We’re living in a time when picky shoppers are turning away from one-size-fits-all products and services. They want personalized options that fit their tastes and needs. After all, who goes to Starbucks to order black coffee? Burger King announced “Have it your way” to people who could also go to Subway to create their own sandwich.
In addition to fast food, the process of customization in consumer products has been around for a while. For example, consumers can visit a computer manufacturer’s website and create their own unit by selecting the graphics card and how much memory and processor speed they want.
This notion of customization and its next of kin, curation, is being talked about as an emerging opportunity in grocery stores. That was the topic of a fascinating panel discussion recently at the Food Marketing Institute’s Midwinter Executive Conference in Miami. The panelists were Paul Grimwood, chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA; Bill Nasshan, EVP and CMO at Bi-Lo Holdings; and Tom Furphy, CEO of Consumer Equity Partners. The discussion came after a keynote by Anthony Flynn, author of “Custom Nation” (BenBella Books, 2012) and founder of YouBar, the world’s first customized nutrition bar.
Their comments were intriguing because of the potential for engaging shoppers in a more personal and helpful way. E-commerce is where customizing products and curating orders can best take place. The panelists correctly outlined the playbook for grocers: First, combine the manufacturer’s consumer insights and product expertise with the grocer’s understanding of shoppers and the local market. Look at past purchases, leverage online dialogue, and build a repeatable basket either to be delivered or picked up at the store.
An important step is becoming an online advisor on food and beverage. Look at what Amazon has done for years. When consumers browse for a specific book, a selection of titles and a note is invariably displayed: “Related to items you’ve viewed.” Grocers curating orders for engaged shoppers who are on a special diet could post a selection of new items with the note saying, “Related to gluten-free products you’ve viewed.”
Meanwhile, here are three websites with an interesting business model: Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh. The formula for all three is about the same. They present a menu of delicious meals that consumers can choose from. The service does the shopping and then sends pre-measured ingredients, recipes and cooking instructions home to consumers who do the cooking.
Could supermarkets offer such a service? Maybe. But if they don’t and it becomes really popular among, say, busy Millennials, small, nimble companies will own this business. For grocery stores, it will be another cut in the proverbial death by a thousand cuts.
Of course, all of this activity is a Brave New World for food retailers. Grocery shopping is changing, facilitated by online technology. It’s always wise to investigate new opportunities.