ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Supermarket companies were urged to "think like a brand and act like a retailer" at a session at the New Jersey Food Council Trade Relations Conference here May 17 and 18.
In a lively session called "21 Trends in Food Retailing," Richard George and John Stanton, professors of food marketing at St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia, told attendees that consolidation in the supermarket industry is creating larger, more powerful retail chains that are realizing their power as brands.
"Retailer brands will become the gold standard," George said, noting the success of private-label products illustrates the trend. "Stores today can think like a brand, and act like a retailer."
George and Stanton's session focused on understanding trends that affect the food-retailing industry. "The future is an everyday event," explained Stanton.
Supermarkets should be aware that "everyone is trying to sell you your next meal," Stanton said, noting the invasion of nontraditional competitors such as discounters, convenience stores, direct channels and even vending machines competing for food dollars today.
The speakers took a skeptical view of two of the industry's hotter topics, home-meal replacement and organic foods. Home-meal replacement is no more convenient than store shopping, Stanton maintained, adding that meals consumers can easily prepare at home better suit their needs, particularly their emotional needs.
"In our culture, preparing and serving food is about how we show love and affection for one another," Stanton said. "When people can assemble the meal themselves, it shows: 'Look what I made for you, dear."'
Stanton said a number of manufacturers are jumping on the trend with easy-to-prepare meals. Supermarkets stand to benefit by promoting the items.
The public is meanwhile "confused" about organic foods, which "won't be a major part of the business," according to George.
"When taste and nutrition collide, taste wins," he said. "I think the bloom is off the rose on organics."
In the conference's keynote address, Joe Sheridan, executive vice president of Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., told attendees to take notice of shifting demographics, the rise of e-commerce and increased attention on genetically modified foods.
"The consumer has so many options today, you have to know what they want," Sheridan said in the keynote. "You have to ask yourselves if your brand can stand up to the rate of change."
Like George and Stanton, Sheridan spoke of "the retailer as brand" and said Wakefern, the cooperative of independent ShopRite store owners, defines its brand by its entrepreneurial spirit and by its knowledge of its local markets and customers.
Sheridan noted that the recent protest at the annual meeting of Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., in which picketers outside the event showed their support for an unsuccessful proposal to ban genetically engineered foods, backed by a small group of shareholders inside, indicated a potential for further controversy over genetically modified foods. "Sixty percent of the foods sold in supermarkets today are genetically modified," Sheridan said. "Everyone in this room has to know more about this. What are you going to do about this? You have to have a process."