By Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, Food Marketing Institute
Speaks Report Cover 2019

The year The Food Retail Industry Speaks made its inaugural appearance, Harry S. Truman was President, Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific featuring Some Enchanted Evening opened on Broadway, and the world’s first jet airliner – the de Haviland Comet – made its maiden voyage in England. Much has changed since 1949 and FMI’s annual survey of U.S. food retailers and wholesalers has tracked it all, providing members with key inside-the-industry assessments of all the changes, developments and happenings in the noble world of food retailing.

What did the 70th version of Speaks reveal? It paints the picture of a resilient industry continuing to address the diverse range of challenges confronting it. Some of the hurdles are old and familiar, such as growing interchange fees and rising health care costs. Some issues, like transportation challenges, are new. And some—such as the proliferation of competitors—have grown in intensity.

Here are a few Speaks related examples of how retailers are successfully adapting to the emerging new food landscape:

Turning Costs into Gains

Health care costs continue to rise, yet food retailers have managed to absorb increases and still produce positive financial outcomes and leverage health benefits as a means of successfully attracting and retaining employees.

Staying Ahead of Consumers

Consumers are shaking things up as they shift buying behaviors, but retailers are embracing the changes in ways that advance their reputations for attributes such as health and well-being, personalized customer service and transparency.

Achieving Benefits from Disruption

Technology is driving new in-store and online imperatives, and food retailers are responding by leveraging technology to improve productivity and customer experience.

Reminiscent of the notion that the best way to predict the future is to shape it, Speaks 2019 discloses some of the ways food retailers are taking matters into their own hands, and adapting faster.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from this year’s Speaks survey of the food retail industry:

Well-being Viewed as Bigger Positive

The health and well-being proposition and the food as medicine trend continue to gain momentum as the two most powerful factors positively impacting sales and profits.

Solidifying Consumer Connections

Food retailers are striving to engage more deeply with consumers, including through diverse promotional efforts, transparency initiatives, use of technology and community programs.

Proactive Approaches to Labor

Labor issues, from upward wage pressure to challenges in recruiting and retaining employees, are affecting retail performance. Nevertheless, food retailers are navigating in ways that ensure business success, such as using compensation and benefits to ensure a steady supply of talent.

Fresh News About Fresh Success

Fresh foods continue to drive product differentiation. A strong boost in success for categories such as produce, fresh prepared, and meat/poultry relays a highly positive story.

Technology Experimentation Advances

Food retailers are moving forward with a range of ecommerce initiatives as they strive to enhance their online shopping sophistication and engage customers. In addition, they are using and experimenting with technology to improve the in-store experience and their operational efficiency.

Food Retailers Adapt for Success

The list of challenges facing retailers could fill a Speaks report all by itself. Nevertheless, this year’s data shows retailers are increasingly finding ways to succeed regardless of the landscape. They are adapting for success. While this trait is a differentiator for many retailers, over time it will become table stakes in this quickly changing environment.

Financial Improvements Overcome Pressures

Food retailers are succeeding in enhancing key financial and operational benchmarks despite the increasingly challenging expense landscape.

I hope you will join me for our The Food Retail Industry Speaks, What Are They Saying? webinar on October 3 at 2 p.m. as we delve deeper into Speaks 2019 and explore the ways food retailers can take advantage of the key insights it contains.

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