Published on: January 16, 2008Health Care, Generational Opportunities Highlighted At Industry Confab
SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – Opportunity knocked on two doors yesterday as the final sessions of the 2008 Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference wrapped up. All that remains is for retailers to decide whether to answer them, and then to follow through with the hard work necessary to live up to the promise.
The opportunities were in different areas – in health and wellness, and in catering to the next generation of shoppers. What they had in common, however, was that they reflected the rapid changes taking place in the retail world, and how retailers can – indeed, must - respond if they are to remain relevant.
Perhaps the most tangible case was presented by the Coca-Coca Research Council of North America, which with the Institute for the Future has developed a road map for how retailers can create new value for shoppers by drawing a direct line between food and health. The possibilities were vividly reflected in a single illustration: a woman gets a prescription for sleeping pills filled, and the label that comes with the pill bottle informs her that eating foods such as bananas, whole wheat bread and turkey also can help one sleep.
Such an approach would build on an awareness that already exists in the minds of some consumers, and that research has shown virtually all customer demographics would be open to. Archie McGregor, owner of McGregor Stores, said that health and wellness “seem to be pretty well dispersed from an interest standpoint.”
In a video presentation made to the conference Sweetbay Supermarkets CEO Shelley Broader, who also chairs the council, noted that “food, health and wellness, and sustainability are all converging in the minds of consumers,” and that such an approach would help retailers redefine their futures, serving as a kind of portal to the healthcare system.
The framework for such actions could take place as both static and dynamic in-store communications, could occur online, and also could take the form of comprehensive, integrated health care services. And Paul Boyer, a member of the council and vice chairman of Meijer Inc., noted that many of the pieces are already in place.
“Customers already are connecting food and health to preventative treatment,” he said, noting that supermarkets already have the brand equity, consumer trust and, in many cases, pharmacies – all that remains is to develop the infrastructure that connects the dots.
And, Boyer warned, “Other people are going to try to get there first. What would happen if health clubs decided to start selling the 10 superfoods? We have to make sure that we don't sit back and take our time.”
The Coke Research Council plans to be rolling out its research and recommendations in a series of “chapters” that will be released in coming months.
Full disclosure: MorningNewsBeat’s Michael Sansolo is a member of the Coca-Cola Research Council.
The second major opportunity came compliments of futurist Martin Lindstrom, who painted a vivid portrait of the teenaged generation, which in a few years will be the center of the marketing bull’s-eye for retailers. “This is the generation on which you are going to be dependent very soon,” he said, “if not already.”
In his presentation, Lindstrom took note of some basic truths – that kids are able to absorb far more material simultaneously than adults, as much as 31 hours worth of content in 24 hours; that they get far more of their information from the Internet than they do through more traditional means such as television, that they often are the decision-makers in their households, as parents either seek their approbation or advice when making major and minor purchase decisions. And, he said, “they know more about brands because they are exposed to so much,” which means they actually are educated consumers, which can make them even more demanding than their elders.
Combine these realities with the fact that these same kids are highly proactive when it comes to communicating their own preferences to their peers. “Consumers are becoming even more powerful than you are at building your brand,” Lindstrom said, noting that more than 500,000 new blogs appear every week.
And so, Lindstrom’s “opportunity” was this – retailers need to get aggressive about embracing these new shoppers and their needs and wants, and need to work to understand and take advantage of new communications realities. As in the case of the health and wellness opportunity, not to do so is risk irrelevance.
• In other news, FMI CEO Tim Hammonds told the conference that FMI is working with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and other food industry associations to develop a standardized online tool that will facilitate recalls in a more effective and efficient manner. It is expected to be available for industry-wide use in coming months.
- KC's View:
- Retailers should take these two challenges – and opportunities – very, very seriously … and start working on both right now.
In the case of the health care challenge, the reality is that for some retailers – Whole Foods, for example – the lines between food and health already have been drawn…which is likely one of the reasons that the organic/natural foods category is growing so robustly. And Boyer is exactly right – if the mainstream supermarket industry does not take advantage of this opportunity, other retailers will…and supermarkets could find themselves on the sidelines watching the parade go by.
As for the generational issue, Lindstrom was eloquently making a point that has been often made here on MNB, by me and many members of the community – it is critical for retailers to begin laying the groundwork now for marketing and merchandising plans that will appeal to young people.
The parade is already under way. One can watch, or one can march. But survival isn’t a spectator sport.