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In & Out of the Box: Time to Freshen Up Your Passport

April 1, 2014
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 It’s been a long, hard winter for most of us in North America. Everyone that normally heads to the sun during winter has been yearning more than ever for that warm spot. So passports should be ready.

But think again. Let’s talk about research for products and new ideas. All retailers eye their competitors closely, especially for developments in their store brand offerings. Most of us have come way past Tide and Coke (who needs it anyway?) at the best price in favor of unique products that, because they are in our own store brand livery—by definition—should be unique. Gone are the days of just having “NBE.”

Most of us have “beacons” that beckon us. Benchmarking is the name of the game. Walking across the street to see what’s in store at Whole Foods or Safeway. Jumping on a plane to visit Zabar’s or Fairway. Heading across the bridge to see the new Trader Joe’s or even across the border to see Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens, or what’s going on in Mexico. All these were admirable research methodologies a few years ago, and for some, may still be so. BUT if you really want to be ahead of the competition, you have to know where they are going. It was always said about Wayne Gretzky that he was the greatest because he skated NOT to where the puck was, but where it was GOING to be.

Which brings me to revel in the news that Waitrose is selling its products into South Africa, South Korea and Australia. Latin America’s forward-thinking chains are looking to North America to source unique products. Jamie Oliver’s products are appearing on shelves in Canada and Australia. Store brands are redefining themselves fast. What are we to do about it? Certainly we can’t all wait and wake up to Jamie Oliver here, Waitrose there and wines from the Cape outstripping Two Buck Chuck or Yellowtail.

It’s time to look at sourcing and product development strategies. If we wait for our brokers or existing manufacturers to bring us their latest ideas, we must realize that they are likely going to be on the desks of every one of our key competitors.

Do we have a couple of “food warriors” in our team that can go to New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan or England and return armed with real, unique products that cater to our target markets? Are we, as North Americans, going to PLMA in Europe? If the answer to these questions is “No,” then we are probably losing the battle for the misnds of consumers focused on Trader Joe, Loblaws or HEB.

So, folks, break out the passports. Hire a couple of “foodies” and send them off. The dividends could be enormous. Even if the sun isn’t shining.

Till next time.

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