Time and Location Remain Key for Food Retailers

Take small steps in bringing new products and categories into your stores. Ensure you understand the full impact of deploying new technologies like automation before starting any project. Technology, for technology’s sake, isn’t a good look for food retailers.

These were among the dozens of business lessons I heard at three very different trade shows I attended in March.

The Seafood Expo North America in Boston showcased, as you’d expect, the latest offerings of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and more.

It also featured a few important trends for food retailers, including the fact that grocery and frozen seafood are now faring better than fresh as shoppers weigh food waste, seafood consumers like seafood counters, health, and well-being remain top of mind for seafood shoppers, and customers demand variety.

The bottom line is that while overall seafood volume is flat due to inflation and other issues, it’s still considerably higher than pre-pandemic. Hence, food retailers must focus on providing customers with the right items at the right time.

The next event I attended was ProMat in Chicago, featuring the latest and greatest in product moving and tracking systems.

The biggest trends focused on digital solutions like autonomous vehicles, robotics and automation, artificial intelligence, and inventory visibility for food retailers.

Related Article: Are Grocers Focusing Enough on the Customer Experience?

One of the more popular exhibits introduced a piece of equipment that extends into a trailer and then automatically grabs and moves cases onto a conveyor system where they could be directed to storage or a staging area for outbound shipments.

While most of the solutions supported traditional warehouse activities, many attempts to make the extended supply chain to the store more efficient by getting the right products to the right locations at the right time.

Last, I visited Shoptalk in Las Vegas, which highlighted the very latest in retail technology.

Speakers ranging from some of the largest on the planet to 10-person start-ups presented their experiences with implementing systems at physical stores and online.

Target CFO Michael Fiddelke, for instance, shared the retailer’s people-first technology approach that focuses on making investments driven by the goals of enhancing the shopping experience and improving the performance of team members.

At a session on the technology deployed to support personalization, executives presented how companies provide customer-centric opportunities in a brand-friendly way.

Carrie Tharp, VP of Retail and Consumer at Google Cloud, confirmed shoppers want personalization but don’t want to be “creeped out” by being asked for too much data.

“There is no such thing as too much personalization, just personalization done wrong,” she said.

The people I talked to, many of them food retailers with at each conference, emphasized that the extended retail supply chain is still not fixed following the disruptions caused by the COVID outbreak.

This fact is validated by anyone visiting a food store – plenty of bare spots remain on the shelves.

Fortunately, there are plenty of systems and processes to get food retailers from where they are to where they need to be and deliver on the goal of having the right product at the right place and time.