PSFK chats with founder Emily Schildt about her traveling grocery store format that has returned for fall, staying longer and hosting more experiences that invite shoppers to linger, discover and connect over healthy living

In Brief: 

  • Pop Up Grocer is a traveling grocery store that curates a thoughtful stock of innovative, natural and visually appealing food and items for urban consumers, helping them discover new or online-only brands in a manageable way.
  • Emily Schildt, the brand's founder, noticed a gap in grocery store formats, leaving consumers with a choice between huge, overwhelming spaces and tiny, over-curated shops, and wanted to offer a setting that offered the chance to linger and try out new natural foods in a friendly atmosphere.
  • Schildt sat down with PSFK to talk about the challenges of hosting an ephemeral grocery store, the advantages of the smaller yet robust format, and the unique in-store experiences and activations that create a sense of community between shoppers as they explore.

PSFK: What inspired you to start Pop Up Grocer?  How did you feel other or more traditional grocery store formats were underserving shoppers?

Emily Schildt: There are big, mass retail stores with an overwhelming amount of product and then there are small, boutique retail stores that are sparse and often pretentious. What I wanted was a space that felt friendly, fun and inviting, and offered me only the best of what's available.

I married these two insights to create Pop Up Grocer: A traveling pop-up grocery store featuring the most innovative and exciting brands in natural food and beverage, plus home, pet, and body, today. Our aim is to showcase the items we think are worth paying attention to, that people can then buy at convenience, be that online or off, wherever they purchase their groceries.

What was the process of creating a grocery popup like? What was challenging about creating an immersive, ephemeral format in this category?

The biggest challenge was that this had never been done before, and thus we had to write the rules and figure it all out. It's a logistically complex business. We have hundreds of brands shipping product directly to us from all over the country. And we are essentially opening what is otherwise a complete and finished grocery store, only to then shut it down days later.

The success was that this hunch I had—that other people wanted what I wanted to exist and that brands could build awareness through that desire—was validated. We had two times more people come through our doors in our first 10-day shop than anticipated, and an outpour of requests for us to become permanent and open more locations across the country.

What advantages does this format offer consumers as well as brands?

In the cities in which we've opened and planned to open, we help locals sort through the overwhelming number of items and retail locations they have available to them. Access is not an issue. However, the thought of bringing quality, good-for-you products to cities without access excites us, and I would hope, our brands. As we are a traveling shop, we certainly have the ability to do this, and to educate people in food deserts as to what they could then purchase online.

What do you hope visitors will experience when they visit? 

First and foremost, we want people to have fun. Our stores are free from the headaches of big ones and the moral imposition of small ones. We want people to take their time, hang out, ooh and aah, ask questions. We think people don't really know what they're looking for, and we want to help them work through that. We want them to be excited by the food choices they make, not dragged down by them.

That's why our criteria is prioritized the way that it is. Eating well is no longer an aspiration—it's a standard. We are all on board. So we want people to have fun again, knowing the options we've provided already check all the boxes. And when they don't—like the pastries at our counter—that's OK too. They're delicious. It's all about balance, and we've got you covered.

How does packaging play a role in the brands and merchandise you choose to include?

Packaging is one of our three key criteria for the brands we select to feature. Unfortunately, a lot of brands come to us that may make an excellent product, but we choose to forego them due to the packaging. We do this because we think this is how our customers react, too. There are too many options out there to have to make a concession. If you're the best cracker there is, you have to spend the time and money to present the box that says this for you. Packaging that performs the best is vibrant, colorful and playful.

How does your upcoming NoLIta popup differ from the one you held in New York earlier this year? Would you ever consider a permanent space?

This store is open for 30 days, where our last was just for 10. It also features more brands, including some pet, home and body in addition to food and beverage. This shop also features a new restaurant partner at our counter, with a daily assortment of baked goods from Gertie. And we've partnered with Gossamer to curate our selection of CBD brands.

Evolving from the design of the April store, this shop will house a dedicated lounge space for visitors to sit and enjoy their purchases, and to be used for after hours events. Additionally, there is a sampling station offering a daily assortment of products in store.

For the future, we have many more openings planned, including one in Los Angeles at the start of the new year. And we are open to whatever else comes our way, should it be right for the business and our objectives. Navigating the unknown is the best part!

Pop Up Grocer

The NYC shop is located at 208 Bowery, open from Sept 20-Oct 20, 9am to 7pm daily.

Photos by Marissa DePino

In Brief: 

Pop Up Grocer is a traveling grocery store that curates a thoughtful stock of innovative, natural and visually appealing food and items for urban consumers, helping them discover new or online-only brands in a manageable way. Emily Schildt, the brand's founder, noticed a gap in grocery store formats, leaving consumers with a choice between huge, overwhelming spaces and tiny, over-curated shops, and wanted to offer a setting that offered the chance to linger and try out new natural foods in a friendly atmosphere. Schildt sat down with PSFK to talk about the challenges of hosting an ephemeral grocery store, the advantages of the smaller yet robust format, and the unique in-store experiences and activations that create a sense of community between shoppers as they explore.

PSFK: What inspired you to start Pop Up Grocer?  How did you feel other or more traditional grocery store formats were underserving shoppers?