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From store associates to shoppers, the common thread running through the top issues facing food retailing today is people.
That’s according to Mike Eardley, president and CEO of the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, in his address to IDDBA expo attendees Monday morning in Houston.
“People are our future,” he said. “We need to be able to engage the next generation that’s going to lead our industry.”
Eardley focused on three key areas of importance for the industry: omnichannel, food safety and the future of food.
The continuing move toward omnichannel requires retailers to shift their focus from the product to the outcome of purchase, Eardley said. Retailers must deliver “a consistently superior customer service experience,” he asserted.
“Digital intermediaries” such as social media, click and collect and other online services engage consumers to assist with decision making all along the path to purchase. But, Eardley warned, such disrupters may be grocers’ competition, so they must take charge to “make the experience for our customers simpler.”
A key strategy should be to drive engagement around celebrations, Eardley said, noting that the 10 most “re-pinned” words on Pinterest are related to food.
“Social media is not optional,” Eardley warned, as it’s crucial to reputation management, in regards to review sites such as Yelp.
Eardley hammered away on the importance of food safety, following up on Phil Lempert’s presentation from the previous day that revealed the results of IDDBA’s latest food safety initiative concerning allergens.
With allergies affecting 15 million people – 6 million of them children – 60 percent of consumers have said they would be more likely to shop in a store at which associated have had certified allergen training.
“As an industry, we have not moved fast enough,” Eardley said. For example, a federal study revealed that only half of stores follow guidelines for slicer cleaning designed to prevent allergen cross-contamination. “We can all win, or we can all lose,” Eardley cautioned.
Meanwhile, the future of food as it affects the deli and bakery departments relies on appealing to the oft-ballyhooed Millennial shopper.
For example, Eardley said, Millennials are not strong purchasers of in-store bakery bread. This group overwhelmingly is interested in fresh, organic, natural and free-from foods, yet only 5 percent of in-store bakery breads have declared benefits, he noted.
“We can capture this audience by calling out things like ancient grains and organic ingredients,” Eardley advised.
Food manufacturers have gradually been moving toward simpler ingredient labels and dropping artificial ingredients. “Communicate to shoppers how you meet their needs – help them understand your products and processes,” Eardley said.
Consumers also want to see evidence of sustainability, which in their minds runs the gamut from “local” and “responsible” to “natural” and “non-GMO.”
And grocerants, Eardley said, should be built around “great designs … and excellent menus and ingredients.”
In all, retailers need to be aware of the six key influencers of our industry: community, people, food safety, competition, technology and consolidation. And, in doing so, show themselves to be “people passionately presenting great food with pride.”
Also among the morning’s key speakers was celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who discussed how chefs are perceived by the public in the “pre-Emeril and post-Emeril” worlds.
The rise of this “cult of personality” among chefs has helped to drive a greater interest in food as well as the transformation of supermarkets from mere stores selling food to showcases of culinary prowess, Bourdain said.
In a question-and-answer session led by Albertsons Safeway’s Jewel Hunt, Bourdain identified what he sees as the current key culinary trends: heat; “funk” and “rot” (e.g. fermented foods); “stinky cheeses”; organ meats; slow cooking; and spices.
“We are catching up with the great food cultures of Europe, Latin America and Asia,” Bourdain said.