By Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, FMI 20171205-FMI-Store Shoot-0376r-LowRes

Sometimes it’s hard to see past the hurdles facing the food industry. Executives sometimes hope to grab opportunities but struggle with a range of challenges.

This is especially relevant to three topic tracks spotlighted at the most recent FMI FreshForward Conference —ecommerce, meal planning and engaging with Gen Z shoppers.

We carefully chose not just the track topics, but also which senior retail leaders would introduce each one. It was important that they acknowledge the roadblocks while relaying optimism and ideas for success. The three leaders chosen succeeded beyond our hopes in getting attendees energized. Let me explain how this all played out at the FreshForward event in Denver. 

Ecommerce Can Deliver on the Promise of Fresh

Stuart Aitken, Kroger’s chief merchant and marketing officer, introduced the ecommerce education track by outlining the perspective from a company with more than 11 million shoppers and 430,000 associates.

“Delivering a fresh experience for customers, no matter how they shop, is crucial to the current and future success of retailers,” he said.

Succeeding with ecommerce requires capabilities that are different than what it takes to win in-store, he continued. Stuart outlined the ecommerce constraints faced by retailers, including those related to automated fulfillment centers.

“Robots and tote sizes aren’t conducive to items like watermelons,” he said. “It takes innovation to continue evolving and improving.”

Kroger is focused on solutions that range from providing additional days of item freshness to enhancing approaches to digital merchandising.

Meal Planning Presents New Opportunities

Helping shoppers with meal planning is a crucial activity for the food industry, and there is a lot of room for advancement, said Neil Stern, CEO of Good Food Holdings, which operates retail banners including Bristol Farms, Lazy Acres Natural Market and New Seasons Market.

“The industry doesn’t always do a great job of solving for meal solutions,” he said.

Neil relayed important strategies to help fresh food retailers gain shoppers’ share of stomach. These include the following:

  • Elevate the Offer: Focus on signature products, consider partnerships, and offer restaurant-quality foods.
  • Break Down Silos: Cooperate across store departments to bring meal items together for customers.
  • Drive Inspiration: Present recipe ideas and make it easy for customers to find the ingredients.
  • Do the Math: Emphasize to shoppers that ingredients purchased at food retail can produce multiple meals.
Gen Z Engagement Needed for Shoppers and Associates

Food retailers have openings to grow engagement with Gen Z — both on the consumer and employee sides, said Tony Sarsam, president and CEO, SpartanNash.

“Today Gen Z represents approximately $44 billion in spending power,” he said. “Earning their loyalty is table-stakes for the future of businesses like ours.”

He cited the importance of relaying authenticity and purpose-driven messages and communicating in a digital-first environment for this younger generation.

Meanwhile, attracting and retaining Gen Z associates is also crucial, he added. SpartanNash focuses on workforce strategies that include a 12-week paid summer internship program; continuous learning programs for full-time Gen Z associates; and encouraging participation in the company’s associate resource groups.

Taking Action to Advance the Fresh Industry

The calls to action by speakers were discussed in breakout groups of attendees. These groups, a signature component of FreshForward, focused on identifying action steps that can help drive success. The most important steps identified will be presented in an upcoming report made available to attendees, and later to the wider industry.

I’m so pleased that FreshForward — held in collaboration with Deloitte — continues to grow its reputation each year for energizing the industry around key opportunities. There’s a lot of progress to be made when the fresh industry gathers and collaborates.

Learn More About FreshForward