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Grocers talk personalization and produce at Grocery & Specialty Food West

First day of Vancouver tradeshow featured keynote speaker and panel discussion

Personalization and produce were key themes of the first day of Grocery & Specialty Food West.

Canada’s food industry came together in Vancouver on Monday to talk grocery trends and highlight innovations.

The morning conference began with began with a state of the union address from Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers president, Tom Barlow, who spoke to the importance of his group's member base. “Independent does not mean small,” said Barlow, adding recent research shows Canadian independents create 105,000 jobs and $11.5 billion in sales.

Marketing guru Tony Chapman was the morning’s keynote speaker. His presentation, “From Mass to My,” focused on present-day consumers, who are becoming disengaged from one-size-fits-all shopping and want more personalized experiences. He said employees play a big part in this perception, and staff need to think they’re part of something greater than their day-to-day responsibilities.

While retailers try to differentiate based on price, Chapman argued this can only take a company so far. “It’s a race to zero without an airbag,” he explained. Instead, grocery retailers should focus on selling experiences rather than products.

To do this, Chapman recommends retailers tell the consumer story instead of the company story. Use meat and bakery counters as a means of creating real relationships with shoppers. When doing in-store demos, a customer should walk away with the story behind the product as well as a free sample. And if there’s a new diet fad on the market, buy the book and create relevant displays around it.

Chapman also spoke to the importance of catering to each customer. If more baby boomers are coming into your store, your food should be more about living a healthy, long life. Identify foods that are good for the heart and brain. If Lululemon-wearing young adults are your primary shoppers, that’s when a focus on organic, natural and local comes into play. “With the ‘my’ consumer, everyone’s story is different,” said Chapman.

Next, Barlow moderated a panel discussion (pictured) featuring grocers leading the charge in health and wellness: Craig Hermanson from Pomme Natural Market, Joe Longo from Longo’s and Pete Luckett of Pete’s.

Luckett said in his stores, “fresh is still on fire” and the produce department continues to be the focal point. To help differentiate his store, Luckett says he is constantly on the search for new and innovative items. When he sees another retailer stock a niche product he’s found, he knows it's time to pull the product and find another one competitors don’t have.

Aside from product, the panel agreed staff training and retention is one of their biggest challenges. Longo said he’ll send his team to visit the farms and factories of the retailer’s suppliers so they can see how the product is sourced. “The more knowledge you can give your team, the better they can reach your consumers,” he said.

Chapman’s theme of personalization resounded with all three. Hermanson said for his customers, local is the most important aspect for the product.

Luckett reflected on the recent closure of one of his stores in Wolfville, N.S. He said the store was modelled after the format of his other stores, but simply didn’t have the same demographic. The closure, Luckett said, reinforced the idea that micro-managing different stores is part of being an independent grocer.

Throughout the discussion, panelists spoke about products and approaches they’ve taken throughout the years–some successful, and some not. “If you’ve never failed anything, you’re probably not trying enough,” said Longo.

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