November 5

All change; it’s time for food retail Innovation!

What do you really know about your customers? You may have loyalty card data and footfall metrics but what do you really know about what drives them to shop at your store, to choose your product over that of a rival or to entrust you with the delivery of essential services?

The question of customer choice is very much in the news at the moment as supermarket after supermarket comment on the way in which changes in shopping patterns are forcing them to review their model. The headlines may be about falling sales or profit revisions but the underlying trend reflects a profound change in the way in which we view and interact with our food choices.

Analysts comment that at heart our changing habits are partly a reaction to the recession and partly a reflection of time-poor lifestyles. When every minute counts, we no longer have the time to peruse our cupboards, plan menus for the forthcoming week or month and launch into a big shop which will take care of our needs for the next week or so. As a result of this, out goes the big weekly shop and in comes quick dashes to pick up the essentials for the next meal. In fact recent surveys revealed that 75% of people don’t know at 4pm what they are going to eat that evening and sales of ‘breakfast on the go’ products have risen by 10% in the last year alone.

If ‘life on the go’ were not enough, shoppers are also managing their food waste in a more efficient manner. The Food Standards Agency’s 2014 ‘Food and You’ study has reported that we are throwing away 21% less food than seven years ago and are being far more careful in our shopping habits. Commenting on the changes in shopping patterns Waitrose MD, Mark Price, said;

“This is a once in 50 to 60 year change. The last big change was the supermarket [in the 1950s]. I think what you are seeing now is as fundamental.”

So where does this leave the retail food industry? Radical change requires a radical response. The chances of attracting shoppers by offering discounts or points in return for substantial one-off spends are doomed to failure if shoppers no longer have the time or inclination to make those large shopping trips. When customer habits change, quite simply businesses have to come up with innovative solutions or face losing out to those who do. Forget the past; it is no longer with us. Businesses have to move on, to become ‘Next Generation Organisations’ which provide experiences and products in an agile way, which responds to customer needs.

And when it comes to the food industry and retail innovation, one of the key planks of Next Generation Organisations is particularly appropriate. 60% of major UK Company Directors admit their leadership teams fail to understand their customers and when customer habits are changing rapidly I suspect that the figure may well be far higher in the food sector. In order to know more about the world and how to use it to create opportunities, shape markets and change the game businesses have to have a renewed focus away from the usual data and insight towards ‘Intelligence’.

And here I don’t mean simply collecting more data. I mean really stepping up to gain an understanding of the real lives, worlds and needs of customers and consumers. Yes the sale of breakfast bars may be up but does that mean that breakfast is being taken on the go or that breakfast bars are being used as food substitutes at other times? Yes food recycling is down but does that mean shoppers are being thriftier or that sell by dates are being ignored? How are people living their lives and what influences their choices? Only by concentrating on becoming more ‘Intelligent’ and by building ‘real’ collaborative relationships with customers can businesses really start to deliver differentiated products and experiences, which will resonate with them. The choice is stark; innovate, become Next Generation Organisations, or face some tough times ahead.

If you want to find out more about driving innovation-led growth perhaps it’s time you got in touch? Feel free to email Cris at or browse the rest of our site for more information on how Cris and his team help some of the world’s smartest companies succeed through innovation.


Adaptability, Change, Customer Centricity, Customer Experience, Innovation, Innovation Culture, Next Generation Organisation

You may also like