Five principles to navigate the 'shopper revolution'

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: Chief executive, Food industry

The global food industry is in a state of revolution, making it more challenging than ever for retailers and manufacturers to stay one step ahead of shoppers’ changing needs.

That is according to Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of international grocery researcher IGD. Speaking at an event organised by the Australian Food & Grocery Council she said: “This is a revolution in what products are sold, how they are sold and made, how shoppers choose and what society expects from a business​. 

It’s driven by technology, social and cultural change and the economy, all marching together. Shoppers and technology are moving so rapidly, many companies struggle to be only one step behind—never mind one step ahead​.”

Yet this rapid pace of change also signals huge opportunities for industry, she continued. 

In future, shoppers will have a huge choice in what, where and how we buy our food. We’ll be more spontaneous but also better planned. We’ll be experimental, eager for new products and experiences​. 

But we’ll also have perennial favourites that we constantly re-buy, and we’ll buy many of these staples on subscription. We’ll be more health-conscious and we’ll also be armed with endless information about the companies we buy from​,” Denney-Finch added.

From a retailer perspective, the action centres on three big battles: food-to-go versus cook at home, online versus physical shopping and big versus small stores at a time when the Australian market is reshaping through the arrival of global brands Aldi, Amazon and Alibaba.

Globally, big stores will look very different; they will be more inspirational and less clinical, featuring more fresh food and new products, with more ways to taste, learn and discover, according to IGD. 

Generally, retailers will be working extra hard to differentiate, displaying their values and personality and using all the data they can to be better tailored to their localities. They will also compete fiercely over health, and will want to feel proud of the standards at every point of the chain. 

The future will be radically different and shoppers will be in their element, with great choice, convenience and value​,” said Denney-Finch. 

Retailers and manufacturers will be severely tested, but the best will really thrive. Right across the world, retailers know this is a time to be bold, and therefore manufacturers and suppliers need to be bold too​.”

To help manufacturers and suppliers to prepare for the different future building around them, the IGD chief executive has outlined five golden principles:

The first is to keep a steely focus on the changing needs of shoppers. “Across the world, more people are living alone​,” she said. “Singles tend to shop little and often in smaller stores, and they want smaller pack sizes. Another big trend is the backlash against globalisation, with patriotism on the rise. This is good for companies with strong local credentials​.”

They should also pay more attention than ever to technology, which she says is always being over-hyped in the short-term but over a decade, it can be transformational, as has been witnessed with smart phones. 

There’s currently huge excitement about artificial intelligence and a new wave of automation is surely on the way, affecting even some highly skilled jobs. Technology and social media companies are the new gateway to consumers. So you need to build new partnerships, but you need to pick your partners carefully​,” said Denney-Finch.

The third principle is to find common cause with your customers, who need help to cope with the “revolution​”, and whose agenda should extend beyond price. 

Remember their big priorities: adjusting to shopper behaviour; capitalising on the growth channels; reinvigorating their big stores; and finding new ways to differentiate​. 

In many countries, retailers are putting own brands at the heart of their planning because they have full control over the standards and they offer a point of difference. If you don’t innovate and move with your shoppers you will leave the ground to others​,” she added.

Retailers should also “do the ordinary, extraordinarily well and consistently​.” They should keep their basic standards consistently high through excellent day-to-day management. Products should be handled safely, consistent quality should be ensured, as should efficiency and excellent customer service. 

According to Denney-Finch: “It’s very easy for these areas to slip if the managers are concentrating mainly on change projects. Without the basic disciplines firmly in place, none of your more ambitious plans are likely to succeed​.”   

The final principle IGD has highlighted refers to the quality of a retailer’s people. “It’s always tempting to make training next year’s priority because there’s always something urgent that has to be fixed right now, but this can be a trap​,” its chief executive said. 

If you don’t invest in skills this year, then next year’s issues will be even bigger and more urgent. Great internal teamwork is the holy grail of business, and it’s needed now more than ever​.

The global food industry needs to be bolder, to take bigger but well-calculated risks and learn how to be more agile. Managing through calm times is okay, but what’s really energising is delivering results during turbulence. There’s never been a greater time of opportunity. Seize the moment, be a trailblazer and shape the future​,” Denney-Finch added.

Related topics: Policy, Oceania, Asian tastes

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