NGA CONVENTION

LAS VEGAS -- The retail coverage study from Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va., scheduled for release in September remains a work-in- progress, "but the results are already staggering," one of the study's co-chairs told the convention here of the Reston, Va.-based National Grocers Association."One of the most exciting things about the study is it doesn't simply offer potential for

LAS VEGAS -- The retail coverage study from Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va., scheduled for release in September remains a work-in- progress, "but the results are already staggering," one of the study's co-chairs told the convention here of the Reston, Va.-based National Grocers Association.

"One of the most exciting things about the study is it doesn't simply offer potential for incremental growth -- it offers ways to leap-frog the competition," Sandy Brawley, national sales manager for The Clorox Co., Oakland, Calif., said.

Brawley made his remarks in a videotaped message played during a general session at NGA's annual convention earlier this month. The complete study is scheduled for release next fall at the Midyear Executive Conference planned for Sept. 9-12 in Hilton Head, S.C. -- an annual event that, for the first time, will be jointly sponsored by NGA and FDI, the two associations announced during last week's NGA meeting here.

The study, called Strategy 2005, is expected to touch on such issues as speed-to-shelf, shelf integrity, assortment management and shelf management.

Brawley's optimism about the study's findings were echoed by other presenters, many of whom also spoke to the NGA meeting on video.

According to John Block, president and chief executive officer of FDI, the study has already quantified some of the inequities that exist for independents. "We've found it takes independent stores 4 to 6 weeks longer than the chains to get new products on the shelf," he said.

Leland Dake, vice president, wholesale merchandising, for Supervalu, Minneapolis -- who is also a co-chair of the project -- said the study indicates that if wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers, brokers and trade associations don't all work together, "we will suffer in the marketplace."

Speaking to NGA in person, Al Plamann, chairman of Unified Western Grocers, Los Angeles -- the successor company to Certified Grocers of California -- said independents don't need to be primary shopping destinations in order to be successful.

In the battle to win consumers back from alternative formats, "many retailers have lost their place as the consumers' primary shopping destination," he said. "Their stores have become secondary shopping options, and that is likely to continue. "But being a secondary destination is not necessarily a bad thing, and it doesn't suggest failure.

"All it means is those operators must focus on offerings that differentiate themselves from alternative store formats, because relying solely on price or promotions is not necessarily a formula for success."

In taped segment at the same general convention session, Jay Campbell, president and chief executive officer of Associated Grocers, Baton Rouge, La., and NGA chairman, said NGA is continuing to strive to establish a level playing field for all distributors "so they all compete by the same rules."