Coborn’s achieves space-aware and customer-centric assortments with integrated category planning

Case study on how Coborn's grocery uses Symphony RetailAI integrated category planning to create customer-centric assortments.


Part of Coborn’s mission statement is to empower its employee owners to create unique shopping experiences, anticipate needs and exceed expectations for its shoppers. To do this, Coborn’s needed to remove the hurdles of manual processes and disparate systems in use by its staff and move to a solution that would enable them to execute the best assortments that would meet the needs of their shoppers at the right time. It did this by implementing Symphony RetailAI’s Integrated Category Planning solution.

Video: Coborn's achieves space-aware and customer-centric assortments with integrated category planning


Based in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Coborn’s is a 99-year-old employee-owned grocery retailer with nearly 9,000 employees and 58 grocery stores across Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Its stores operate under the Coborn’s, Cash Wise Foods, Marketplace Foods and Hornbacher’s banners. Coborn’s, Inc. also owns stand-alone convenience, liquor, and pharmacy locations.


Coborn’s faced issues around sharing of information. It had a time-consuming category review process with many manual steps that at times made it difficult to meet important deadlines and offer the best assortment to its shoppers at the right time. It lacked the tools to make truly space-aware, informed assortment decisions in an efficient manner. And, though Coborn’s was data rich, it lacked the time and tools to get that data into a usable format and to analyze it to gain insights that the retailer could put into action to best meet the needs of its customers.

Coborn’s needed to find a way to improve communication between space planning, category managers and its vendor partners to deliver the best assortment and planograms to its stores. And, importantly, it needed to achieve this without putting any more stress on its IT department. It needed a single solution to cover assortment, both macro and micro space planning, without adding additional labor.


Coborn’s chose Symphony RetailAI’s full Integrated Category Planning suite to execute on timely space aware assortments. Aside from the demonstrated core capabilities of the suite, two other major factors played into Coborn’s decision: the fact that the solution was cloud-based and that there would be no need to add more resources to either merchandising or IT to manage this. In fact, the only additional help needed from IT was supplying the weekly cost file; this has remained the same since the start of the implementation.

As Coborn’s had been using Symphony RetailAI’s customer loyalty solution, it was able to easily incorporate its loyalty data into the new category planning solution as well – another key element in its decision to select Symphony RetailAI.


“It’s the most amazing tool I’ve seen in over 20 years in space planning. We can intelligently cluster our stores based on sales metrics, and can now take steps closer to the goal of guest-centric assortments, all without adding head count. Without the Symphony RetailAI solution – including Intelligent Clustering, Assortment Optimization, Store Planning HQ, and Planogram Automation, this felt to be an unattainable dream.”

Marty Thompson, Director Category Development, Coborn’s Inc.

Coborn’s has seen many immediate benefits from their new solution:

  • Ability to measure transferable demand
  • Improved planogram automation
  • Vastly simplified assortment review format
  • Replaced highly manual processes and multiple file formats and modes of communication with a streamlined view of all key data points, enabling Coborn’s to move from data insights to execution
  • Improved collaboration and partnering across the organization, using a unified platform with an integrated productivity workflow that allows all teams to “speak the same language”

As Coborn’s looks to the short term, it will be fully paired with its wholesalers on their category closing schedule. In addition, it will be putting all center store planograms live in an effort to be nimble and keep pace with the ever-changing FMCG retail environment. It will generate timely assortments for its shoppers across all categories, regardless of whether they are in store, online, or a blend of both.

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