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Will Walmart and Target Copy Starbucks and Taco Bell?

The major grocery chains have a new tactic to get you to shop there that you might recognize (and it may be delicious).

Grocery chains generally carry a pretty similar mix of products,

That's generally their appeal. You know that whether you go to Kroger (KR) - Get Kroger Co. Report, Publix, or whatever your local chain might be, you will see the same products n the shelves. There are, of course, specialty options like Amazon's AMZN Whole Foods or The Fresh Market, but even those have predictable inventories.

That, however, has been changing and you're likely to see some really weird items depending upon where you shop. 

Mac-and-cheese ice cream? Taco-flavored jelly beans? If you're one to pay attention to the shelves at Walmart  (WMT) - Get Walmart Inc. Report and Walgreens  (WBA) - Get Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc Report, you'll have noticed just how many new and unusual products have been showing up at big-box retailers lately.

What's With All Those Weird Products On The Shelves?

These types of exclusive promotions were, at one point, exclusively the domain of fast food companies — while chains like Starbucks  (SBUX) - Get Starbucks Corporation Report, and Yum! Brands  (YUM) - Get Yum! Brands, Inc. Report-owned Taco Bell regularly launch spring menus and limited-time offers like the Nacho Fries, the selection at grocery retailers has for years remained consistent and similar across competitors.

This is starting to change and change fast. Most recently, Walmart and ice cream maker Van Leeuwen partnered to bring exclusive ice cream flavors to 3,500 locations across the country not long after Walgreens brought taco-flavored jelly beans from candy company's Brach's Easter collection to its shelves.

"This may be in the form of flavors of select packaged foods or even in special editions of media such as albums or books," Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst at told TheStreet. "By having a limited run of these items and only certain stores carrying them, companies can practically guarantee business from interested consumers."

For Super Bowl, Sam's Club partnered with M&M's for a limited run of its Peanut Candy Pop Popcorn while Starbucks' Dark Chocolate Frappuccino ran exclusively at Target  (TGT) - Get Target Corporation Report way back in 2017.

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"These kinds of promotions pull in shoppers who might not visit these retailers regularly," Ramhold said. "And while they're looking for pizza ice cream, they may see other products that turn them into long-term shoppers."

Is Exclusivity The New Discount?

Exclusivity, according to food marketing analyst and founder of Phil Lempert, often draws consumers in even more than price since even very expensive chains can succeed if they carve out their customer. It also doesn't have to be the kind of "look at what we have!" flavor like mac-and-cheese ice cream — he gave the example of a 16-ounce bag of pistachios that he has lately only been able to find at Krogers  (KR) - Get Kroger Co. Report.

Brach's Taco Truck Jelly Beans Lead JS

"It used to be that [consumers] would compare the price of a can of peas between two stores and because it was the same type and the same size, the cheaper one won," Lempert told "Now what retailers want to do is curate their assortment and make it a more interesting shop that will surprise and delight consumers."

Another example Lempert gave is Trader Joe's — while Everything Bagel Seasoning is probably the brand's most viral hit, the vast majority of the products sold at the grocery stores are exclusive to the chain and, in being so, help its continued popularity.

Exclusive promotions often start out when a brand reaches out to a retailer and offers a product (or, as with Van Leeuwen partnership a few flavors) on an exclusive basis. 

"Gone are the days of piling it high and selling it cheap," Lempert said. "You still have to be competitive but the more you can position yourself as a curator of products that are meant just for you, the more successful you will be in continuing the relationship with that shopper for what will hopefully be the course of their lifetime."

While formerly seen as a way for smaller gain the nationwide exposure that a big chain can bring, they are starting to become a win for retailers as well — many are looking not only at big names but at new and startup brands that can become a hit and, through an exclusive deal, draw shoppers away from competitors.