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What we learned at our inaugural Thought Starters Conference

Industry professionals come together to talk about the future of grocery

Nearly 200 industry professionals came together at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont. for Canadian Grocer’s Thought Starters Conference earlier this month.

The inaugural conference provided an opportunity for leaders in the industry to discuss innovative approaches for their business models and think about what the future holds. Using the theme “Grocery2020,” speakers discussed disruptive trends and technologies the industry will face, and how companies can create a clear vision for the future.

Here are a few takeaways:

Think flyers are dead? Think again. According to Seth Stover, managing director of partner development with digital flyer app Flipp, flyers are still an integral part of the pre-shopping experience. According to Stover, consumers would say that of all the media channels they can use to plan their shopping trip, 80% reference flyers first.

Storytelling and speed are the primary drivers of the humble flyer’s popularity. Consumers can skim through an 18-page flyer in about 15 seconds, explains Stover. Flyers also work as a means to provide a visual representation of your store every week.

VIDEO: Seth Stover talks Flipp and flyers

It should come as no surprise that the majority of your customers have smartphones. Why not take advantage?

Di Di Chan, president of FutureProof Retail—a mobile self-checkout app—noted in her presentation that apps are not only a new way to connect with shoppers—they provide direct access.

Unlike previous retail technologies, says Chan, apps are portable, adjustable, adaptable and easily upgradeable. Plus, they’re easily customizable, and according to Chan, we’re in an age where “everything needs to be personalized.”

Speed also proves to be a key advantage of apps. “The faster you close sales, the more sales you’ll make,” said Chan.

VIDEO: Di Di Chan on the value of mobile apps

In a session on the growth of grocerants, panelists talked about what consumers are looking for in their HMR offerings. The name of the game: transparency. According to John Mastroianni, VP of merchandising with Pusateri’s, in-store chefs can forget about using any secret recipes, because customers expect to know exactly what ingredients are used in the meals they’re buying.

This can make it a bit difficult to encourage shoppers to be more adventurous in what they buy. After all, how do you balance giving customers the foods they want with trying to provide new and exciting options?

“Our customers will try because they trust us,” said Gary Wildman, director of food services with Longo’s.

Mastroianni noted the importance of the “try before you buy” philosophy, and suggested investing more in demos and sampling. “It’s worth every penny,” he said.

VIDEO: Summerhill Market's Christy McMullen on grocerant growth


According to Joel Gregoire, senior food and drink analyst with Mintel, two out of five consumers believe the centre store is mostly filed with junk food. The perception tends to be even higher among younger shoppers and those with a higher education.

That’s a problem for brands in the grocery space, which is why they may soon look at technologies that can offer in-aisle advertising to drive them back there.

Using sensors and software, for example, merchants could get a sense of consumers' preferences and purchase patterns.

VIDEO: Joel Gregoire on driving centre store growth

Christopher Burkett, an associate with Baker and McKenzie, spoke to the responsibility grocers have to the public. According to Burkett, we’re moving from an era of voluntary corporate responsibility to a time when reporting and transparency are key.

“What are you doing to inspect the farms of your suppliers?” asked Burkett.

Burkett pointed to the success of “green giants”—companies that have put ethical practices at the core of their business, and noted that going forward we can expect more consumer activism. Audits and training will be a key aspect to ensuring the products grocers source are reputable.

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