The changing economy is making it a virtual requirement for the food industry, especially supermarkets and other retailers, to stay ahead of trends to attract consumers, said Phil Lempert, known stateside as the “Supermarket Guru” for his reputation as one of the leading analysts of consumer behavior trends in the food industry.
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of local food industry executives, Lempert was the guest speaker during the second day of activities of this year’s Marketing, Industry and Food Distribution Chamber’s annual convention.
“We’ve done studies showing that 53 percent of consumers in the United States [mainland] do not like grocery shopping and 14 percent hate it. So what can we do as retailers to attract those customers to our stores? The key is knowing their preferences, to innovate and stay ahead of trends,” said Lempert, who is also host and executive producer of the PBS show “Food Sense” and is often invited to shows like Oprah Winfrey, 20/20, CNN, CNBC, Discovery Health and MSNBC, among others
Lempert also urged Puerto Ricans to give priority to agriculture to tip the balance more on the side of exports, rather than imports. Puerto Rico is said to import about 80 percent of the food it consumes.
Among the most important trends that retailers should now be aware of is the fact that consumers want more information about their food, and at the same time, are bored with food, said Lempert, during the Friday morning conference to members of MIDA, as the Chamber is known in Spanish.
In that sense, he recommended that supermarkets offer recipes, ideas for how to mix ingredients, and beyond that, provide information on calories or sodium. He also suggested that retailers find a way to explain to consumers how the food they buy is produced, where it comes from and what the production standards quality are.
Lempert also recommended the use technology to deliver that information to consumers, by — for instance — developing applications and programs for computers mobile phones, to send users recipes or other information.
Facebook, Twitter part of the shopping experience
Another trend Lempert said supermarkets should pay attention is the consumer’s affinity for technology and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“Supermarkets can not fall behind. The way in which new generations communicate is through technology. Let’s use it for our benefit, to communicate with the consumer and to establish relationships with them,” said Lempert.
Focusing on building relationships and achieving that the consumer goes beyond loyalty to the supermarket to become its representative, is another trend that Lempert pointed out during his speech.
“We need to identify ways to make the consumer experience, when making their purchase, more enjoyable,” said Lempert.
Besides the importance of technology, other food industry and supermarket trends include: an increase in food coming from Asia; the introduction of new soft drinks and sodas made with Stevia and sugar with 30 to 40 calories; the notion that food allergies are decreasing; that supermarkets have realized the need to reintroduce butchers to their stores; and that consumers are looking for products with labels that present information in a simpler way.