‘They think differently’

by Keith Nunes
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KANSAS CITY — There was much discussion during the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Leadership Forum in Colorado Springs earlier this month about consumers and what they want from food manufacturers, retailers and food service operators. The discussions touched on all of the traditional attributes of price, convenience, taste, transparency, and authenticity, to name a few. But Mark Batenic, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based retailer IGA, Inc., may have touched on an attribute many consumers may feel is lacking in the marketplace – leadership.

In an education session focused on the “digital store of the future” Mr. Batenic, speaking from the retailer’s perspective, said such demographic groups as millennials are looking to the industry for leadership.

“For us it’s meal solutions,” he said. “They (millennials) are looking for meal solutions (and) ideas. If you can provide recipes and solutions to them daily via a smart phone: That is where we are going to win.”

Mr. Batenic, who described himself as part of the “silver tsunami” demographic, encouraged executives in the audience with older children living outside the home to spend some time in their children’s kitchens looking at the products they buy.

“They are feeding their kids organic, they are buying fresh,” he said of his own children. “They are going to the supermarket three or four times per week. They are making more food. Plus, they are recycling like crazy.”

Most importantly he said — “They think differently.”

At retail, Mr. Batenic said new store formats have emerged to cater to changing consumer shopping preferences and that his firm is in the process of catching up. It is not a stretch to say many food and beverage company executives may feel the same.

During the G.M.A.’s Leadership Forum, representatives from the consultancy Deloitte discussed the preliminary findings of a study to be released in September that found the shift in consumer shopping and purchasing patterns to be far more pervasive than previously believed (Click here to read story). The study’s results fit with the sentiments Mr. Batenic expressed at the meeting.

Many food and beverage companies are in the process of catching up to the changing preferences of consumers. This is being done through reformulation, acquisition, adopting new forms of consumer engagement and making supply chain investments to capitalize on all sales channels. But future success in the marketplace is going to require more than the ability to adapt quickly. It will require reestablishing a leadership position in the marketplace that better understands what consumers want and puts a company and its brands at the point of change rather than behind it.

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