Michelle Yang / Sun Staff Photographer

Anabel’s Grocery, a store located on Cornell's campus, continues to work towards meeting the demands of their customers via Zoom.

May 1, 2020

Anabel’s Grocery Continues to Work Despite COVID-19 Challenges, Hosts Online Focus Group

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Hands-on, project-based learning has become more difficult with students unable to meet on campus. But one Applied Economics and Management class is still forging on.

Anabel’s Grocery hosted an online focus group to receive feedback from shoppers on April 26. It was organized as a final project for AEM 3385: Social Entrepreneurship Practicum: Anabel’s Market, a course all team members must take before working at the non-profit.

The law school-housed grocery store was founded in 2017 as one of campus’ only locations to buy affordable fresh produce and food. It reopened last semester after being closed in spring 2019 to rework what it called an “unsustainable” business model.

“The focus group was both informative and authentic,” said Lily Becker ‘20, one of the leaders of the focus group. The four former customers’ discussion with group leaders ranged from their experiences at Anabel’s and programming events to suggestions for improvements. The participants were incentivized by being entered into a $20 visa gift card raffle.

The groups discussed advantages of Anabel’s, including its low prices, quality produce and the store’s convenient location at Anabel Taylor Hall. Participants also suggested improvements, including expanding online ordering, collaborating with local farmers and offering more foods from different cultures.

“From the results of the focus group, it is clear to the team that the shoppers appreciate our commitment to offering affordable food and creating a positive space around food,” Becker said, on the feedback the store received.

“We also recognize where there is room for improvement, most notably we need to focus on outreach and programming,” Becker told The Sun, which could include the implementation of a meal kit system.

According to Becker, the Zoom call was a success — the online focus group didn’t struggle with technical difficulties and lasted 80 minutes.

“This affirms to us that our customers value direct contact and interaction with Anabel’s team, are genuinely interested in our work, and want to foster a community with us,” she added.

That students are no longer on campus has not stopped Anabel’s team from connecting with the Cornell community. It has focused on better using its online resources, including a newsletter, blog and social media posts, which provide students with healthy recipes, tips for gardening and programs for food-insecure students like Cornell Access fund and Cornell Food pantry.

Despite the uncertainty of the fall semester, Anabel’s team is still working to improve how it serves the Cornell community. Beginning in March, the store piloted an online ordering system that was well-reviewed by customers both in and out of the focus group.

“While there are still logistical issues to work out, we feel this may be a viable option to safely social distance our workers and customers and ensure students are fed and safe,” she said.