During FMI’s Midwinter Executive Conference, Giant Co. President John Ruane, far right, talked about “The New Normal” in the grocery industry.
OPINION: EDITOR'S NOTE
At Progressive Grocer, the new year always starts off with the same resolution: doing everything we can to help our readers stay “ahead of what’s next.” That’s what appears below the masthead on the cover of our magazine each month. It’s our value proposition to our readership. It’s our guiding principle.
With that in mind, January provided a unique opportunity to attend three back-to-back-to-back industry events — CES, NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show and FMI Midwinter — that offered a glimpse of what’s trending in the grocery retail channel. Here are five trends that have people in the business buzzing:
1. At CES 2024 in Las Vegas — the self-titled “Most Powerful Tech Event in the World” — Walmart made its biggest splash ever at a trade show with a powerful keynote presentation by CEO Doug McMillon. It was just supposed to be McMillon doing the keynoting, but instead he introduced key company executives to talk about all of the ways that the retailer plans to keep transforming itself in 2024. New initiatives announced include AI and AR innovations, an expansion of InHome now featuring replenishment, a social commerce Shop with Friends platform, new exit tech at Sam’s Club, and a massive expansion of drone delivery, starting off in the Dallas area. Walmart had a 50-foot-by-140-foot experiential “booth” at CES this year, chock full of executives from the company’s Global Tech, Sam’s Club, Walmart U.S. and other divisions.
2. Although AI was certainly The Big Theme at CES, many speakers discussed the people implications of the technology (using AI to serve people, and not the other way around). This was a major theme in McMillon’s keynote as well. There was also a lot of talk about the cybersecurity implications for retailers implementing AI tools in their operations.
3. By the time I arrived at NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show in New York City, I thought I’d heard enough about AI, but I was wrong. At NRF, several retailers, from Wegmans Food Markets to Schnuck Markets to Meijer, spoke about how regional grocers might benefit from the AI revolution, but not in the way we might think. According to several retailers, the more that large companies adopt AI, the more that good old-fashioned human interactions will be a differentiator for regional players. Many retailers also said that theft in-store is getting worse, and, in keeping with that assessment, loss prevention solutions for grocery were ubiquitous at this show, especially for self-checkout.
[RELATED: Is Shrink From Self-Checkout Lanes Worse Than Grocers Think?]
Some of the other tech at NRF included companies offering shoppable livestream and recorded video, workforce management software, RFID platforms, personalized GPT sales assistants, license plate recognition, music sommelier apps, AI-powered forecasting solutions, biometric retail signage, and customer engagement and supply chain platforms.
4. FMI’s beloved Midwinter Executive Conference was set on a beach this year, in Marco Island, Fla. Grocery executives from across the country met and mingled to talk about the pressing issues: theft (it’s still up); unit volume (it’s still down); foodservice (it’s up from the pandemic but still down from 2019); customer engagement initiatives (loyalty and promotions are key this year); empowering employees with data and AI to do their jobs better and improve the customer experience; and how to leverage the opportunities offered by retail media.
5. One of the best takeaways from the three shows came at the end of FMI Midwinter, during one of the last sessions, when many attendees had already gone home. John Ruane, president of The Giant Co., talking about “The New Normal” in the grocery industry, touched on topics such as supply chain, the economy, digital sales and the consumer search for value.
“One of the things that we’re going to really focus on is getting back to basics, whether it’s building better plans with our CPG partners now that we have better supply, or doing more for our teams to make sure they are trained to do what they need to do in this business,” noted Ruane. “At the end of the day, it’s about delivering the right value product, which is quality, price, variety, service, facility — all those things that build our business. And those pieces may change as we evolve, but I think it’s still going to come back to that.”