Social media engagement and collaboration were the key topics discussed on day one of the two-day Grocery Innovations Canada show at the Metro Convention Centre in Toronto.
Organized by the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, the morning conference sessions brought up key issues grocers are grappling with during a time when margins are tight and competition is getting fiercer, with Target entering the landscape in 2013.
In the panel discussion of grocery trade media editors and publishers, issues from technology advancements to finding future leaders were discussed.
Canadian Grocer’s consulting editor, George Condon, talked about the need for independents to work collectively to be heard by wholesalers and manufacturers.
Publisher of Canadian Grocer, Jennifer Litterick, brought up the need for independents to find young talent to come into the industry by looking at marketing and promoting the career in school, and social media.
But the independents need not worry, according to the panelists.
Litterick said that leadership on the independent side is being copied, while Condon said some of the best grocers he knows are independents because of their ability to innovate and adapt to new environments.
Everyone agreed that partnerships between manufacturers and independents is critical, with Karen James of Grocery Business saying that the sector needs to collaborate.
When it comes to new technologies, Frank Yeo of Western Grocer said independents should look at mobile marketing and social media to connect to with customers.
Next up, retail analyst Perry Caicco of CIBC World Markets provided a snapshot of the state of the industry for independents.
Caicco pointed to some of the challenges facing independents: huge multinationals invading the country as well a huge burst of food square footage growth.
His good news for independents was that most new food square footage is being built by non-grocers, and that small formats are very difficult for large players to operate. He also pointed to the rising ethnicity of Canada as a huge opportunity.
Caicco said that the majority of competition from square footage growth in food in 2013 will come from Target, Walmart and ethnic grocers. Caicco said that mass merchants will dominant square footage growth, “Walmart has added more square footage than Loblaw, Metro and Empire combined,” he said.
Meanwhile, Caicco said that in the food business, $12 billion of the next $18 billion in sales growth would result from visible minorities.
While mass merchants are formidable competitors, their primary strength lies in price. Caicco said the mass retailers don’t do so well in fresh, service and local offerings, for example.
Some of the key trends that will be transformational for food retailers, said Caicco are: aging consumers, rise in obesity and diabetes, and a decline in meat consumption.
When it comes to online grocery retailing, Caicco said in Canada it’s a non-issue, with Canadians slow to adopt online shopping. Only two per cent of the population purchases online compared to nine per cent in the U.S.
With social media the buzzword among marketers and retailers these days, Caicco said independents could take hold of the channels more easily than the larger chains.
The larger corporations, he said, face more challenges connecting with consumers through social media.
In conclusion, Caicco said that while large merchants build traffic through multiple categories, great grocers focus on food.
Building on the topic of social media, Michael Sansolo, a U.S. retail food industry consultant, talked about how independents need to get on board with social media.
He said in 2013, it’s estimated that half the population who is on social networking sites will be over 35 years of age.
Sansolo said social media is a “huge advantage and opportunity for independents” to create more intimacy with their customers.
You need to be there (on social media, like Facebook), to create a motivation to go into your store or to buy product, said Sansolo.
After the conference sessions, delegates celebrated at a luncheon honouring Life Member inductees: Yuri Stezenko of Quality Market; Glen Wilson of Crossmark; Peter Singer of Thomas, Large and Singer; and Ernie Skinner of The Markets on Yates and Millstream. Anthony Longo of Longo’s received the Spirit of the Independent Award, CFIG’s highest honour.
Stay tuned to Canadian Grocer for updates from Tuesday’s conference.