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12/23/2020

An Optimistic Outlook for Food Retail

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An Optimistic Outlook for Food Retail

It’s the season for making predictions, setting goals and resolving to change behaviors. So, in the spirit of tradition and the context of food and consumables retailing, there are some very interesting dynamics intertwined with COVID-19 that are worth reviewing as we head into the New Year.

For starters, roughly 10 months after the pandemic began, there is well-deserved optimism that despite recent challenges, we could soon have COVID-19 under control. When the pandemic does end, retailers need to have specific goals for how they plan to capitalize on new consumer behaviors. Lastly, there are behaviors that retailers learned during the pandemic that they should resolve to make permanent in 2021. Here’s how this combination comes to life in the new year:

No. 1. As predictions go, it’s easy to call an end to the pandemic in 2021. Yes, there was an upturn in positive cases near the end of the year and somber warnings from health officials about avoiding holiday gatherings, but there have been many positive developments regarding the rapid development of highly effective vaccines, and surveys from Gallup show a growing number of Americans willing to take it.

On top of that, health officials have worked closely with retail pharmacy operators to put in place an infrastructure to administer vaccines once sufficient quantities are available. Protocols developed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices have four groups slated to receive the first vaccine allocations. They include health care personnel, other essential workers, adults with high-risk medical conditions, and those 65 and older, which CDC data shows have accounted for roughly 80% of all deaths. We are likely to see a lot of encouraging news regarding vaccinations and the end of the pandemic in the first quarter.

No. 2. As for setting goals in a post-pandemic world, food retailers have a generational opportunity in front of them. It’s quite simply to hang on to as much of the market share gained in the past 10 months from displaced foodservice demand as was lost in the prior 20 years.

It won’t be easy, though. Cooking fatigue is real, and Americans are going to want to go back to restaurants, be waited on, feel special and not have to do dishes. The foodservice industry will be looking to come back with a vengeance, and in some ways already has. Food retailers need to up their prepared foods offerings and fulfillment options, whether that’s in-store dining, carryout or delivery, to hold onto share-of-stomach gains brought about by the pandemic. 

No. 3. When it comes to resolutions, the word “faster” should be in every one that a retailer makes. It took a pandemic, but retailers discovered just how quickly they were able to take action when the health and safety of employees and customers were on the line. From the installation of hygiene barriers to the rollout of grocery pickup and enhanced store sanitation procedures, just to name a few key initiatives, retailers took bold and decisive action throughout 2020.

Imagine if every day of 2021 were treated with the same urgency that retailers applied to decision-making at the onset of the pandemic. No one punted and put off making hard choices until the next meeting, or until more information was available. Taking longer to make a decision seldom results in a better decision just a slower one, and the loss of valuable time. Don’t fall back into a pre-pandemic decision-making mindset.

The new year will bring plenty of uncertainty, much of it related to COVID-19. However, one thing that’s certain, especially with the widespread availability of effective vaccines soon at hand, is that we’re closer to the end of the pandemic than the beginning.

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