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In many ways, fresh food departments are in a great position heading into 2008. Sure, the price of fuel has led to rising transportation costs and to a surge in ethanol production that has sent the cost of corn and thus of meat, dairy and other products that use it soaring. But, those same rising fuel costs may be encouraging consumers to stay local when shopping for groceries. And concerns about

In many ways, fresh food departments are in a great position heading into 2008. Sure, the price of fuel has led to rising transportation costs and to a surge in ethanol production that has sent the cost of corn — and thus of meat, dairy and other products that use it — soaring. But, those same rising fuel costs may be encouraging consumers to stay local when shopping for groceries.

And concerns about fuel and energy conservation are just one of the many reasons that trends like the locally grown food movement gained so much momentum during the past year. For most shoppers, it's not just about the environment, though. It's about buying fresh, flavorful, farm-ripe food in support of their local or regional economy.

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INITIATIVE 1: Cope With Ongoing Price Inflation [4]

INITIATIVE 2: Make COOL Work to Your Advantage [5]

INITIATIVE 3: Cultivate Connections With Local Farms [6]

INITIATIVE 4: Pull Ahead of Restaurants [7]

INITIATIVE 5: Make Healthy Eating Convenient [8]

For supermarkets that step up their game, 2008 could be a great year to make an impression on other fronts as well. Shoppers are still pressed for time and eager for solutions that make their lives more convenient, and those concerns often become even more relevant when money is tight. High-quality prepared food programs, which offer customers both convenience and value, as well as a savings over restaurant prices, stand to gain a lot of long-term fans in this climate.

Ditto for fresh food departments that make it easy for shoppers to eat healthy, with solutions as simple as substituting whole grain products in prepared food recipes, developing meal stations with more fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, or helping shoppers come up with new cooking ideas via recipe cards and electronic kiosks.

The American economy may be shaky in the near term, but smart retailers can always uncover new opportunities and find ways to thrive in almost any environment.