Groceries at Dollar Stores? Dollar General’s Drive to Become the ‘New General Store’

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The past few years of economic turmoil have been a boon to dollar stores, which have proven to be a strong draw for shoppers seeking cheap gifts, clothes, and household goods. Man and woman cannot live on inexpensive tchotchkes and laundry detergent alone, though. For a dollar store to be a truly one-stop shopping experience, it’d need a decent selection of food—fresh foods, not just the canned stuff. Target and Walmart offer this experience, and now, some Dollar General stores do as well.

Food probably isn’t the first reason shoppers hit dollar stores. There usually aren’t many edible items in the aisles, and what’s there tends to be limited to cheap non-perishables that could sit on shelves—or in your pantry—for months, if not years. Off-brand candy that didn’t sell well in other stores, as well as dry mixes and canned vegetables and soups are among the typical foods sold by dollar stores.

Unsurprisingly, no foods made it onto our list of the best things to buy at dollar stores (spices don’t count). It didn’t make it onto our list of the worst things to buy at dollar stores either—which is more proof that people don’t usually think of food at all when it comes to dollar store shopping.

(MORE: The Best (and Worst) Things to Buy at Dollar Stores)

Dollar stores want to change that, though. Specifically, Dollar General—one of the hottest retailers in the U.S. over the past few years—wants food to be a main reason why shoppers swing by the store.

A Wall Street Journal story details Dollar General’s ongoing efforts to launch and expand Dollar General Market. There are already more than a dozen DG Markets open right now, and 40 new locations are expected to be open within the next year. The stores, in DG’s words, are an expansion of its usual store’s “selection of grocery, frozen and dairy items, while adding fresh produce and fresh meat — all guaranteed or your money back. Our goal is a simple one: we carry items you need at prices you’ll appreciate, without sacrificing freshness or quality.”

A typical DG Market will be 16,000 square feet, which is double the size of a typical dollar store, but small compared to the average American supermarket (46,000 square feet), and downright tiny compared to a Walmart supercenter (upwards of 150,000 square feet). The new Markets won’t have the biggest selection of fresh foods, but the basics will be covered—milk, bread, juice, common fruits and veggies (bananas, apples, oranges).

(MORE: 16 Easy Ways to Save on Groceries)

Why would any dollar store risk stocking its shelves with goods that aren’t particularly profitable, and that could spoil before customers have the chance to buy them? According to the WSJ:

It is a race to become what Dollar General’s CEO, Rick Dreiling, calls “the new general store”—a place where harried, frugal shoppers can get the most essential things they need at a discount without traipsing through airplane-hangar-sized supercenters, which top 150,000 square feet.

Until recently, few consumers considered any dollar store to offer “one-stop shopping.” A guy known as the “99 Cent Chef” has made a habit out of preparing meals based on ingredients from 99 Cents stores, but this approach isn’t feasible—nor recommended—for many people. With a more robust selection of food, though, “the new general store” aims to give shoppers a more convenient, potentially cheaper alternative to visiting supercenters or grocery stores once or more per week.

(MORE: Condimania! The ‘New Ketchup’ and Other Hot Condiment Trends)

While Dollar General is certainly interested in selling food, that’s not necessarily the business’s goal. The point of selling food that people need every week is to attract those customers into stores every week—when, hopefully, they’ll browse the aisles and perhaps pick up more standard dollar store fare, from toys to women’s fashions. This is largely the same reason why CVS, Rite Aid, and other drugstores now sell milk and eggs, and why a hot dog and a soda costs $1.50 at Costco: The presence of these goods gives shoppers a reason for more frequent visits—and with them come more opportunities for stores to tempt them into buying other things.

Dollar General, though, is trying to be truly convenient by stocking the food right near the store entrance. Supermarkets take the opposite tactic, placing essentials like milk and eggs in the far corners, forcing shoppers to march past all sorts of tempting goodies before reaching the items that brought them to the store in the first place. The strategy is different at a dollar store, whose first goal is to just get the shopper inside.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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