The world of the food-distribution industry often seems to be dominated by any number of issues. Such issues include Internet-based exchanges, Internet-based selling, cash flow, stock values, new competition and consolidation, to cite a few.
Genuine as those concerns are, they all have something in common: None of them have anything to do with the basics of merchandising product in ways shoppers want. Indeed, many of the concerns do quite the opposite; they cause large numbers of people in an organization to pay attention to everything but merchandising. That's especially true of financial issues since they expose retailers and vendors to alarming new forms of competition and the deleterious effects of consolidation. Increasingly, it seems, the industry is driven by concerns more in line with investment banking than with product merchandising.
Luckily, there are many companies working hard to return the focus to where it belongs: to product and the selling of product. As it happens, the Fresh Market section of this week's SN offers several examples of how retailers are using fresh product to spark new consumer interest. Many other store departments are doing the same, but let's take a look at the work in Fresh that's before us now, all of which is described in some detail in the section that starts on Page 49.
Store image: Pathmark Stores is a chain that has shaken off the fetters of financial difficulty and is seeking to renew its image. The path it has chosen has to do with produce. The chain has started a new promotion with the theme "Take a Fresh Look at Pathmark." The spokesman for that effort is the well-known "Produce Pete" Napolitano, a figure known to television viewers in the huge New York City market. The object of the campaign is to help both consumers and Pathmark's own employees learn more about produce and its preparation. Produce workers are exposed to Pete's produce schooling, then get "Pete's Produce Pro" shirts and aprons to wear in the store. The promotion is a little reminiscent of the Walter campaign seen in many Ahold-affiliated supermarkets, except that Pete is an actual person.
Product image: In addition to using a product focus to rebuild a retailer's image, a retailer can focus on a product's image for no purpose other than to build category sales, as another news article in the Fresh section points out. One observer cited in the article is of the opinion that retailers too often endeavor to build sales by using promotions that are excessively centered on the product and its advantages. What else? It may be better to use a campaign to evoke an emotional response from consumers. One way might be to brand meat and use the brand to elicit a positive association, in much the manner Starbucks has done with coffee. Generally, this is probably a good way to go, although meat might not be the first product to choose at the moment.
Customer image: The image retailers hold of their customers may not be the right one, according to another news article in the section. Many retailers are of the opinion that the day for case-ready meat is far into the future, simply because they've decided customers aren't ready to accept anything but store-fabricated meat. But an executive of Wal-Mart Stores, a leader in case-ready, is ready to credit customers with being able to figure out what the packaging is all about, and to accept it without seeing an information campaign, which may be counter-productive anyway.