By Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, Food Marketing Institute

I opened our recent FreshForward event with a surprisingly simple question for attendees:

“Why are we here?”

The answer probably seemed like a no brainer to those on hand—educated, energized and connected. But there was more. I emphasized another reason for being at FreshForward, which was held in late August in Minneapolis. The entire industry needs to come together to boost the success of fresh foods strategies. Senior leaders need to engage with each other to help navigate disruption and create the next generation of fresh foods opportunities. Retailers, wholesalers, suppliers, and service providers are integral to these efforts.

I’m pleased to say FreshForward helped to accelerate this collaboration. A unique aspect of the format was the interactive involvement of attendees, who met in facilitated breakout groups after each panel to identify key takeaways and next steps for the fresh industry. Those takeaways were presented to the full group and will lead to follow-up discussions and plans for the industry. The event also benefitted from a key partnership with Deloitte. Here are some of the key quotes from presenters during FreshForward:

Kroger: Emphasizing Well-Being and Origins

FreshForward keynoter Suzy Monford, Kroger’s new vice president of fresh merchandising, emphasized the opportunity to further enhance fresh foods positioning to promote health and well-being, in the face of challenges ranging from diabetes to anxiety and depression.

“There’s never been a more powerful time to lean in to promote fresh as a way to do well by doing good,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of relaying fresh food origins to a changing consumer base.

“It used to be enough in produce to have local signage,” she said. “Now provenance is important. We need to teach the next generation of consumers where food comes from.”

Particularly important for fresh foods, she added, is “telling a story without getting overly busy. There’s too much sensory overloading. Too many signs and messages. Let the product be the star.”

Target: Enhancing Fresh Capabilities

Target’s Stephanie Lundquist, who earlier this year was named president of food and beverage, detailed Target’s exciting new developments in food and beverage including the formation of a newly integrated team focused on strengthening cross-functional alignment and enhancing progress. She appeared at FreshForward in the same week that Target unveiled Good & Gather, its largest owned food and beverage brand, which will offer more than 2,000 products by the end of 2020. Many of Lundquist’s comments were tailored to the conference’s fresh focus.

“Our guests over-index on buying fresh, Lundquist said. “We love working with suppliers, partners, and others. We view partnership as a competitive advantage. If you have innovative ideas, we want to partner and explore.”

The retailer is investing in “expertise and capabilities around fresh,” but it’s not one size fits all, she said. “It needs to be relevant, as we operate across 50 states. Each market is different, regionality matters.”

Moreover, she said, today’s omnichannel landscape creates new demands on how fresh is executed. A major milestone was Target’s late 2017 announcement that it would acquire Shipt, which enables same day grocery delivery for shoppers.

“The lines are blurring, as there’s no longer a distinction between stores and digital; we need to deliver on fresh any way consumers want it,” she said.

Making Progress Throughout the Year  

While FreshForward highlighted fresh foods success, it also pointed to the need to enhance performance and overcome hurdles. I was excited by the passion and determination of industry stakeholders to focus on action steps. This will be essential for ensuring that fresh remains a momentum driver for food retail.

I’ll relay a lot more about FreshForward insights in upcoming posts and key takeaways will be further explored in an upcoming exclusive white paper from Deloitte.

Meanwhile, FMI will keep the fresh topic on the front burner throughout the year, through its Fresh Foods Leadership Council. The industry will again gather at FreshForward next year and we hope you’ll make sure your organization is well represented at the fresh table.