Retailer Panel – Your Questions Answered

With the retail landscape consistently shifting to meet the needs of the present-day consumer, we thought it was important to get in touch with some of Canada’s leading retail chains to ask them the questions that members were asking. OPMA President, Michelle Broom was joined by Jeff Fowler from Sobeys, Frank Spagnuolo from Loblaws and Daniel Baldin from Longo’s to discuss how their respective companies are dealing with questions around packaging, how they manage their relationships with suppliers and what’s new in innovation.

Packaging

When it came to packaging, all three agreed that while important, the quality and cost of the product are top of mind. Consumers are looking for products that meet the mark without breaking the bank. A point echoed by Eli Browne and Ken Lyons in the OPMA’s sustainability speaker session. In addition to quality and cost our panelists noted the following:

  • Consumers are looking for more environmentally friendly options
  • COVID has shifted the priority to safety above packaging and sustainability
  • Consistency on shelf is key as this plays an important role in building consumer confidence in the brand and store

From a corporate perspective, all three chains are looking towards more compostable and recyclable options at the store level. This includes the elimination of single use plastics such as plastic bags and cutlery.

Supplier Relations

Key to a good retailer/supplier relationship is transparency and the ability to adapt. Retailers are looking for a vendor partner who:

  • Is able to deliver on quality, pricing and consistency
  • Invests in innovation and technology
  • Understands the needs of the end consumer
  • Comes prepared

Daniel Baldin from Longo’s suggests that suppliers come prepared with the story behind the product they’re trying to sell. Identifying unique attributes whether it be in the growing process, growing region, packaging, etc. helps the retailer market the product to the end consumer. Research suggests that the next generation of consumers, primarily Gen Z, are making purchases based on more than just quality and price. They want to know that their food is being sourced and grown in a sustainable way. 

Innovation

When it comes to innovation, products and features that allow for more transparency, are key to consumers. They are looking for items that have a small carbon footprint, are safe and that are produced locally. Panelists pointed to the following opportunities for growth in the innovation space:

  • Ways to extend the local growing season where possible
  • Closing the gap with organics – extending the range and producing more locally
  • Innovations that extend shelf life and improve quality
  • Value added opportunities
  • Expansion of vertical farming and greenhouses (ties in with reducing the carbon footprint and extending the local growing season).

Our panelists agreed that the effects of COVID are here to stay and will likely continue to shape the three areas discussed well into the future. While consumers will continue to look for innovation and sustainability when making purchases, a primary concern will be food safety. This is also reflected in the boom that all three retail chains have seen in their e-commerce platforms. Having the ability to safely shop online, will continue to be important for the consumer and as such, a primary focus for the retailer.

To listen to the full conversation, please click here.