By David Orgel
The media's December ritual is to recap the soon-to-end year. SN will do that in next week's annual "Year in Review" issue. What follows in this column is something else. It's a highly selective look at what was in favor and out of favor during 2006. So be warned: this list is quirky rather than comprehensive.
WHAT WAS IN:
• Supermarkets (on Wall Street): Supermarkets were finally a hit with financial analysts after being out of fashion for years. Investors were stocking up on grocers because of better comp sales, improved merchandising and wiser expenditures.
• Flexitarians: This group of part-time vegetarians who limit meat consumption has been growing. So it's not surprising they're being courted by food marketers with everything from meat substitutes to produce. All of this is good news for livestock.
• Sleepless in Seattle: Seattle grocers, long insulated from price competition, are being kept awake at night worrying about the growing presence of price-oriented competitors, including Winco and Wal-Mart. Retailers will need all the Seattle coffee they can consume.
• Deal Speculation: Delhaize and Ahold to merge? A&P to combine with Pathmark? The rumor mill was working overtime in 2006 as the industry tried to anticipate the next consolidation moves.
• One-Stop Everything: A Michigan independent grocer installed industrial-strength paper shredders in two stores, marking the latest new service to be introduced to supermarkets. Speaking of in-store services, pharmacy, gift cards and DVD rental kiosks are among the fastest-growing ones right now for retailers.
WHAT WAS OUT:
• Live Lobsters: Whole Foods quit the practice of selling live lobsters from tanks after shopper sensibilities were hurt. However, shopper reticence only goes so far as the retailer continues to sell lobster in other forms.
• Produce Portion Suggestion: After years of urging consumers to consume five a day, the Produce for Better Health Foundation planned to switch its marketing campaign to "Fruits & Veggies — More Matters!" No immediate word on how consumers will handle this new freedom.
• The Windy City: Chicago is the loser as the Food Marketing Institute will stop holding its annual exhibition there, beginning in 2008. Instead, FMI will reportedly bring a new schedule of events to cities on a rotating basis. Poor Chicago. But hey, even the White Sox came back.
• Price Marketing: Many retailers around the country turned their focus from price to image marketing, with some transforming their ad campaigns. Even Wal-Mart outlined plans to build a more upscale image not reliant solely on price. That is, right after the holidays, during which Wal-Mart promised "the most aggressive pricing strategy ever."
• Heartburn: There was less need to suffer from acid reflux thanks to a wider range of stomach remedies, and consumers continued to grow spending in the category. But shoppers with colds risked getting heartburn in stores if they sought out medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which became more restricted.
Quite a year! Here's hoping that none of us falls out of favor next year.