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Grocery Marketing 101 in '24: A Professor’s Take

Dr. Russell Zwanka of Western Michigan University publishes annual book on trends and topics driving business
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Zwanka book
Dr. Zwanka's latest book is available at

As grocers get ready to turn the page on the first half of 2024, they’re set to encounter new narratives. That’s the nature of the business and something that spurs Dr. Russell Zwanka, of Western Michigan University (WMU), to regularly pen new editions of his book on food retailing. 

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Zwanka, director of the Food Marketing Program and professor of category management and food marketing at WMU, covers a range of topics in his latest volume, “Trends, Tips and Tactics for Today’s Grocery Industry,” now available on Amazon. Noteworthy subjects this year include revenue growth management, retail media networks and GenAI, as the educator, author and longtime grocery professional looks at behaviors and breakthroughs evident at both a store-walk level and a bird’s eye view. 

“I rewrite the entire thing – it isn’t just an update,” Zwanka told Progressive Grocer. “You have the basics of the grocery industry, but it changes every year.”

In a recent interview, the professor highlighted some of the major trends over the past year, including the following: 

Beverages here, there and everywhere:  “Beverage is massive part of all of the changes. It’s everywhere – it’s superfruit, it’s caffeine level, it’s hydration,” Zwanka asserted, noting that it may be time for some category name changes. “I call it ‘refrigerated’ now, because the milk is not all coming from a cow.” Additionally, he pointed out, there‘s a lot of crossover, or “leaking,” going on as established brands enter new territories and segments. The buzz around low-ABV drinks is translating to different shopper behaviors as well.

Holding high: Inflation rates may be moving down, but consumers are faced with – and understand all too well – the impact of higher price points compared with previous eras. “There are still too many people not talking about it. ‘Versus last month’ is not a true meter of inflation when it’s up so much since 2019,” the professor observed, adding that shoppers are coping by continuing to embrace store brands and cooking more at home.

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Weighty issues: In the book, Zwanka discusses the popularity of weight loss prescriptions, including GLP-1 medications, and their impact on the marketplace. “Diets aren’t new to our industry – I relate it to the 100-calorie pack – but Ozempic and these other drugs are serious stuff,” he said, “I’d put a bet on the consumer always looking for a way to lose weight.” In response to the clamor for and use of such drugs, he noted, brands and retailers can emphasize the importance of protein for GLP-1 users, who often lose muscle mass when they slim down.

Meat of the matter: Speaking of protein, another trend in Zwanka’s book is the return to meat eating. “It seems like we are becoming carnivores again,’ he observed. 

The 2024 version of the book covers several other trends and emerging aspects of today’s grocery industry, as Zwanka delves into subjects like how to set goals for retail media networks, what ReGenAI means, the importance of supplier diversity and the ongoing blurring of lines within the “phygital” marketplace. Even as the book rolls off the press, however, he’s keeping an eye on what’s next. “I walk stores constantly looking for trends, as most of us in this industry do,” Zwanka affirmed.

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