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Supermarket Wellness Watch: Jet, Peapod and Whole Foods eye new opportunities

BY David Orgel

The food retail industry is reeling from disruption. Consumer preferences are changing so quickly that companies are having trouble keeping up. Industry consolidation is producing out-of-the-box deals, such as Amazon’s recently announced agreement to acquire Whole Foods.

However, if industry players feel daunted by all the disruption, you wouldn’t know it from the all-star panel of retail executives at the recent Fancy Food Show in New York. The speakers represented companies including Jet/Walmart, Whole Foods and Peapod/Ahold.

The panel addressed a wide range of topics, including the importance of omnichannel operations and how wellness will play across shopping platforms.

Audience members were left with the impression that the glass is half full — that new opportunities trump challenges. Online was seen as a way to deliver on the promise of wellness.

“Customers have strict diets and need specific products,” which isn’t always easy to accomplish with brick-and-mortar stores, said Monica Schechter, the specialty and international food category manager for Jet.com and Walmart.com. “It’s easier for customers to search and filter online. It’s exciting because we’re now able to help them more with personalized service.”

She said the industry has been in e-commerce 1.0 but is now moving toward 2.0. “We’re looking at a situation in which we can understand your preferences and use technology to help you discover new products to match your profile. Millennials want to try new products.”

At Peapod, a unit of the large Northeast retail chain Ahold USA, a move like Amazon-Whole Foods isn’t daunting, said Tony Stallone, VP of merchandising for Peapod.

“I’m not nervous about Amazon-Whole Foods,” he said. “We’ve been in e-commerce for 27 years. We see more changes coming. All this reinforces our strategy of being both a brick-and-mortar and e-commerce retailer. We want to be everywhere where the customer is.”

He said the future might bring more solution-selling approaches to brick-and-mortar stores. “Stores are laid out by aisle, but in the future, it may be by solutions, such as gluten-free,” he said.

He sees health-and-wellness sub-trends coming on strong, including food as medicine, with ancient grains as an example.

Panelists pointed to online shopping as a solution for bringing healthier and higher-quality foods to communities that lack good food stores. Increasingly, consumers across the country are becoming more aware of how food plays into health, panelists said.

There’s a greater emphasis and awareness about plant-based foods, said Cathy Strange, the global executive coordinator of specialty and product development and innovation at Whole Foods.

“We’re seeing customers with needs,” she said. “Some of it is lifestyle and some intolerance. The plant-based foods trend will continue to grow to satisfy those needs. As those products taste better, you’ll see an evolution around that.  There are a lot of cool products.”

What advice do these retailers give to suppliers of new products?

Jet’s Schechter said the key is for suppliers to focus on collaboration.

“We want to work with brands,” she said. “Help us meet you and learn about your products and how we can partner together.”

In walking the aisles of Fancy Food Show, Schechter considered how products might translate to a business like Jet’s.

“I focus on how can we build it online, where you’re not as restricted by space in carrying items.”

The panel, moderated by Supermarket guru Phil Lempert, was a reminder that the future of retail is not a black-and-white topic. Companies need to focus primarily on the customer, rather than the delivery platform. Online and brick and mortar will both have roles to play. Health and wellness has a crucial role, with new opportunities online. And the winning companies will need to understand consumers intimately.


David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker who was the longtime chief editor and content leader of Supermarket News. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries. To read last month’s blog post, click here
 

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CVS Health opens Fort Bragg training facility

BY David Salazar

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS Health has opened a new Talent Connect Center that will serve the Fort Bragg, N.C. military community as part of the newly dedicated Fort Bragg Career Resource Center. The center serves as a skills-focused employment training facility that connects service members leaving active duty with companies who can offer training and employment.

"By 2020 the health care industry will need a projected 5.6 million highly-skilled workers, like our veterans, necessary to compete and grow and there is no reason why we can't 'connect' the two," CVS Health EVP and chief human resources officer Lisa Bisaccia said. "The Talent Connect Center is designed to expertly walk veterans through the expanded opportunities at CVS Health, which extend past retail and into distribution, IT and nursing, providing a gateway into high-demand, good paying fields."

The new Talent Connect Center combines virtual technology with hands-on support throughout the human resources process — offerings resume assistance, simulated interviewing practice and a chance to speak with department leaders to learn about the company’s opportunities. CVS Health will be among 20 other companies in the Career resource centers. Because it is equipped with video conferencing technology to reach people beyond Fort Bragg, the TCC will offer management, retail and logistics training to active duty soldiers wtithin 180 of separation from the military through the Army Career Skills Program.

"When I first made the decision to leave the military, I was all over the place on what to do next," said Leo Trimble, a former Army signal support technician who CVS Health helped transition into the workforce and is now a CVS Health field support technician. "I was drawn to CVS Health because they helped me to identify IT opportunities that allowed me to continue to do what I love. I wouldn't change where I am today for anything."

Since 2015, CVS Health said it has hired roughly 8,000 people with military experience and more than 2,300 military spouses. The Dept. of Defense estimates that through 2019, service members will continue to leave the armed forces at a rate of around 200,000 per year.

"As a new generation of service men and women come home, we owe them every opportunity to live the American Dream that they helped to defend," said CVS Health VP workforce solutions and chief diversity officer David Casey, who also served as a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant during Operation Desert Storm. “The Talent Connect Center is dedicated to helping to make the transition process easier for veterans through in-person and virtual skill-building, training and mentoring, and to create an environment that values diversity, leadership and working collaboratively."

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Fred’s promotes Jenne to CFO

BY David Salazar

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Fred’s Pharmacy has promoted one of its own to lead the company’s finances. The company on Wednesday named Jason Jenne EVP and CFO, effective immediately, succeeding outgoing CFO Rick Hans, who it said was departing to pursue other opportunities.

Jenne, a certified public accountant with more than 25 years’ experience in finance and operations, joined Fred’s in September 2016 as SVP finance from golf shaft manufacturer True Temper Sports, where he was president and CEO. During his 18-year tenure at True Temper Sports, he held such titles as CFO and COO. During his time at Fred’s, he has been an integral part of the company’s healthcare strategy implementation and other efforts.

“Jason’s leadership experience and in-depth knowledge of finance and operations ideally qualify him to be the next Chief Financial Officer of Fred’s Pharmacy,” Fred’s CEO Mike Bloom said. “Jason is an integral member of our leadership team and over the past year he and I have worked closely together as we navigated the proposed Rite Aid transaction, implemented a new healthcare strategy and pursued additional growth opportunities for Fred’s Pharmacy. As we execute our plan, Jason’s strategic insight and financial expertise will be invaluable in our ongoing efforts to improve performance and create shareholder value.”

In his new capacity, Jenne will lead financial and risk management for the company, and will ensure that its finance organization enables Fred’s to execute on its healthcare transformation, He will oversee cashflow, SG&A management and capital allocation strategy.

“I am excited to have the opportunity to lead Fred’s Pharmacy’s financial team at this important stage in the Company’s transformation,” Jenne said. “Fred’s is a company with significant growth potential and a strong team in place to drive shareholder value. I look forward to continuing to work closely with Mike and the rest of the senior leadership to accelerate the execution of the company’s business plan.”

Bloom also thanked Hans for his service.

“I want to thank Rick for his contributions to Fred’s Pharmacy and for his commitment to facilitating a seamless transition,” Bloom said. “We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

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