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Supermarkets should be leading the way

Supermarkets should be leading the way

Have you been following our first IdeaXchange theme week? We asked all of our Xperts: What keeps you up at night? Here's what Simon Uwins had to say.

Supermarkets have been remarkably resilient over the years, and yet consumer behavior is changing in so many ways. Disruptive entrants are taking bites out of industry after industry, as they find new and better ways to satisfy consumer needs. Consumers now vote with their fingers as well as (or instead of) their feet. And both Millennials and the generation following them expect businesses to have a greater purpose than just making money.

The best way to ensure long-term survival is to change as customers change. So it concerns me that the supermarket industry is not at the forefront of meeting these changing needs.

For example, grocery delivery clearly has a role to play for some consumers. In the U.K., supermarkets have successfully met this need. Yet despite Safeway's early start, it's Amazon who is really blazing the trail in the U.S., while funding is pouring in to a variety of start-ups eager to fulfill consumer demand.

Then there's the question of local convenience. Some customers clearly prefer buying groceries from smaller stores, in their neighborhood. Yet it's Trader Joe's, Aldi and dollar stores that seem to be leading in meeting these needs.

And what about obesity? Here's an issue that's both a concern for individuals and for society, and closely associated with food. The industry has certainly made great strides in providing healthier choices and education. But where's the supermarket that's designed to encourage weight loss?

Changing as customers change is of course notoriously difficult, as it challenges the existing business model. Yet as well as ensuring long-term survival, it offers many other benefits:

  • You'll be seen as changing for the benefit of customers, while everyone who follows is just doing it for themself.
  • You’ll have a stronger voice in society, as you're seen as genuinely speaking on behalf of customers.
  • You’ll become more attractive as an employer, as you clearly care for more than just making money.

The need seems obvious...and yet supermarkets have been remarkably resilient over the years. Am I wrong to worry?

Simon Uwins is a former CMO of fresh&easy and Tesco UK, and author of Creating Loyal Brands (2014). Find him online at

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