Grocery Isn’t Fair for Whom?

Editorial Director Mike Troy notices the changing nature of food retail competition is evident in this year’s PG 100 ranking
Grocery Isn’t Fair for Whom?
Progressive Grocer Editorial Director Mike Troy

The PG 100 is a unique resource in the grocery world. It’s a ranking that takes an expansive view of industry-leading retailers that shoppers can choose from to purchase food and consumables. It recognizes that shoppers have a growing number of choices, and that those choices extend to many types of retailers beyond traditional grocers.

For this reason, many of the companies included on this year’s PG 100 list don’t fit the traditional definition of “grocer” previously based on store size and core product offering. Instead, companies are included on The PG 100 if a key element of their value proposition involves offering food and consumables. This approach adds a degree of subjectivity and difficulty to compiling an industry ranking that aspires to be the definitive source of the 100 largest retailers of food and consumables in North America.

That’s a good thing, however, because the intent of The PG 100 is to reflect new and evolving marketplace realities, not outdated notions of trade channels that were never as relevant to shoppers as they were to those in the industry.

What’s relevant to shoppers are retailers that appeal to lifestyles and sensibilities that are very different from decades ago, when the distinctions between classes of trade were clearer. It’s all very blurry today, with food and consumable products sold seemingly everywhere, by all types of retailers and innovative startups with new physical and digital approaches. The changing nature of competition in the food and consumables industry is fascinating, tumultuous, unpredictable and filled with unrelenting competition.

This state of competition has led some smaller retailers to raise questions of fairness and whether a level playing field exists. It’s easy to see why when looking at The PG 100 and the billions in sales some of the largest companies have added. The rising tide of demand caused by the pandemic has lifted all retailers, but it lifted some more than others.

There are a lot of reasons for that — too many to get into here but suffice to say that scale comes with advantages. Suppliers are going to treat larger retailers that account for a bigger percentage of their sales differently from smaller retailers, just as retailers with loyalty programs provide preferential treatment to their best customers.

That being the case, how can retailers who aren’t among The PG 100 compete? For starters, embrace the advantages that the large retailers exploited when they were small. Despite how nimble a company like Walmart, Kroger or Amazon may claim to be, a smaller retailer will always be able to move faster and act more decisively than a large retailer. Smaller retailers with single or multi-state operations are also able to avoid the regulatory complexity of a nationwide operation. Further leveling the playing field is the affordability of retail technology solutions that gives smaller retailers access to the same powerful capabilities as larger organizations.

Being on The PG 100 list is no guarantee of future success. In fact, the ranking isn’t able to account for subjective measures such as innovation and the potential to disrupt the marketplace. Companies that possess these attributes are undeterred by any real or imagined lack of fairness. They’re intent on capitalizing on their size to exploit the vulnerabilities of lumbering legacy competitors, which hardly seems fair to members of The PG 100 that don’t realize they’re at risk.

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