Steve is passionate about the grocery business. With over 41 years with the company, he has risen through the ranks holding operations and merchandising positions until being appointed to the position of Co-President and Chief Operating Officer. Steve’s leadership has built an operational team that works with conviction, credibility and compassion.
He receives the INC after delivering a presentation about ‘The future of American Supermarkets’ in the frame of the XXXV World Nut and Dried Fruit Congress in San Diego. He firmly believes that this future will be driven by food transparency, convenience, connectivity, emotional connection, and local and sustainable supply.
I think the shopper will have a more multi-type channel experience with shopping. They will use online shopping for home delivery and, at some point, they will also use quick-and-collect, meaning that they can order online and pick up the products by themselves. I think we will see a multi-type channel approach to the way people shop in supermarkets. I think all different channels are important and will have the future.
Will the future of supermarkets be driven by Apps, robots, smartphones and new technologies?
I do. Nearly 70 % of population in the next few years will own a smartphone. And I believe that this is not just to communicate, but also to communicate digitally with business.
This year, we have seen the first supermarket that opens 24 hours a day and works without employees. Is this a trend that we might expect to come?
We will see it because of the rising cost of labor. We will see new innovations to allow the model to work. With certain recent regulations that we have experienced, the cost of labor per hour will drive changes in the way we operate in supermarkets, so it’s very interesting what we have already seen globally. And I believe we will see some of that in the US.
Which are the megatrends dominating the food retail market?
The megatrends that survived the recession and continue today are sustainability, organics, locally grown and, of course, health and wellness. I think they will continue. They survived a very very difficult economic time and continue to grow today. And I believe they will continue to grow into the future.
Although rates are slightly improving year after year, food items are not among the most purchased products online. Why consumers are still reluctant to buy food stuff via internet?
What is driving the reluctance is the experience people haven’t had yet. Once customers experience it, and are successful with it, that will continue to grow. I have communicated with some companies that have a brochure-online-ordering-program with their customers. The surprising thing they have seen is the acceptance of ordering fresh products and how well that is doing for the companies. It is a very human experience: touching, feeling and smelling the products. We are always in need for that but I think once people experience the success that they can have, that will grow.
Are you prepared to interact with the generation of digital natives?
We are working feverishly to catch up because it moves so quickly. We are looking at online ordering, we are looking at quick-and-collect order products that you can get in a store. We are interacting by brand with our customers, communicating via social media and website. So yes, we are engaged and the important thing we have seen is that when you are engaged things can happen very quickly and the growth is very fast. That’s what we have experienced.
These digital natives are willing to live new experiences. Are supermarket stores prepared to provide consumers with a memorable experience of shopping?
We are preparing ourselves for that. We have to create an environment that customers enjoy being in, a very interactive and connective environment. We are looking at how we develop and offer that experience for customers. It is so important to make that connection with customers. You are exposed to more and more people who have experiences with you, so making that connection is vital to our future.
How is Big Data helping the food retail sector to get an accurate knowledge about consumers?
Big Data is essential in understanding what is happening in every transaction, in every basket. We have large quantities of data. Our challenge is to make sure that we use, decipher and have the entire business understanding the data. It is essential to create that experience in order to understand consumers. They are telling us what they like, what they don’t like, their preferences…. All is in the data, and that will help us to create the experience we are looking for by understanding customers.
The so called ‘collaborative economy’ has had a major impact on markets such as transport or tourism. What are you doing to deal with it? Do you expect many changes in the near future?
The way customers approach to food has been impacted by technology. If you have a meal location you can collaboratively act as a chef, a nutritionist and also as a provider of products. They can collaborate on how that meal looks like based on your needs and wills. Not only are supermarkets providing goods, but maybe is the chef who provides culinary insights or the nutritionist who provides how to prepare food for a specific guest. There is a way in which that will become mainstream in the future about people preparing products in events.
What’s the role of supermarkets when it comes to tackle food waste?
Our company, for a long time, has tackled this problem through donation programs, rescue programs of products that are going out to code and offering those products to groups that can use them. It is a supermarket’s responsibility to continue to find ways to tackle food waste issues, to repurpose food or to redistribute food. There are many ways in which it could be addressed. And we are putting efforts on these areas.