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Three key takeaways from FMI Connect/United Fresh 2014

Three key takeaways from FMI Connect/United Fresh 2014

The food industry is just back from the big FMI Connect and United Fresh 2014 events in Chicago, and a ton of industry insights have emerged from these venues.

My top picks address topics from online shopping to organics, and each made me think a bit differently about the business, so I want to share them here.

1. Future of physical stores

There’s no doubt that online shopping is an important topic of discussion, but FMI Connect helped put into perspective the anticipated pace of change and the relatively long runway for physical stores.

A presentation by PricewaterhouseCoopers, based on a consumer survey, relayed a relatively low acceptance of online shopping so far.

Only 1% of respondents said online shopping is their primary source for groceries, while 92% have access to the service, said Sabina Saksena, managing director PwC, in an interview with SN. Moreover, the great majority didn’t see this as a top future shopping option. Observed Saksena: Brick and mortar “is here to stay.”

In my opinion, this is good news for retailers, not because they can ignore e-commerce and omnichannel, but because they may have a bit more time to fully prepare.

2. Organic-conventional rivalry

Here’s an insight for those who thought that organic and conventional are bitter enemies. It turns out organic can actually help conventional.

The thinking in some circles has been that sales of organics negatively impact conventional products, and that organic consumers won’t opt for conventional substitutes in the case of out-of-stocks.

However, in a survey by the Organic Trade Association, 91% of U.S. parents who responded would buy the conventional variety if they couldn’t find the organic item, said Laura Batcha, executive director and CEO of OTA, during a United Fresh panel presentation.

This is good news for the produce category’s future, in my thinking, because it means positive attitudes towards produce overall make consumers more flexible about choices.

3. Social media’s acceleration

From Facebook to Pinterest, social media has shaken up how retailers engage shoppers. However, retailers need to clearly understand typical customer behavior on different platforms, according to speakers in an FMI Connect panel.

Some 36% of the U.S. population now employs social media to help with grocery shopping according to data unveiled at the session from Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council.


Follow @SN_News for updates throughout the day.

But here’s the rub: A platform like Facebook shouldn’t really be seen as a deep-engagement vehicle. Often it’s merely a place to find coupons, discounts and alerts about promotions.

“The time spent is relatively short — it’s consumption-type behavior,” said Craig Elston, SVP of insight and strategy, Integer Group.

So the lesson is know what you want to accomplish, and which platforms are best.

A final point

In an age of virtual communications, face-to-face still matters, both in how retailers relate to shoppers, and how trading partners interact with each other. Along those lines, retailers in Chicago told SN they applauded FMI’s return to an annual in-person event, and also the Windy City location.

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