offered to us at a steep discount." Like Big Lots or TJ Maxx would carry.

I thought the TJ Maxx was a typo. In the UK we have TK Maxx.

Turns out it was renamed in the UK to avoid confusion with TJ Hughes.


A lot of times, you'll find a product that manufacturers have flooded the market with, like frozen pizzas with trendy buzzword ingredients (buffalo chicken arugula) that consumers didn't go for. They're good deals, but you'll never see them again.

I like Grocery Outlet right now, should I be worried that long term they might change in a negative way because of outside investors?

Of course you should! They’re talking about adding something like 500 new stores in the states they’re already in and another 1500 in the bordering states. The really good deals are going to get spread around more and your local store is going to get less good stuff and more crap (assuming they can find enough crap to stock the shelves). Or they’ll have to raise the price on everything.

It seems to me like their reach might be exceeding their grasp with their expansion intentions, but I'm hoping they just see a hidden opportunity that requires this large cash infusion to handle.

What I'd like to see them do is use this scaling up to put dedicated resources towards extensive scouting of regional vendors, leading to further differentiation of Grocery outlets by location. Or maybe even just give them greater variety of sales items in general.

I like this place although it's morphing from an outlet with super-cheap expired or leftover stock to a regular grocery store. Mine also carries a lot of organic and hippie food at reasonable prices.

I've never seen one of these. I'm assuming it is like an Aldi or Trader Joe's?

No. Aldi and Trader Joe's consistently stock items and carry their own labeled products. Grocery Outlet are discounters who sell what is available cheap in bulk at discounts of around 50%. Many staples are often not available but occasionally high end products are sold at extremely low prices as producers liquidate unsold inventory.

there used to be one in dublin I went to regularly but they closed up shop. it's too bad because they had some great deals. I mean sure the presentation wasn't as nice as whole foods but it was a lot more cost effective!

There is plenty of them in the bay area. Aldi is the most similar grocer I can think of.

costco competitor? btw is sam club profitable or still a loss to hold off competition?

Totally different business model - more like the grocery equivalent of Ross, Marshalls, or TJ Maxx. Kind of similar to Aldi if you're familiar with that chain.

Basically buy overstock or items near expiration date for bargain basement prices and pass the savings to consumer. Think toblerones for a dollar, a pint of Haagen Daaz for two bucks, and occasionally some more eclectic health food products that bomb out of whole foods. They used to have these coconut milk chia seed puddings 2-4 for a dollar depending on how well they were doing. Hits the skinner box model of shopping by having variable inventory at cut rate prices with a selection of stable items like bread and milk, meat, vegetables, household cleaners, etc.

hum. sounds like the worst of both worlds...

I can almost understand the value for the chia pudding thing that still lack a variety of off-brands. But haagen daaz, toblerone, et al are just the same regular product today (sometimes even lower quality than the local small brand of icecream/chocolate for example) with a markup because of the brand, somewhat justified because the brand evokes attention to quality (e.g. no expired product on display) and probably pays for better placement (e.g. top shelf or a dedicated store). Now you have the so-so product from the name-brand, with the markup removed because you removed the quality and placement! Is marketing for those brands alone that good?

It's not about brand marketing - it's about having cheaper options. I don't know where you go shopping, but at those prices I just listed, those name brand products are still cheaper than comparable products, local or otherwise.

It's not just removing the markup - they're usually priced at a discount relative to competitors. Also, in my area (SF), local products tend to be priced at a premium relative to standard rates for national brands. So for the ice cream example, the local pint normally would range anywhere from 5-10 dollars, whereas buying a pint of Haagen Dazs would run you about 4 bucks. Now, when I go to grocery outlet to pick up a two dollar pint of ice cream, I'm not buying the pint because it's brand name product for cheap relative to its normal cost - it's cheap relative to the cost of any ice cream. There's no comparable product at two dollars a pint.

I think you should try Grocery Outlet if its in your area, because this isn't really accurate, or at least isn't why people frequent it. There are usually unexpected products which are much (much!) cheaper than their generic alternatives, so it's often actually the cheapest option.

Wish they had more fresh produce options. seems that they specialize in processed foods.

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