By Joseph Tarnowski
Price Chopper's annual college competition brings real-world experience to students and actionable ideas to the grocer.
Price Chopper executives recently held audience to several groups proposing various strategic initiatives, among them, one for increasing checkout capacity during peak times, another for encouraging healthy eating among college students, a third that was a convenience offering around price Chopper's Central Market store brand, and a fourth that centered on a flexible spending program for college students.
While each idea is being considered for implementation at Price Chopper, what's so surprising about the above strategies is that they were developed and presented by college students – as part of Price Chopper's third annual Ultimate Innovation Competition.
"The student's ideas really hit the mark with what we at Price Chopper are trying to deliver every day and what is important to our customers," says Mark Chandler, SVP of supply chain for Price Chopper, who runs the competition. "And that is staying healthy, having a great shopping experience, feeling appreciated and receiving a great value."
Price Chopper developed the competition as a way to offer students the opportunity to showcase innovative ideas to a panel of the grocer's executives. Through this competition, students are presented with the opportunity to develop an original, creative, and innovative concept that would be relevant and meaningful to Price Chopper.
This year, Price Chopper expanded the competition by inviting both undergraduate and graduate students in all colleges and universities located across its entire six-state trading area to participate. More than 75 initial one-page submissions were submitted for the initial round. These were narrowed down to 21 teams for the semifinal round, in which the student teams were asked to develop their ideas into well-developed proposals for Price Chopper's executive judging panel to review. Of these, six teams were invited to the grocer's Schenectady, N.Y., headquarters to professionally present their ideas to its executive team.
"The competition is about more than just generating innovative ideas," says Chandler. "It's also about exposing some of the brightest students in our six-state region to the fact that the grocery retail industry is dynamic, exciting and challenging. The students learn through the competition that they can have a great, rewarding career and we need them in this industry. The students' view of Price Chopper evolves from a place to buy groceries to that of a major corporation where their talents can be put to great use, where they will be challenged and can make a difference. This was the primary goal we started out with three years ago."
Students were asked to form teams and work with a faculty advisor to focus their ideas around one of the following categories:
A total of $30,000 was awarded to the following teams:
$8,000 Winning Team: Bentley University (Increasing Checkout Capacity During Peak Periods)
This team focused on increasing checkout capacity during holidays and other peak periods. It conducted extensive research at one of Price Chopper's Massachusetts stores, and according to Price Chopper, gave one of the most professional presentations it's seen in its three years of holding the competition. Based on their research, team members made several recommendations about how the company can both increase checkout capacity and reduce customer wait times during these peak periods.
"Winning first prize obviously reflects very positively on both the students and Bentley University," says Mark M. Davis, professor of operations management and one of the coaches for the Bentley team. "What made the award even more impressive was that the judges voted unanimously to award the Bentley team first place. Price Chopper should be commended for being one of the leading companies in advancing this emerging concept known as open innovation where companies go outside their corporate walls in seeking innovative suggestions for improving their operations.
More importantly," adds Davis, "Price Chopper's Ultimate Innovation Competition focuses exclusively on academic institutions for these new ideas, which allows students the opportunity to practice what we preach in the classroom. As one of the students on the team said to me afterwards, 'I learned more from doing this project for Price Chopper than in any other course I took at Bentley.'"
Following are the runners-up, and summaries of their submissions:
$7,000 Winning Team: Albany College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (The HealthyU Challenge)
This team of pharmacy students developed what it called the "HealthyU Challenge," targeting college students. By enrolling in the HealthyU Challenge, both students and their respective colleges will be rewarded for purchasing healthier foods. The goal of this innovation is to reward young shoppers for making healthy food choices and educate participants in their pursuit to eat healthy.
$6,000 Winning Team: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Central Market)
This team proposed that Price Chopper could benefit greatly by offering a "Central Market" convenience-type offering within some of its stores. This store-within-a-store would allow busy consumers to get in and out quickly and provide more grab-and-go meal solutions.
$4,000 Winning Team: Albany College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (Chopper Change)
This group proposed that Price Chopper target Millennials through the development of a collegiate flex spending program. This would include a Chopper Change card – a prepaid card that college students could use at any Price Chopper to purchase groceries. Price Chopper would team with select colleges to offer this program to students as a way of gaining loyal customers early on in life.
$3,000 Winning Team: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Chopper Shopper Idol)
These students suggested that Price Chopper tap into the growing social gaming industry. The concept behind the Chopper Shopper Idol social game is for customers to engage with Price Chopper in a fun way on both Facebook and their smartphones. Based in-store, the game would require the player to navigate through the aisles and departments during a given challenge.
$2,000 Winning Team: Utica College (Campus Choppers)
This team focused on developing a Price Chopper store that would be located on college campuses. The mini Choppers would provide both better food choices for college students and real-life retail management experience for students managing the stores for course credit.
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