“Consumer trends always change and evolve. A hundred years ago, they drank oil to be healthy,” said Phil Lempert during ABE's general session. Lempert is an author, syndicated columnist, radio talk show host and food editor for NBC's Today Show.
Lempert compared trends to elephants-big, lumbering and slow moving. In the food industry, it is important to not chase after trends, but to position yourself to be ahead them. For example, when low carb hit, successful retailers were already thinking low glycemic index, he said. Three current trends include country of origin labeling; “green,” as in sustainability and carbon footprint; and value for money spent, which doesn't necessarily mean cheap, but rather a perception of price equaling quality along with a relationship with the retailer.
In the climate of rising fuel and food prices, some new retail rules have emerged, Lempert added. Modern consumers have zero tolerance for error and it is all about them, the consumer. They also demand quality and excellent service. Excellent service is not simply answering the phone, but answering the phone on the first ring, he said.
Know your demographic
Retailers also have to understand food consumers, and they are not all alike. The United States is a diverse country, and you can no longer market yourself to a strictly Anglo-Saxon demographic. Generational differences also influence buying decisions. The Baby Boom generation is 76-million strong, and by 2010, the first of the Boomers will turn 65. This should influence how you do business, Lempert said. For example, the neighborhood-type grocery stores are doing well because Boomers don't want to shop in large supermarkets anymore. He suggested keeping in mind easy-open packaging, portion sizes and even the design of your stores with plentiful lighting and an easy-to-navigate layout.
“In retail, you must stand for something,” he said. “It's about branding; you must brand yourself.” Take Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, which offer two different retail approaches. At Starbucks, you pay $4 for coffee and they never want you to leave the store; they even introduce themselves, he added. On the other side is Dunkin' Donuts, where you pay $1.25 for coffee and they don't want you to linger. “Both work well because they both stand for something,” Lempert said.
Another example is that despite the suffering of traditional supermarkets, higher end supermarkets are doing well because they have associated themselves with organic or positioned themselves as specialty stores. Supermarkets lost 7 percent of food dollars between 2005 and 2008. The growth is coming from organic and specialty food stores.
Make sampling a party
Celebrating also is key. Celebrate when you sample by having an employee physically present the samples to the customers. Celebrate the sale by providing an excellent check out experience for the customer. That is your last connection with the customer, and it is the last thing the customer will remember about his experience, so make sure it is a good memory, he said.
To be successful, all retailers should ask themselves three questions: What is the next big trend? What are the three things you'd like to know about your customers that you don't know? What retail innovation during the last year blew you away (not food related)?
As for the future, Lempert said it will be focused on catering to health and wellness, offering convenient shopping experiences and celebrating food.