If the first few months have been any indication, then 2013 is shaping up to be as riveting as any year in recent memory. Ripples of change are diffusing across virtually every pocket of the grocery industry, portending significant shifts across the landscape, particularly within the retail sector.
To be sure, dramatic alterations are underway at some of the most influential accounts on the supermarket retailer roster. Highlights include:
- Harris Teeter on the exploratory sales block, which has triggered ample speculation over its most viable suitor (i.e., Kroger, Ahold or a combination of both?).
- Publix Super Markets' forward march northward, including its 2012 debut in Knoxville, Tenn., and a bold expansion into the Charlotte, N.C., market, with the first store scheduled to open in early 2014.
- The reinvention of Supervalu, and the ensuing performance of its new leaders, existing retailers, and reorganized divisional and support teams.
- A massive restructuring effort underway at Delhaize America, specifically targeting its flagship Food Lion unit, where a major management shakeup coalesced with operational and divisional overhauls, underperforming store closures, and workforce reductions.
- A new leader at the helm of Safeway, whose longtime chief, Steve Burd, is preparing to depart come May (but not before a farewell sit-down with Yours Truly, which will provide the fodder for our April cover story).
Pondering the above companies' near- and far-term futures while putting the finishing touches on this, our seventh Green Issue, I detected an instant-karma connection with the fluidity of the overarching issues that we will faithfully follow on our website in the weeks and months ahead, and many of the key features herein.
Indeed, while the specifics of the ongoing evolutionary cycle will continue to unfold in real time via our first-rate online news and analysis, this issue exemplifies the invaluable role our print product serves, with in-depth intelligence for progressive grocers everywhere. Supplemented by an easy-to-reference Sustainability Handbook to help trading partners compare and discover new opportunities to further expand their eco-progression, this issue is packed with compelling features that take a closer look at some of the most influential themes of the day, including loyalty and pallet programs, supermarket seafood and wine departments, and super-green store design, the last showcased in our signature Store of the Month feature on Brookshire Brothers' recent replacement store in Nacogdoches, Texas (page 20).
Deferring the profile-story spokesman duties to Eric Johnson, director of construction, who serves as the enlightened subject of our cover image, Brookshire Brothers' president and CEO, Jerry Johnson, chimed in separately to affirm how several recent acquisitions the Lufkin, Texas-based grocer has made "mark the beginning of an aggressive growth pattern designed to focus on our customers. We no longer operate in a one-size-fits-all world, so we have to seek solutions to fit the demands of our customers. If you don't connect with the customer, you don't sell much. Our growth pattern is designed to recognize changing consumer demands and meet them head-on."
The vehicles that will fuel Brookshire Brothers' next growth chapter are new hybrid formats that embrace changing consumer behavior by placing a premium on perishable foods and convenience, the results of which will dictate further expansion to other markets. Keeping abreast of customers' needs, however, is no longer sufficient in and of itself, Jerry Johnson notes.
According to Johnson, "The ways that customers relate to [grocers] is evolving continually, and the pace of change is ever accelerating," which in turn requires "sharp focus" on customer needs to deliver superior products and exceptional service. "Building brand equity with products and services that are better than our competition is critical."
It's that kind of spirit and conviction that reaffirms our abiding belief that the retail food industry is a uniquely intriguing sector where a rising tide invariably lifts all boats.
Ripples of change are diffusing across virtually every pocket of the grocery industry, portending significant shifts across the landscape.