Tuesday, August 5, 2014

7 Ways Supermarkets Are Changing the Way We Shop

As a longtime retail food executive, what I love most about my industry is that it’s always changing. Every day is different. We retailers are always looking for new products, new recipes, new ways to solve that constant question, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

We retailers must be able to anticipate the changing needs of our customer base. It’s often a challenge to stay ahead of the next trend. For example, who would have ever thought that coconut water would be such a big hit over traditional soda? Who would have ever distinguished between “clean” and “dirty” produce? Who would have known that non-GMO products would prove to be a deal-breaker?

I know I didn’t, which is why I strive to anticipate the next game-changing product launch, the next big thing in packaging, or the next best seasoning mix that turns a basic burger into an upscale gourmet meal.

Here are seven trends that every forward-thinking food retailer ought to embrace, yesterday:

1. Natural and organic. Customers are demanding more choices about what they put into their bodies, and they’re eager to study labels to discover healthier alternatives. They want straightforward definitions of what “organic” and “natural” really mean, what constitutes a “preservative,” and how much gluten those delicious  cookies contain. (The rule of thumb: the fewer the ingredients, the better.)

2. Sustainability. Retailers need to better educate customers about what is sustainably grown and what is sustainably raised. As retailers, we have a responsibility to understand the sourcing of the products we sell.

3. GMO vs. non-GMO. There’s a lot of confusion, and thus controversy, about GMO products. Retailers need to know what goes through a customer’s mind when he spies the words “genetically modified.” It behooves us to help people understand that “GMO” isn’t necessarily a pejorative.

4. Local. How far can food travel and still be considered fresh? I have a hard time thinking something is “local” if it trekked 250 miles or four hours. To me, “local” means the product is made in the same city where it’s sold. Only retailers that engage with local restaurants, local bakeries, and local specialty suppliers can claim this increasingly important moniker.

5. Meals to go. Today’s working men and women want fresh, healthy meals they can pick up on their way home. The smart retailer will cater to this in-and-out experience. It’s all about convenience for the time-challenged customer.

6. In-store cooking centers. Some stores are offering cooking centers where customers can learn how to bring to life in their kitchen a picture-perfect, mouth-watering meal. This allows employees to share knowledge with customers in a selling environment, and contributes to a more personal shopping experience.

7. QR codes. Want to know more about the calorie count on that box of brownies? How about the ingredients in that supposedly healthier soup? Increasingly, products are being packaged with QR codes. Just because a customer is waving his iPhone around doesn’t mean he’s showrooming; customers are now using their smartphones to learn about their potential purchases from the horse’s mouth.

What did I miss? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet me at @RobinSMichel or link in with me here.