retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy, coming to you this week from the Food Marketing Institute annual convention - FMI Connect - in Chicago.

Y'know, the first one of these I ever went to was in 1985 - which I think makes this my 30th FMI. Except that I may have missed one in there somewhere ... though I can't remember when or why. (Might've been a kid being born...)

As I stand here surrounded by all these booths and attendees, I can't help but think about how much the industry - and this show - has changed. Back in 1985, when people talked about getting online, they were talking about grabbing a bus or cab back to downtown Chicago. (These days, by the way, they take Uber ... which is a concept that none of us could possibly have dreamed up back then.) And that only scratches the surface on the changes that have taken place.

But the thing I keep thinking about as I stand here, surrounded by people trying to figure out what the next big thing is going to be, is how the biggest thing of all is as obvious as can be.

It all comes down to four things: differentiation, authenticity, relevance and transparency.

See? Wasn't that easy? All these folks came to Chicago, and I had all the answers, and I gave them away for free.

Of course, it isn't really that easy...because all four of those things hinge on understanding who the customers are, what the customers want, and how best to satisfy them.

That's probably the big change - the fact that the balance of power has changed in ways that nobody would've expected 30 years ago. Companies no longer can think just about what is good for them and how they can be more efficient. They have to focus more than ever and to at least an equal degree on being effective, and on making sure that they can satisfy consumer needs and desires - knowing where the products they sell came from, and knowing that they are properly and accurately labeled.

It means being able to offer the online services that in fairly short order people will believe are as much a requisite of the store as a shopping cart or scanning. It means establishing sustainable business practices that are gaining in importance all the time. And it means being sensitive to people's growing mistrust of big food, however that plays out in coming months and years.

Like I said, easy.

And you didn't even have to come to Chicago. I did it for you.

That's what's on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

By the way, in other FMI-related news...

• FMI released its annual US Grocery Shopper Trends study, with two interesting sets of statistics.

For one, thing, more and more people say they are doing all or most of the family's grocery shopping, with eight out of 10 people saying that they do at least half their household food shopping. One has to wonder if that is accurate or a kind of wishful thinking...often people perceive that they are responsible for something that they, in fact, are not.

The other assertion that grabbed my attention was the poll's conclusion consumers seem to believe overwhelmingly that farmers and "primary food stores" are helping them address health concerns, while a majority of polled consumers said that fast food chains and food manufacturers are working against their health interests.

This is interesting on the face of it because one has to assume that it is people's primary food store that, in fact, is selling shoppers the products made by food manufacturers. But that said, this plays into the broader issue of a growing consumer mistrust in what is called "big food," which has come up in several recent studies and been noted here on MNB.

And so I would draw two conclusions. One is that at least for the moment, some retailers seem to have done a good job of using fresh food and differentiated services to gain some distance from many of the products they sell in the core of the store (and for which many are amply rewarded in slotting allowances and promotional fees). The other is that they should not be complacent about this, because mistrust in "big food" could transfer to "big retail" quickly and easily.

• Russell T. "Tres" Lund 3rd, chairman/president/CEO of Lund Food Holdings, received the Robert B. Wegman Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

• Cheryl Macik, director of consumer affairs for Wakefern Food Corp., received the Esther Peterson Consumer Service Award.

• And Steve Smith, president/CEO of K-VA-T Food Stores, received the Glen P. Woodard Jr. Award for his involvement in public affairs.

KC's View: