Inside This Issue - News
FMI helps members respond to new challenges
August 20th, 2012
ARLINGTON, Va. – The pace of change in the supermarket sector is accelerating, and Leslie Sarasin, president and chief executive officer of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), is intent on positioning the association to assist its members as they adapt to evolving market conditions.
"Our role here at FMI is to do everything we can to help our companies do what they do best, which is feed families and enrich lives," she says. "What they do in this industry is tremendously noble work."
Achieving those goals is an increasingly complex task.
"A variety of things contribute to the challenges that traditional food retailers are facing today," Sarasin comments. "More companies are selling food in nontraditional ways than we have seen in the past. It’s an interesting development, given the fact that the food retailer is really a vital bridge that connects consumers and producers. Having more and more folks involved in this business just necessarily makes it a more interesting time for our member companies."
Increased demands on supermarkets have come with greater competition and the growing sophistication of grocery shoppers.
"Increasingly our companies have to master areas that they have not historically needed to be experts in," Sarasin notes. "It used to be that supermarkets sold meat products. Now they sell meat products and, oh, by the way, they also have to be knowledgeable about where those products originated, how the animals that the products came from were treated while they were being raised, what they were fed and what types of facilities they were housed in — the list goes on and on. That’s just one example in one part of the business.
"Food retailing is more multifaceted than it’s ever been and, as a result, a lot more is expected of the companies involved."
Sarasin has exhorted FMI members in recent months to look at such developments with fresh eyes and embrace the future. "We humans are prone to approach things with such familiarity — thinking we know and understand them — when actually the limits of our own experience prevent us from truly grasping the world-shaping magnitude of what’s right in front of our eyes," she told attendees at the FMI 2012 conference in May.
"What’s going on in society in general necessarily means that the food retail community is going to have to step up its game. Food retailers are going to have to really focus on the way their customers are living their lives, and how changes in their lifestyles are affecting not only how they buy food and other consumer products but where they buy them and through what mechanisms."
Technology is a striking example of the new forces that retailers have to understand and harness.
"The impact that digital technology is having on the customer base and therefore our member companies is very interesting," Sarasin notes. "Those who are adopting this new technology have access to information that historically we often never had, and when we did it wasn’t available as instantaneously as it is now with just the touch of a finger. The notion that we now have customers who can stand in a store and scan a barcode while they’re there and compare prices at other stores within driving distance is almost overwhelming."
FMI is responding to the shifting landscape by bolstering its own technological capabilities and sharing what it learns with its members. It is also focusing resources on understanding the changing mind-set of consumers, the implications of e-commerce and innovation in store formats.
"We’re now in a situation where we have to meet the increasing demands of customers, continue to provide a quality product and maintain the highest levels of product safety," says Sarasin. "And we have to do all of this at incredibly low prices. It’s not easy out there."
Despite the challenges, traditional supermarkets have real strengths on which to build. The trade class is ideally positioned to capitalize on the intersection of nutrition and other products and services to maintain and restore people’s well-being.
"Health and wellness can be a real differentiator for supermarkets," Sarasin notes. "In the current down economy our members have done a good job helping their customers learn how to eat in a healthy manner even on a limited budget. When you combine that expertise with a pharmacy — which by and large our stores include — O-T-Cs and, in some cases, dietitians and nutritionists, the supermarket becomes the natural one-stop-shopping destination for all things related to health and wellness."