(Shared) Knowledge is Power
By Meg Major
While selling cycles come and go, a consistently winning game plan is best waged by adhering to a value/quality message, fortified by well-educated store-level staff.
With New Year's prognostications in full swing, it's peak season for projecting what will likely dominate our conversations over the next 12 months.
Prominently featured on my speculative barometer: shoppers' ever-higher hopes for more experiential supermarkets and intuitive solutions that mesh with their cravings for more convenient, nutritious, budget-focused items.
With this in mind, the timely, thought-provoking wisdom shared among the savvy buyer/seller panelists of a Top Retail Produce Trends roundtable I moderated late last year (coverage of which begins on page 65) sets the stage for developments that are bubbling across the overall landscape as reflections of broader shifts on the radar for the year ahead.
Of particular note is the unambiguous view of Jim Corby, VP of produce merchandising for Salisbury, N.C.-based Delhaize America/Food Lion, who posits that as ambassadors of solution-seeking consumers, progressive grocers will have a mandate for the indefinite future to "stay focused on increased produce consumption." Related selling opportunities throughout the store, he believes, will become rapidly self-evident, with the favorable spillover lending to stronger lifts in other departments.
Steve Wright, director of produce/floral for Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Markets, fully supports Corby's view, as well as the related concern that while most folks know they should increase their fresh produce intake, overall category sales last year declined nationally. And though it's tricky marketing to ever-demanding, multigenerational shoppers whose needs and expectations fluctuate widely, Wright is quite right in saying, "It's up to us to get shoppers more aligned with the various experiences they are seeking in our stores."
While selling cycles come and go, a consistently winning game plan is best waged by adhering to a value/quality message, fortified by well-educated store-level staff. However, that's no easy task in the throes of a demanding deflationary cycle, notes the Idaho Potato Commission's Seth Pemsler. "This is going to be a low-price year," he says, "and the challenge before all of us is to maintain, if not exceed, retail margins." Given that the best offense is a good defense, Pemsler asserts that in the long run, "retailers can most profitably compete with premium products," versus a tunnel vision/price-driven approach.
No argument from Jamie Strachan, CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Growers Express/Green Giant Fresh, who concurs that it all comes down to "the total experience and getting consumers educated more about how to eat. There's just so much attention on, and awareness of, eating healthy and produce and cooking, and it's now time to execute on delivering better education — whether it's social media or packaging or in-store merchandising — all of which are great opportunities to grow consumption and move people out of some of the traditional, less healthy options and into better ones."
Darvel Kirby, Lubbock, Texas-based United Supermarkets' produce business director, also agrees: "The more we can do to get the message out on all categories, whether it's through signage or packaging or our own people, the better."
An ideal starting point, notes Jeff Fairchild, produce director at Portland, Ore.-based New Seasons Market, is routine farm tours for store teams. "It amazes me how many people have no idea how products are grown and harvested. I can't promote or sell anything — it's up to my staff to do both. The critical thing," he insists, "is getting them involved and excited and educated about what we're selling, which enables them to get behind it, and then get it in people's mouths." The produce department is also ripe for aggressive demos and tastings, which Fairchild says give shoppers hands-on sensory experiences and enable retailers to cross-promote companion authentic ingredients from other departments.
Indeed, "Nothing says fresh better than produce," avows Minneapolis-based Nash Finch Co.'s director of produce merchandising, Tim Eberle, whose company has posted "phenomenal" gains from tailored partner programs that impart store-level education.
Cognizant that the whole is greater than sum of its parts — be it with produce, pasta, peanut butter or pork chops — the same can be said for the dividends yet to be paid from retooled supply chain partnerships focusing on mutual goals and actionable customer centricity.
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