The year is almost over, so it's time to review what was hot and what was not in 2007. What follows is a highly selective look. Check out the Dec. 31 Year in Review issue for a more comprehensive examination.
WHAT WAS IN
Primary Care Grocers: Is it a supermarket or a medical facility? Supermarkets continued to add health clinics to their stores, and some retail pharmacies offered consumers reduced-price or free offers on certain generic prescriptions. Now they just need to make clear which aisles offer food.
Fish With Credentials: It's no longer enough to have gills and fins; fish need to meet stricter performance criteria in this new world. In April, FreshDirect became the first online grocer in the U.S. to offer certified sustainable fish. Meanwhile, farmed fish hoping to meet organic standards were swimming in rough waters as government, industry and consumer groups debated the outcome.
Married Life: Among the big mergers was A&P's acquisition of Pathmark, ending a long stretch of bachelorhood for Pathmark. That retailer had tried to hook up for some time, most notably back in 1999 when the government derailed its proposed marriage to Ahold. This time around Pathmark's best man was Ron Burkle of Yucaipa Cos., which had gained control of the retailer in 2005 and now could own up to 9.4% of A&P.
Thinking Small: Suddenly, small retail footprints were the rage, partly sparked by Tesco's U.S. entry with a 10,000-square-foot format. Retailers ranging from Whole Foods Market to Giant Eagle were tinkering with smaller footprints in experiments that broadened consumer choices. Convenience stores were surely feeling the heat.
WHAT WAS OUT
Cyber CEOs: If he had succeeded, John Mackey might have inspired CEOs to become geeky, message-board-posting Web enthusiasts. Unfortunately, the chairman and chief executive of Whole Foods chose to test the practice anonymously over a multiyear period on a Yahoo message board, promoting his company and bashing a rival. His indiscretion led to criticism and investigations, so CEOs will probably want to stick to their traditional day jobs and leave cyberspace to others.
Nutrition Confusion: The industry pursued new nutritional ranking programs to help consumers avoid the confusion caused by marketer claims and media reports. Hannaford's Guiding Stars program became a proven success, and the just unveiled Overall Nutritional Quality Index drew publicity. These were positive moves, as long as rating system proliferation doesn't create confusion of its own.
Wal-Mart Fear Factor: After years of shuddering at Wal-Mart's new store rollouts, supermarket executives were pleased to see the retail giant cutting the number of new supercenters and Sam's Clubs planned in coming years. That led some to wonder if the juggernaut's U.S. growth had run into a brick wall.
Marketer-Free Zones: Marketers found new ways to penetrate supermarkets, including ads affixed to freezer doors with an invisible coating that doesn't obscure the view of products inside.
Perhaps supermarkets will be renamed supermarketers.
Quite a year! Here's hoping none of us fall out of favor next year.