Execs discuss how to thrive in today’s grocery industry

It comes as no surprise that the rapid pace of change in grocery retail is upending the industry. From technological advances in gene editing, predictive marketing and e-commerce to ever-changing consumer demands and expectations, things are changing -- and they’re changing fast.

The seismic shift being spurred by technology, workforce issues and consumers was an overarching theme at this year’s Food Marketing Institute Midwinter Executive Conference in Miami. Several industry executives shared their thoughts on how to handle and how to adapt to the changing landscape.

On emerging consumerism

“Consumers want what they want, when they want it,” explained Laura Karet, CEO of Giant Eagle. “Sometimes they want to shop in their pajamas. Sometimes they want to leisurely stroll through the store with a glass of wine in hand looking for education and inspiration.”

Today’s consumers are increasingly able to get groceries and other goods at a moment’s notice, which is driving expectations to new heights. And with Amazon setting the bar for how long it should take to get something without having to leave the couch, grocers are being tasked with finding new and innovative solutions.

“We are going to have to deal with how to shorten the time between order and delivery -- and dramatically -- if we’re going to compete with pure-play e-commerce,” Karet said.

On the speed of technological advancements

“I actually think it’ll be really interesting to see how many years it takes for a quarter of the American population to have ordered some food product, at some point in their life, online,” said Chieh Huang, CEO of Boxed. “I imagine it’ll be less than seven years from now.”

Technological advancements today are moving at the speed of light, and things like televisions, personal computers and smartphones have saturated the American population much more quickly than previous technologies. “If you think about all those technologies that pervade our life today, I can’t even predict what 10 years in the future is going to look like for our industry,” Huang said.

“The reality is, probably in our professional lifetimes, we will not see an industry as big as food retail change as violently and as quickly as it is changing today,” he explained. “And it’s creating a lot of concern, but it’s also creating immense opportunity for all of us to rewrite the next chapter of our own histories.”

On surviving in the new marketplace

“You have to think about what you’re going to stand for and what you’re going to invest in,” said Justin Dye, New Seasons Market board member and CEO of ripKurrent.

Dye stressed the importance of figuring out your strategy and putting all of your resources behind it. Industry winners, Dye said, will be those who experiment with different technology and customer experiences, and find ways to quickly adapt to industry changes.

Most importantly, companies should think more like tech companies when it comes to innovating, pivoting and creating meaningful partnerships. “We’ve got to behave like an innovative company,” Dye said.

On embracing the discomfort of change

“You can't just make incremental changes,” said Tom Furphy, CEO of Replenium. “You have to go outside your comfort zone and focus on things two to three years out.”

Furphy stressed the importance of looking at, and obsessing over, the customer’s needs in terms of what changes need to be made within an organization. “Anything that doesn't add value for them is ripe for automation,” he explained.

“You also have to do what’s really uncomfortable,” Furphy said.

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How technology, consumer habits, industry dynamics are changing the future of food
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