Retail, mobile technology seen changing the food business

by Keith Nunes
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PALM DESERT, Calif. — The dramatic shifts taking place in retail and consumer technology will have a dramatic effect on the food and beverage industry, said Phil Lempert, the chief executive officer of Supermarketguru.com and The Lempert Report.

Lempert spoke Jan. 28 at the International Dairy Foods Association’s annual Dairy Forum, which is taking place this week in Palm Desert.

“(Retail) stores are becoming smaller and more personal,” he said. “Supermarkets are struggling right now. They have lost market share during the past 15 years, but people are not buying less food. They are buying it elsewhere.”

He advised the audience of dairy industry executives to consider the role their companies may play in helping retailers engage with consumers in new ways. For example, he said some supermarkets are experimenting with in-store culinary centers that allow consumers to buy the ingredients for a meal, cook it and consume it in the store.

“Look at what Whole Foods has done,” he said. “People are going to dinner in supermarkets. On Friday and Saturday nights at Schnucks you have to make a reservation if you want to eat in the center of their store.”
The rising prevalence of men as the primary shoppers for families is also a trend where food and beverage companies may be able to help retailers connect with consumers.

“More men are working at home and women are graduating with MBAs,” Lempert said. “What are you doing to help these men shop?”

On the subject of technology, Lempert said it is changing the way people are buying, shopping and even storing food. He pointed to the rapid adoption of smartphone technologies as a key driver of the trend.

“Food has become a universal language on the Internet,” he said. “Look at Pinterest; food photos are all over it. Look at Google; recipe searches are in the top tier of their searches. Do you understand this language? Do you participate?”

At the Consumer Electronics Show that was held in early January Lempert said that a company introduced a device that uses a laser that may be pointed at a food and it can tell you all of the ingredients.

“There is no sample involved,” he said. “The system is based on an algorithm.”

Lempert also weighed in on the issue of labeling products made with bioengineered ingredients. “To label or not to label GMOs I know is creeping up,” he said. “We work with the Retail Dieticians Business Alliance and the No. 1 question they are asked about is GMOs.

“These registered dietitians have a real dilemma. They know the science and have to communicate it to consumers who are passionate. We’ve got science and emotion and they are fighting each other.”

He added that most consumers do not understand how new the discipline of nutrition science is.

“We have not done a good job communicating to consumers that as we learn more about nutrition science things might change. Consumers want to know why this product we said was bad is now good. We have not communicated that nutrition is an evolving science.”
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