Top 5 Takeaways from Groceryshop 2019

“Think in disruptive terms and then work backwards.” – Anil Aggarwal, Groceryshop CEO

To say that the grocery industry is at a crossroads is an understatement. It seems that new questions are being asked daily and getting the right answers has become increasingly difficult. At its core, this is what Groceryshop is about, and in its second year, it attracted over 3,000 of the most curious and disruptive-thinking professionals from established CPG portfolios, emerging startups, and retailers across the industry. 

To create diverse, enriching perspectives throughout the four days of keynote speeches, moderated panels, and technology exhibitions, grocery and CPG professionals were joined by tech companies, real-estate operators, investors and analysts, all focused on new trends, technologies and business models. It seemed nearly everyone was experimenting with something new, which speaks to the extreme pace of innovation that’s pervading the grocery industry today. 

While taking in all of these major shifts seemed overwhelming at times, I’ve managed to distill my learnings down to a few key takeaways. Here are the top five things I learned at Groceryshop 2019.

Customers Are the Change Agents

Does the retail mantra “The customer is always right” have a new application? Throughout this year’s sessions, you consistently heard speakers comment that “The customer is leading the way” and “We have to meet the increasingly high demands of our customers.” It is indeed the customer that is driving the extreme pace of innovation, not grocery retailers, even though they’re often the ones that receive the credit. For a brand to be successful today, the customer needs to be at the heart of everything. If not, that customer will spend their hard-earned money with one of the boundless substitutes that provide them with the memorable, frictionless shopping experiences they demand.

Better for the World…and Consumers

Grocery retailers aren’t the only ones dealing with increased customer demands. Today’s CPG brands are fielding requests that their products be both healthier for customers’ bodies and for the environment. Consumers want to know that the brands they are supporting stand for something they also hold important. This year’s keynote sessions were packed with declarations like this:

  • Grove Collaborative’s CEO Stu Landesberg stated that 70% of consumers want conscientious products and that it’s now cool to talk about good choices they are making. The direct-to-consumer startup sells natural home and personal care products for consumers who are conscious of how their consumption impacts the environment. An example of this is the company’s line of Seedling paper products, such as napkins, bath tissue and paper towels, that are made from sugarcane and bamboo grass rather than trees. The company also uses a portion of every Seedling purchase to plant trees throughout the United States.
  • Lola’s CEO Jordana Kier shared her personal frustration with how most boxes of tampons sold at her local drugstore lacked a comprehensive ingredient list. This lack of transparency drove her to create her own 100% cotton product. The company also keeps accessibility of “better for you” products at its core by donating its products to women throughout the U.S. who don’t have access to tampons.

These companies are authentically committing to causes in substantial ways, which is what today’s consumers are expecting from their favorite brands.

Retailers and Brands…Friends or Foes?

The line between retailer and brand has been blurring intensely over the last few years. Throughout the Groceryshop conference, almost every retailer spoke about its focus on private label creation. On the other hand, almost every CPG brand spoke about its focus on growing direct-to-consumer website revenue.

Alluding to the impact that its owned brands have had on overall business, Stephanie Lundquist, Target’s EVP and President of Food and Beverage, said in her keynote, “Our experience has been that new owned brands lift entire categories.” This raises an important question: Are retailers and brands still friends, or are they now foes?

Personalization Is a Top Priority

Another mantra you heard from both brands and retailers at Groceryshop was that “Data is the new-age currency in business.” Companies are collecting tons of data these days, but that collection alone isn’t enough. Transforming that data into actionable business insights is critical to delivering personalized customer experiences.

The emphasis on personalization could be heard all over Groceryshop. Retailers mentioned the strong desire to know their customers’ dietary restrictions and regional taste preferences so they could better provide unique merchandising, content and marketing offers. Emerging CPG startups shared how having a deep personal connection with their customers, supplied through data insights, is helping them design new products and experiences.

Digital-first Is Yesterday’s News

While the grocery industry might still be trying to wrap its head around a digital-first mindset, forward thinkers such as Zak Normadin, Founder & CEO of Iris Nova (Dirty Lemon), pushed mobile-first, conversational commerce strategies. Iris Nova leverages an SMS-based ordering platform that allows customers to buy beverages via text message. While consumers have shown a willingness to purchase products in nontraditional ways like voice ordering, buying groceries through text messages and chat bots seemed a far reach for most of this year’s attendees.

Regardless, mobile has become a fundamental part of grocery retailers’ digital strategies. It now touches every aspect of the customer journey, from discovery to transaction. That was echoed by Arthur Sevilla, Pinterest’s head of CPG strategy, who said that its research found that 55% of weekly Pinterest users utilize the app while shopping in stores. Many retailers, including Sam’s Club, spoke about using their mobile apps to promote product discovery and payment innovation in stores, providing an omni-channel shopping experience with less friction.

Bonus: Leveraging Product Content

It is no secret that many brands continue to struggle with maintaining consistent, accurate product content across all their different retail partners. Luckily for them, there was no shortage of chatter about these challenges at this year’s conference. In our next article, we will discuss some of the product content lessons we learned at Groceryshop 2019.

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