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Disruptions in food retail: What’s next?

I had the privilege recently of speaking at Western Michigan University’s Food Marketing Conference. It was the 51st such event, which is remarkable in itself.

My topic was “Disruptions in Food Retail.” It was inspired by Supermarket News’ recent “Disruptors” issue, which featured 25 people who were doing precisely that in the food world. One of them, the CEO of Fetch Rewards, is just 22 years old, a reminder that some of the students in the Western Michigan audience could soon be disruptors themselves.

In my presentation, I essentially broke disruption into four buckets:

  • The consumer, with profound changes in societal composition driving the need and desire to change how they shop and how brands and retailers serve them.
  • Technology, which becomes an enabler to help make such changes happen. Technology disruption ranges from all of the modes of shopping (from e-commerce to digital tools) as well as the way we will gather and process information.
  • Competition from new directions, which includes new foodservice concepts to e-commerce disruptors to foreign entrants into the market.
  • Formats, where retailers are creating new ways to serve different shopping missions.

Not coincidentally, the remainder of the speakers and sessions at the conference dove deeper into many of these areas. There were breakout sessions on Millennials, Boomers, e-commerce, private brands, digital strategies and innovations in foodservice. All of these provided examples on both the disruptions themselves and what retailers and brands need to be doing to respond.

My closing slide spoke to culture and the need for companies to evolve and change as these trends change. It is relatively easy to spot a trend and certainly conferences like this help crystallize what those disruptions are likely to be. It is infinitely harder to respond and bring an organization along to react.

How is your company responding to disruption?

Neil Stern for Supermarket News


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