What 'innovation' really means

Gina Acosta
Managing Editor
Gina Acosta  profile picture
Kroger Vice President of Our Brands Gil Phipps talked private brand momentum at Shoptalk in Las Vegas.

What does CPG and retail innovation really mean in 2019, and how does it help your customers stay loyal today?

Those are the questions I constantly had in mind as I walked two leading consumer packaged goods (CPG) and retail trade shows last week: Shoptalk in Las Vegas and Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif.

At Shoptalk, retailers didn’t talk about “store experience” as much as they talked about the last mile. Delivery robots, micro fulfillment centers and artificial intelligence conversations were mostly focused on, one day, meeting the needs of the consumer whenever and wherever. Other retailers talked about transparency and sustainability trends, and everyone agreed that the momentum of private label shows no signs of slowing.

At Expo West, attendees saw start-up brands, legacy brands and private brand manufacturers showing off modern, health-focused products. Manufacturers and suppliers are quickly expanding their sustainability and wellness credentials to meet the evolving needs of consumers and customers. Seaweed-infused chocolate and dried broccoli laced with probiotics were popular new products.

But are delivery robots and organic chickpea drinks really attracting new customers while keeping old customers loyal?

I’m not sure that chatbots and collagen powders are all that important to most food retail customers. I think the average consumer just wants to be able to get a quality mac and cheese, maybe even a private brand mac and cheese, fast and efficiently without having to jump through too many hoops or pay a lot of money.

And I’m not sure that the majority of retailers, physical or online, are innovating in the right way, or fast enough when it comes to meeting the needs of this average consumer.

Is focusing on a private brand non-GMO, sugar-free Paleo bacon more important than focusing on a premium private brand mac and cheese? Is offering same-day delivery that is never on time better than offering two-day delivery that is never late?

Retailers and suppliers still have a way to go when it comes to keeping shoppers loyal in 2019. Instead of focusing on far-fetched ideas that may pan out 10 years from now or not pan out at all, why not focus on simple stuff that matters to most consumers, like making sure you have a good working website and the right assortment of products? For example:

  • When a customer goes to a website and finds that a product is not available for same-day delivery, you might not be innovating fast enough.
  • When a customer goes to your store and can’t find a low-sodium private brand ham, you might not be innovating fast enough.
  • When a customer goes online and can’t have your private brand pasta sauce delivered cross-country, you might not be innovating fast enough.
  • When a customer calls a store and can’t get someone on the phone to answer questions about in-stocks, you might not be innovating fast enough.
  • When a customer can’t find a private label bone broth at your store, you are definitely not innovating fast enough.

I think that many manufacturers and retailers are still thinking in terms of five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. The problem is they think they have time. But it takes a shopper seconds to decide to buy a branded or private brand product from a competitor across the street or across the internet. And the pace of this competitive climate is only accelerating.

I think it’s time for retailers and suppliers to stop thinking what’s possible years from now and start solving problems for consumers now.

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