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Each time I walk a store with food retailers, I'm asked for ideas on how they can get more organic, natural and specialty products in the baskets of their customers. My response is simple: Be a great merchant of the "Big Ideas." I acknowledge that this takes some explaining, and it's easier said than done. These are cross-category macro-trends growing at double-digit rates, not short-lived fads. But more importantly, beyond the syndicated data, these four Big Ideas represent a major shift in American eating consciousness and grocery shopping behavior.
Strategy and execution will vary by channel, store format and evolutionary stage of the merchant. For this article, I've focused on tactical merchandising thought-starters seen through the lens of a mainstream grocery store.
Smarter Snacking is a trend toward eating nutrient-dense foods that conveniently satisfy hunger. The boundaries between meals and snacks are blurring; according to The Hartman Group, in Bellevue, Wash., snacking in the United States now accounts for 52 percent of eating occasions. Food merchants have a great opportunity (and responsibility) to offer more wholesome options. Here are some ways to do that:
- Reinvent impulse shopping in your store by establishing Smarter Snacking hot spots and points of interruption, especially close to the entryways and at checkout lanes. These hot spots should feature credible brands offering products with simple and easy-to-pronounce ingredient decks.
- Dedicate grab-and-go cooler space to single-serve yogurts, probiotic beverages, fresh fruits, hummus and cheese/fruit snack packs. Cross-merchandise whole grain crackers and nuts/dried fruit.
- Since snacks are ready to eat, they present a relatively easy demo opportunity. Drive trial, awareness and sales through an aggressive Smarter Snacking sampling program.
Consumers from a wide array of socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds are increasingly looking to complementary and alternative medicine, along with functional foods and beverages, to help with day-to-day heath conditions, to reduce their reliance on prescription and OTC medicines. Vitality-focused products are designed to deliver rejuvenation, sustained energy and longevity. Becoming a wellness destination will ensure you're relevant to the communities you serve. Here's how to do it:
- Establish a Vitality or holistic health strategy with vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies and dietary supplements. To make this work, you need a champion of the section to help your customers navigate through their options and to help upsell and cross-sell. If your stores have pharmacies, the set should live in that department, and your pharmacists should take ownership in the development and execution of the program.
- Create a functional beverage set in your grab-and-go cooler, and segment by Energy, Cognitive Health, Relaxation and Digestion.
- To make Vitality part of your strategy and brand promise, staff training, coupled with communication to your customers, is essential. Assortment alone isn't enough for this highly technical cross-category Big Idea.
Food You Can Trust
Consumer demand and awareness regarding transparency in food labeling are driving sales of products with third-party certification audits. Food You Can Trust brands help cultivate consumer confidence and, when merchandised well, can have a halo effect throughout your stores. Although there are dozens of certifications out there, there are four we're seeing with extreme double-digit growth rates across all of the channels we serve: Certified Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, Certified Gluten Free and Fair Trade Certified. These tips will help you capitalize on this food trend:
- Train your store-level staff on what these certifications mean and why consumers care about them. This will create credibility with your customers who ask for these products.
- Create year-round selling events by partnering with third-party certifiers on integrated marketing campaigns around the issues and claims. For example, don't wait for Earth Day to promote certified organic; talk about organic throughout the year.
- Use shelf-edge labels or bib tags to call out attributes at the point of sale.
Global Cuisine Made Easy
Most American kitchens now show signs of the cultural fusion of food and beverage. This shift has been largely affected by the dramatic shift in U.S. demographics; however, international travel and cooking shows on television have exposed Americans to foods from around the world at an unprecedented rate.
These days, going on a culinary journey doesn't have to take a lot of time, because thanks to a new generation of authentic specialty sauces that give time-starved customers easy access to authentic and delicious meals that can be assembled in minutes. The following pointers should help you make the most of this burgeoning consumer interest:
- Choose a country or region to focus on each month, and build an event with meal solutions to celebrate that cuisine.
- Leverage cross-merchandising opportunities by bringing traditional center store sauces to perimeter departments. For example, feature simmer sauces in meat and seafood departments, and vegetable sauces in produce.
- Partner with local chefs to cook at your store and establish your culinary credibility.
Finally, being great merchants of these Big Ideas should be a cross-functional effort that goes beyond the category management team to also include your marketing and operations organizations. Getting the right on-trend products in the right stores is the beginning of the journey; the other part of the process is being storytellers of the "who" and the "why" behind these trends and brands.