In a retail world too often beset by bad news, grocery shines as an innovative bright spot – at least, for those who realize that food is only the start. Supermarket chains from Iowa to Italy are innovating the grocery-buying experience in ever-more creative ways. But which of the much-publicized trends will have a lasting impact, and which will prove to be momentary flirtations with fads?
The need for all industry players to answer those questions has given rise to a flood of trend reports and articles – so many so that it’s difficult to know which might apply to your particular situation. However, by filtering individual ideas through the lens of four key “mega-trends,’ you can begin to understand each more clearly.
From a customer vantage point, traditional grocery shopping was almost a spectator sport: stores presented products, offered deals…and customers bought (or not). Today however, empowered customers demand involvement, information and even entertainment if you want to maintain their attention, let alone their loyalty.
One striking response to these challenges can be found in the new Milan, Italy location of the Coop mega-chain. Imagined and engineered by a professor from MIT, the store seeks to fully engage shoppers as active participants. Augmented reality screens hang over produce displays – when customers hold an apple up to the screen they can learn its entire backstory, from orchard to store. And the low, more casually grouped shelves are meant to allow shoppers to better see each other, in the hope of creating personal interactions and a sense of community.
In a competitive marketplace that includes the price-busting likes of Amazon, it’s no longer enough to offer a good deal; supermarkets must offer a good experience, functionally as well as emotionally. As a result, you’re likely to find a wine bar or gastropub just beyond the arugula and portobello mushrooms. And operators should anticipate even greater expectations for entertaining experiences in the future, as food destinations like Eataly make buying “groceries” more like a vacation than a trip to the store.
Designing a better experience also requires better design aesthetics, and once-plain stores are now featuring the same quality finishes, fixtures and amenities from the front door all the way to the restrooms.
Customers in all sectors are increasingly driven as much by a shared sense of purpose with their preferred supermarket as they are by price. They look for grocery stores to be committed to – and transparent about – ethical, sustainable practices in the sourcing, delivery, preparation and even the disposal of food. The UK-based giant Tesco, for instance, has shifted much of its marketing focus to telling the story of its commitment to reducing food waste. Its top executive says he wants the company to “be a brand that is purpose-driven,” to let customers know that they are a company that will “behave responsibly” on the customers’ behalf.
Of course, the grocery business is still, at its core, about food: its quality, freshness, and, increasingly, a better understanding of how to make the most of it, for both health and enjoyment. Hy-Vee, a leading innovator in the US Midwest, offers: a Siri-like search assistant to help customers find exactly the products they need; in-store, chef-driven food courts that offer customized, all-natural meals; and a special, dietitian-guided program called SimpleFix, that teaches customers how to prepare meals for specific wellness objectives. And those food-enhancing efforts are in addition to initiatives that have made their stores broad-based shopping destinations, with features including spa-like beauty product sections and trendy clothing departments.
So what will be your unique approach to creating the supermarket of the future – or even one that will survive today?
Business Insider: An MIT Professor designed this supermarket of the future
Marketing Week: Tesco CEO on purpose
Forbes: 10 Food Trends that Will Shape 2018
Essity Grocery Playbook