Amid all of the media coverage of Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods and Lidl’s highly-touted entrance into the U.S. market, one thing is abundantly clear: At least initially, grocery retailers are hyper-vigilant and fixated on new competitive threats entering the market. Everyone is carefully monitoring, analyzing and strategizing against newcomers. Territory has been staked; promotional offers abound, each designed to prevent retailer switching; and even more dramatic, lawsuits have been filed. Make no mistake, the grocery wars are real and the stakes are high.
However, amid this flurry of responsiveness to competitors, U.S. grocers have been notoriously slow to react to consumer shifts in the market. For example, for the most part, they failed to get ahead of the rise of the male shopper, who now accounts for up to 41% of shopping trips. Likewise, they’ve been slow to react to the growth of the Hispanic consumer population and most recently the millennials. Maybe it’s marketplace myopia?
Over the past five years, we at Concentric have completed consumer insight studies in no less than 10 categories where the consumer has indicated they are less interested in discounting or would trade discounting for higher levels of quality and service from the retailer. But retailers don’t seem to hear these cries—or at least don’t seem to respond to them until the consumer requests are embraced by a competitor in the market.
For example, consumer research dating back to 2008 indicated a strong consumer demand for fresh-prepared meal kits or solutions for easy meal preparation for time-pressed consumers. But it wasn’t until subscription meal kit companies launched and began to attract consumer dollars and investors that traditional retailers even began to pay attention, and it was likely even a couple years later before most had kit offerings in stores. Many still are missing this boat.
Another example is the consumer desire for the quick shopping trip afforded by the small store format. Our research has shown that while some consumers embrace retailers such as Aldi and Trader Joe’s for their selection and pricing, many more value their small format convenience as their primary motivator to shop there. Yet, the megastore format complete with a bank, coffee shop, on-premise grocerant and kitchen store continues to emerge at a faster pace than the modestly-sized neighborhood store formats.
Big grocery retailers house millions of points of data about their customers collected through their loyalty programs. They actually have access to the shopper DNA and predictive analytics. They have permission to have an open dialogue with the majority of these consumers. It’s an amazing opportunity to dig into the motivations of their own consumers, create a level of segmentation and profiling that will allow them to attract and retain more of their best-fit consumers. Consumer insights could show retailers where opportunity exists to create true retailer brand differentiation amid the consumers that matter the most. Hint: it’s not the same answer for every retailer!
True competitive advantage will emerge—and ultimately the grocery wars will be won—by the retailer who understands, listens and responds to the voices of its own consumers and the ones it covets: the people in the neighborhood, instead of the stores down the street.
Reprinted from an original article published by Forbes.com on September 21, 2017, by Concentric’s Kelli Masilun. Masilun is Vice President of Brand Development at Concentric, a branding and marketing firm specializing in driving CPG brand growth.