OPINION: EDITOR'S NOTE
Many of the food retail industry’s top leaders were thrilled to be in Florida twice this spring for the first time since COVID-19 shut things down in 2020.
Senior execs at the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference, in Orlando, Fla., and the NACDS Annual Meeting, in Palm Beach, Fla., frolicked in the sun and traded handshakes and hugs by the pool. It was a chance to celebrate what went right during the pandemic.
The demographics of the attendees varied, but the messages delivered to them were the same: This industry helped save lives and reopen the country during the biggest health crisis in generations. The results of those valiant efforts are reflected in Progressive Grocer’s 89th Annual Report and The PG 100.
Post-COVID, the industry now has a huge opportunity to transform itself again by leveraging three key themes spotlighted during the pandemic, and in focus at the FMI and NACDS events: Purpose, People and Power.
At FMI Midwinter, that group’s CEO, Leslie G. Sarasin, talked about how food retailers led with purpose during the crisis by responding to fast-changing consumer behaviors and macro conditions with innovation, resiliency, courage and customer care. That sense of purpose can move the industry through its next stage of transformation, Sarasin noted.
In an exploration of “why grocery workers stay or go,” Meijer CEO Rick Keyes told FMI Midwinter attendees that taking better care of people must be a priority. While retailers have leveraged higher wages and expanded benefits as a way to resolve recruitment and retention challenges, too many people are still leaving the food retail industry. Keyes said that upskilling employees to prepare them for the grocery jobs of the future is one way to stay ahead of workforce challenges.
At the NACDS Annual Meeting, Kroger Health President Colleen Lindholz said that the industry has power “when we move in a unified direction at a pace that matters for a cause much greater than ourselves.” Lindholz stressed that health care will play an increasingly big role in grocery, and that the future of retail health is value-based, not volume-based; personalized, not generalized; interprofessional, not siloed; and patient-driven, not prescription-driven.
Of course, senior executives at both events said that they had other challenges keeping them up at night: the impact of geopolitical strife and COVID-19 on the supply chain, mitigating labor shortages with automation, inflation and its effect on basket size, the ROI of micro fulfillment, and the stickiness of curbside pickup. This operating environment no doubt will continue to change fast and become increasingly complex and expensive. After listening to grocery leaders at both events, however, I’m confident that the industry is well equipped to thrive in any environment with a strategy led by Purpose, People and Power. Food retailers are moving with agility to operate with purpose by leveraging people to power growth, gain share, and deliver value for consumers.
The transition from crisis mode to recovery mode is a watershed moment for the grocery industry — a unique opportunity for a different kind of transformation. The changes that are made now will affect the way grocers operate for the next 100 years. And Progressive Grocer will join them on that journey, every step of the way.