By: Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, Food Marketing InstituteFresh Foods

There’s nothing stale about the fresh category in retail, which is arguably turning the food retail business on its head. It’s the ultimate disruptive category when it comes to competing for share of the business and we dedicated significant resources to our fresh strategy at FMI this year.


Food retailers will continue to find ways to distinguish their businesses in the marketplace by focusing on fresh. Even after years of growth, fresh foods segments are being tapped for bigger space allocations in the store over the next two years, given that shoppers continue to gravitate toward these categories, per the 2018 U.S. Food Retailing Industry Speaks operations survey. Our research suggests that retailers have found ways to further engage consumers and differentiate with fresh foods, better-for-you categories, and private brands, among key growth segments. They are advancing same-store sales and planning new investments in their businesses.

These operational shifts also affected FMI’s approach to its category research, adding new projects and research on departments above and beyond traditional produce categories. We created a new industry event that challenges FMI members to embrace a visionary role in food retail and establishes a relationship with executives who are investing in the perimeter of their stores. From blockchain to supply chain, our industry is poised to witness unprecedented change. Here are two strategies that were particularly noteworthy to our profession this year:

1. We established a stronger community among fresh executives:

Thanks to leadership from John Ruane, chief merchandising officer and senior vice president, Giant Martins, and Rick Steigerwald, senior vice president, Lunds & Byerly’s, we approved the Fresh Executive Committee to move forward with our first industry event that looks to the future of fresh and how participants see the business evolving. Eighty-five executives attended our event, FreshForward, to review forces on the global food supply, food waste, food service at retail and the evolving consumer. We created a retro atmosphere as a reminder that people’s tastes change along with the times: today’s consumers are more likely to download music digitally, play games online or on devices and rarely dine at a kitchen table.

2. We emphasized our reputation as the resource for Fresh

The Fresh Foods Leadership Council cemented its reputation for delivering relevant consumer insights on fresh departments. We presented findings from the Power of Meat, Power of Produce and Power of Foodservice at Retail at thought leadership events across the country and garnered significant pickup in trade journals. One of our members described this research as necessary to help him determine strategies and tactics to drive sales. In addition to these analyses, we fielded research for release in 2019 specific to seafood and bakery.

FMI continues to create partnerships with trade groups to widen our audience, namely our work with the North American Meat Institute via the Annual Meat Conference and the Southern Exposure Produce event. We also collaborate with data powerhouses regarding consumer insights. For instance, we again peered through the lens of the consumer via our work with IRI on the Top Trends in Fresh, interviewing shoppers to explore their opinions and strategies.

Our 2018 efforts prove that our members’ physical and online store strategies will always include a fresh look forward. The focus on fresh in food retail remains the most important way to differentiate now and in the future.