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Five things we learned at Grocery and Specialty Food West


Grocers and manufacturers gathered in Vancouver this week for Grocery and Specialty Food West (GSFW). Hosted by Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, this year’s show drew some 2,200 attendees who got to see the latest innovations and hear about the trends impacting their business.

Here are Canadian Grocer’s takeaways from the show:

Think of your store as a stage. To win customers, you need to get their attention. Only through attention can you shape how they think, feel and behave—this was the message delivered by marketing expert Tony Chapman at GSFW. And storytelling, he said, is one of the most powerful ways of getting that attention. The experience economy is growing twice as fast as the material economy, Chapman said and he encouraged retailers to think of their stores as a stage to act upon, to create experiences and theatre and not just a place to sell groceries.

Reconsider your promotional activity. We all know consumers have become addicted to promotions and that this behaviour is impacting growth. What’s a retailer to do? Can you stop promoting? “No,” Carman Allison, Nielsen’s vice-president of consumer insights, told retailers at the conference. But, you can be smarter about it. He pointed to the baby care category as an example. Traditionally diapers have been a heavily promoted item at retail, but last year temporary price reductions were down 28% as retailers shifted from promotion to an everyday low price strategy. Consumers are still buying diapers, so the plan seems to be working. Can the strategy be applied to other categories?

Allison also urged grocers to look at their assortment and consider whether the item being promoted will actually result in incremental sales. For instance, if you have two highly interchangeable brands and brand A is on promotion, shoppers who buy brand B will just switch over and the retailer doesn’t end up achieving any sales lift. “Understand the item’s role in growing the basket,” said Allison.

How to be a cheese champ. At a session titled “The Cheese Journey,” Saputo’s cheese expert Louis Aird offered these tips on selling cheese at grocery: cheese shoppers always want to discover something new so make sure your cheese counter is up-to-date with the latest products; remove the confusion at the cheese counter with relevant education and knowledgeable staff; make sure your counter is attractive and that cheese is nicely arranged, not just lying flat; and don’t forget about the fresh cheese opportunity—fresh cheese (feta, ricotta, bocconcini etc.) is growing 12% year over year.

Lessons from California. Indy grocers from The Golden State shared their experiences in a changing retail environment. Renee Amen of Super A Foods, a Hispanic format grocer, talked of the importance of being flexible and changing your offer as your customers change. Her other advice to independents: be community minded, hire from the neighbourhood, treat employees well and, in turn, they’ll treat your customers well.

Always have something new on offer. Think of new, unique products as a point of differentiation for your store. Those attending the show saw a slew of new products. Among those named GSFW’s “Top 10 most innovative” were a line of nut oils from Bosa Foods, freeze-dried pet food from Canature Processing, compostable coffee pods from Ethical Bean and spicy jellies with unique flavour twists from Saunders Family Farm.


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