Customers can expect to see more in-store foodservice innovations like this sleekly designed Press Coffee Roasters shop inside a Sprouts Farmers Market in Phoenix.
Let’s Eat at the Supermarket
Romero, of API(+), notes that most of the innovation he’s seeing in stores is related directly to the shopping experience — and nowhere is this more apparent than with in-store dining. “There’s lots of movement toward in-store dining and making that a more pleasurable experience than the old idea [of] ‘We’ll use the leftover space by the deli and put two tables and four chairs,’” he observes. Some independent retailers have thrived in this space, since they tend to have more flexibility than the big chains, adds Romero.
In just one example, Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market has revealed plans to roll out four more in-store Press Coffee Roasters shops this February, following a yearlong pilot. Each coffee bar will feature a workspace area and a full drink menu, along with a selection of regular in-store retail items, including whole and ground coffee beans.
Romero points to Anaheim, Calif.-based Hispanic grocer Northgate González, where the prepared food presentation in its newest stores is like a “food hall” where you can taste something new at every turn, or Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Lowes Foods, whose latest locations feature such attractions as a Beer Den, a Smokehouse, and a “Community Table” where shoppers can gather and try something new.
Romero says that he expects to see more of these foodservice innovations, especially now that the COVID-19 pandemic is further behind us and people are looking to enjoy a more social experience when they shop. Salad bars and other to-go meal solutions will also continue to pop up at a rate more akin to pre-COVID times, and savvy retailers may look to brand their to-go offerings, he adds. The Kroger Co., for one, is clearly focused on this trend, as the Cincinnati-based company recently revamped its Home Chef Fried Chicken to be crispier and more flavorful than before.
On the operations side, many retailers will aim to be “cleaner,” whether that’s through more sustainable sourcing practices, or literally by offering cleaner stores, which is yet another way to differentiate, notes Romero.
He also expects more grocers to focus on store safety and security, whether that’s by using technology, rethinking store layout or just having more employees on hand to eyeball what’s happening. “We may see architecture that’s more open, as well as more natural light in stores, which will help associates feel safer, too,” he notes.
As for sustainability, Washington, D.C.-based Fairtrade America cites several sustainability-focused trends in its forecast for the food and beverage sectors in 2024, including sustainable and ethical sourcing, brand transparency and accountability, private label brand growth, and the continued rise of regenerative agriculture.
Fairtrade points out that while “regenerative” will continue to be a buzzword in the food industry, there’s no clear consensus on what the term really means. The group challenges businesses, producers and retailers to define and implement such practices, letting farmers take the lead.
Whole Foods, for its part, called out water stewardship (one area related to regenerative agriculture) in its top 10 trend list for 2024, noting that “brands across the aisles are promoting water conservation, and consumers are listening.”
Ben Kuethe, VP of customer solutions at Divert, a Concord, Mass.-based solutions provider that creates advanced technology and sustainable infrastructure to prevent wasted food, shares his view that as retailers’ 2030 ESG goals close in and mandates take hold, “it’s time to transition from evaluating and piloting to implementation.” He observes: “We often get caught up in not doing anything because we are waiting for the ‘perfect’ solution. The reality is, it doesn’t exist. It’s a suite of integrated solutions that create a system. Let’s not get caught up with perfection, but focus on getting started.”
Employee Experience as the Last Mile
As retailers look for new ways to make the shopping experience better this year, they’ll also need to focus on their labor force, perhaps even more so than in the past, according to Will Eadie, chief revenue officer at global digital workplace solutions provider WorkJam. Eadie says that retailers are now looking at their employees’ experiences as the last mile of customer experience. “We’ve already seen where retailers have spent 20 years investing in the customer experience, and rightfully so,” he notes. “What they’re realizing now is that in order to continue getting value out of that, or even increase the basis points of the ROI on customer experience, you have to bring employees into that loop. So you’re going to start seeing things like workflows happening with all the pieces of labor solutions living together — things like communications, tasks and flexible scheduling, with front-line learning thrown in.”
Real-time digital collaboration between headquarters and stores will be a big trend in 2024, he predicts. “Retailers need to be able to get new information down to the front line,” he explains. “For example, if they’re rolling out self-checkout, they need to better engage all the front-line associates in all their stores by properly training and staffing them.”
Meanwhile, providing work-life balance with more flexible scheduling, better communication and empowerment will be paramount with the younger workers whom grocers need to attract, observes Eadie. “For Millennials and Gen Z, communication isn’t just something they’d like to have at a job; it’s an absolute must-have,” he asserts. “I’ve heard it said best: ‘Hey, communication is respect. Don’t just tell me what I’m expected to do in my role. Tell me what the company is about and what you’re doing to make the world a better place, and to make our workplace better.’”