DEAR SHOPPERS: I THINK SUPERMARKETS ARE LISTENING

Dear Sue and Sam Shopper:Thanks for writing recently. I've been on the road reporting for my magazine so I couldn't reply sooner. But I'm recently back from a major industry meeting, the Food Marketing Institute's Midwinter Executive Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., and have some news for you.It turns out that the top management in the supermarket industry is aware of your complaints about shopping.

Dear Sue and Sam Shopper:

Thanks for writing recently. I've been on the road reporting for my magazine so I couldn't reply sooner. But I'm recently back from a major industry meeting, the Food Marketing Institute's Midwinter Executive Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., and have some news for you.

It turns out that the top management in the supermarket industry is aware of your complaints about shopping. They are also worried because you've been seen buying food more often in Wal-Mart, Costco and Walgreens. A number of executives are doing soul-searching and saying it's time supermarkets listen more to consumers (that's you).

I know all about your observations regarding supermarkets. You want a faster, friendlier, more exciting experience. You'll be happy to know your concerns were echoed by conference speakers. Here's what one said: "Why are supermarkets losing share of market? Consumers say the store looks the same. Lines are still too long. They can't self-scan. The shopping experience is not compelling compared to other shopping experiences."

Does this hit home for you? I'm sure it does. But that's not all. I know you've also said you want to be surprised by innovative products every so often. That was also talked about at this conference. For instance, speakers said consumers don't need more gimmicky products. What they need are products tied to significant consumer lifestyle trends. That's a fancy phrase, so I'll give you an example. You are concerned about staying healthy, so products that help you along this course should be welcome. I'm talking about things like foods specially fortified for the female members of your family, or orange juice enriched with vitamin C. It's not hard to see how you can benefit from these kinds of products.

A company called Information Resources Inc. recently came out with a list of best product launches over the past two years. Many of the products making the grade met your needs for health, convenience and indulgence (whether or not you knew you had all those needs). Many also carried established brand names. What a combination: things you need from brands you trust! You say that's not exactly innovation? I call it smart innovation, because no one -- especially not you -- is willing to take a blind risk in this economy.

I learned something else at this conference. Shoppers like you aren't the only ones to get into a funk during a recession. Supermarkets can have the same response. Speakers said some store executives have become too focused on economic indicators and poor business. They should instead be thinking about how to deliver helpful store employees, dinner ideas, takeout food that pleases your kids and useful information about what you're buying. These are fairly simple things, and probably not overly expensive to accomplish. I think Scottsdale was a success because I believe top supermarket people got the message. I think they now feel more empowered to make it happen!

That's all for now. But check out the supermarkets. See if things start to look different. No need to report back. You're spending levels will speak volumes.

Best regards,

David