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Answering the Big Question: What Will 2009 Bring?

Answering the Big Question: What Will 2009 Bring?

The business world is mulling the year ahead with much trepidation.

Many supermarket CEOs, however, are choosing to focus on opportunities in the midst of the economic storm. “The opportunity right now is to be unrelenting in finding ways to offer shoppers more value for their money,” observed Ric Jurgens, chairman, president and CEO, Hy-Vee, in an outlook story compiled by SN editors.

In a similar vein, Jack Brown, chairman and CEO, Stater Bros. Markets, said his chain’s increased transactions in the fourth quarter resulted from proactive steps to communicate value to shoppers. “We’ve adjusted our marketing program to ensure new customers see our values and regular customers understand we’re working as hard as we can to help them stretch their foods dollars,” he said.

Retailers have been facing the need to adjust longtime pricing strategies to succeed in this difficult environment, said financial analyst Gary Giblen, executive vice president of Goldsmith & Harris, in a video appearing this week on the website.

“You have to have good prices on the 1,000 or so visible SKUs that people tend to buy very frequently, and that has caused chains to make some real adjustments,” he said.

One of the biggest dangers for supermarkets is not getting the mix right between driving sales and protecting profit margins, Giblen added.

“There’s a delicate balance that needs to be struck now between maintaining sales momentum and maintaining respectable gross margins, and it’s hard to do both,” he said. “Most chains are finding their way, but rather painfully.”

Is it possible, then, to say what the new year will bring for food retailers? Here’s my answer to that question, with a little help from a famous presidential inaugural speech of some years ago: Ask not what the new year will bring to you, ask what you will bring to the new year. My point is, it’s virtually impossible to make accurate predictions now about this most volatile of periods. But carefully laid plans and measured optimism will go a long way.

Here’s something about 2009 we are more confident about predicting: Our online offerings will be enhanced this year. The “Latest News” stories will soon incorporate more photos and other images. This year we’ll also roll out our “Total Access Blog,” an online show daily, for a number of industry events. Meanwhile, new things are coming to the highly popular Refresh blog, which offers an opinionated take on issues of health, wellness and sustainability from the editors of SN Whole Health. The interactive format will be expanded to include entries from outside contributors.

Keep in mind that SN continues its industry-leading commitment to a weekly print magazine as well.

Best wishes to you and your businesses from all of us at SN! We look forward to keeping you informed this year no matter what the delivery platform.