Skip to main content

Five things we learned at Grocery and Specialty Food West

From ecommerce to what to do with bakery day-olds, here are takeaways from the show

Food retailers and manufacturers came together at Grocery and Specialty Food West in Vancouver this week.

The two-day conference and trade show, put on by the Canadian Federation of Independent grocers, featured a range of seminars and bevy of new products.

Canadian Grocer was there, and here are some of our takeaways from the show:

1. Give your floor staff goals. We love this nugget from veteran grocery consultant Harold Lloyd (pictured standing during his presentation at the show). His point: Most floor staff don’t get much more daily direction than to stock shelves or work the cash. Only three in 100 frontline supermarket employees surveyed by Lloyd have a goal to meet during their shift.

That’s unacceptable, Lloyd said. “Give your staff a target!”

Goals can be as simple as greeting more customers or making sure the checkout lines aren’t long. Or go deeper. Walmart, Lloyd said, measures items sold per customer at its stores. It's a terrific metric that frontline employees can work to improve together.

2. Europe has another yogurt for your shelf. If your Greek yogurt sales aren’t as thick as they used to be, don't fret. The Europeans have another yogurt to fall in love with: Icelandic yogurt.

At GSFW, Victoria-based distributor Lekker Foods sampled Icelandic-style yogurt in three flavours: vanilla, plain and strawberry, available in 500-gram tubs. Called Skyr, it’s made by Shepherd Gourmet Dairy in St. Mary’s, Ont. (Loblaw has its own private-label Icelandic Skyr yogurt under the President’s Choice brand.)

So what’s special about Skyr? It has no milk fat and is high in protein (22 grams) and calcium (20% calcium in the plain variety). Plus, the plain version can be substituted for sour cream in cooking. “If you love Greek yogurt, you’ll love this,” Julie Bullard, who works in marketing and business development for Lekker, told Canadian Grocer.

3. Social media marketing works. If you’re not on Facebook and Twitter, you’re missing out on a fabulous way to talk to—and learn from—your customers.

Take three-store Powell’s Supermarkets in Newfoundland. Last month, when it was revealed that Maritime favourite Zest mustard pickles would be discontinued, Powell’s made the most of the brand's much-publicized demise.

Powell's announced via Facebook that it only had one bottle of Zest mustard pickles left and would give it away in a draw. To enter, customers had to visit Powell’s Facebook page and explain who they would share their last bottle of Zest mustard pickles with. In a market of only around 4,000 people, “we had 1,500 posts,” Powell’s president and CEO, Dave Powell, said during an independent grocer panel session at GSFW. The promotion also garnered Powell's some nice publicity on CBC.

Giancarlo Trimarchi, partner at Vince’s Markets, which has three stores north of Toronto, agreed about social media’s benefits. His stores have used Facebook for marketing and gotten hundreds of likes for posts, such as one where Vince’s mentioned giving away free fruit to kids in stores. “There are tangible results to social media. It has driven sales in some products and some categories,” he said.

4. Don’t give kids the stale cookies. Hands up those of you who give out free cookies at the bakery to kid customers? Now how many of you only give out the old, stale cookies? Yikes, what a mistake. As Harold Lloyd, the grocery consultant, noted during his presentation, even kids don’t like stale cookies. “They’re going to spit it out,” he said, adding that “don’t you know that Mom eats half the cookie when they’re in Aisle 3 anyway?” And Mom won’t be impressed with your day-olds either.

So what to do with end-of-day bakery treats? You could reduce the price to move them, but how about this: Walk the store and give out free cookie and donuts (not the stale ones, of course) to customers in the evening. That’s what one of the best store managers at Publix Supermarkets in the U.S. does. It allows the manger to spend time on the floor and to speak—and listen—to his customers, Lloyd said.

5. E-commerce will hit your centre store…eventually. Shoppers may still want to squeeze the melons before they buy. But canned goods and paper products… more shoppers are fine having those delivered, especially if the price is right. It means that supermarkets need to start thinking about how to “automate” the centre store and allow customers to buy those items online. That was one takeaway from a presentation at GSFW by former Amazon grocery executive Tom Furphy and Morning News Beat’s Kevin Coupe.

The centre store is most vulnerable to losing sales to online, Furphy and Coupe noted because companies such as Amazon are making it easier for shoppers to order and even automatically replenish everyday centre-store items.

A good example is Amazon’s Dash button. The Wi-Fi connected device lets consumers reorder items with the press of a button. More than 100 brands in the U.S., including Tide, Doritos, Charmin, Arm & Hammer cat litter, Gerber and Huggies are already paying Amazon to have their own Dash button.

As Furphy said: “We’re really just at the start of the e-commerce land grab” in grocery.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds