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Retail innovation isn’t just for industry giants

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Recent moves by retailing giants that will impact the way consumers obtain goods and services have received a great deal of attention from people both inside and outside the industry. Walmart’s new partnership with Google to offer voice-activated shopping, and the completion of Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market and the immediate push to start lowering prices at a supermarket chain sometimes referred to as “Whole Pay Check,” are just the latest in a series of important developments at the two companies widely seen as the leading contenders for supremacy in a rapidly changing retail environment.

The ability of Walmart and Amazon to drive innovation should not, however, cause industry observers to lose sight of the fact that new ideas that can improve the customer offer come from many quarters. Hy-Vee, the employee-owned supermarket chain that operates some 240 stores in eight Midwestern states, is a case in point. The company, whose business rests on the twin pillars of culinary expertise and health and wellness, has entered two partnerships that will enhance the in-store experience.

The impetus behind the alliances — with Wahlburgers, a family oriented restaurant chain founded by chief Paul Wahlberg and his brothers, actor Mark Wahlberg and singer-songwriter Donnie Wahlberg, and Orangetheory Fitness, a purveyor of a group personal training and interval fitness program — reflect Hy-Vee’s determination to stay in sync with the consumer. “These unprecedented collaborations … represent a bold step to deliberately evolve our business to meet the change in our customers’ lifestyles and spending habits,” said Randy Edeker, chairman, president and chief executive officer of the supermarket chain, when he unveiled the initiatives. “These partnerships keep us on the leading edge as the retail grocery industry evolves.”

Hy-Vee’s decision to become a Wahlburgers’ franchisee, with plans to build and operate 26 locations, as well as offer a selection of Wahlburgers dishes at the 84 Market Grille restaurants within its existing stores, reflects evolving consumer behavior. Hy-Vee executives point out that last year for the first time more meals were eaten outside the home than within it. In light of that fact, it’s no surprise that the retailer is enhancing its ability to address customers’ food preferences in whatever form they take.

Hy-Vee is tapping into another major trend through its work with Orangetheory. The companies will offer an intensive fitness program in or near all of the supermarketer’s locations, and Hy-Vee dietitians will provide Orangetheory members with nutritional services and product samples, as well as leading store tours that highlight food, beverage and other products that help members achieve their fitness objectives. The addition of Orangetheory to the mix strengthens Hy-Vee’s commitment to health and wellness, something that’s evident throughout the store — from healthier food offerings to the pharmacy department and the Health Market.

Like Walmart and Amazon, Hy-Vee recognizes that what the customer wants today is different from what she wanted yesterday, and will be different again tomorrow. Those companies and others like them deserve credit for their willingness to invest in the future, even though they know innovations don’t always live up to expectations. Any retailer that wants to succeed in today’s marketplace needs to recognize that the future belongs to the bold.


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