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How to Compete in the Food Retail Industry as a Growing Grocer

Shaping a better normal: that was the main message at this year’s FMI Midwinter Executive Conference.  COVID shook up the grocery supply chain and forced everyone to learn to adapt fast. Now, it’s up to grocers to take the lessons learned during a volatile year and turn them into opportunities for growth in 2021.

As an independent grocer, how is it possible? How can you be competitive in the intensified race to adapt to changing customer habits and preferences, especially when bigger organizations have the technical advantage? 

The answer is, it’s not only possible to compete as a growing grocer, it’s already happening. Here are four steps you can take to make it happen too.  

1. Innovate Now

While innovation has become a buzzword that has spawned various definitions, at its core, innovation is a new idea that creates added value when put into action. When we think of innovation, many of us imagine new technology or new products, but to innovate, the most important ingredient of all is people.

So let’s start there. As a growing grocer, what is the biggest challenge you face in your food ordering process? How are you addressing that challenge currently? What would you need to overcome the obstacle? 

For example, many grocers say one of the biggest time wasters is the back and forth that happens when ordering produce from suppliers. The negotiations can be frustrating especially when you have so many other relationships to manage on top of it.  

Have you accepted this current process as the “norm”? Or are you ready to figure out a way to streamline the process and save time? If you chose the latter, you’re already on the path of innovation and growth. But now you need to take action faster.

Adapting quickly has been imperative to retail success for years, but now it’s turbo-charged. 

So how can you keep up? According to McKinsey & Company’s Senior Partner, Sajal Kohli, you need to be bold. 

“When we look at companies that have shown resilience to past downturns, we see that they’ve made bold decisions regarding their organization and operating model, which determine their success. Leading organizations can make moves that will sustain their growth and advantage for years to come, but they must be bold,” said Kohli during his keynote presentation to FMI’s Midwinter Executive Conference.

McKinsey & Company has been addressing the importance of innovating faster since 2018, stating:  “For traditional grocery retailers, a return to profitable growth won’t happen without tough decisions and bold moves. The competitors that are already eating grocers’ lunch (and dinner, too) are moving quickly, and they’re harnessing the power of technology to improve operations and relentlessly pull customers away from traditional grocery stores.” 

2. Harness Technology 

Harnessing technology can give you the competitive edge you need to overcome the obstacle you identified as hindering your growth. If you have been reluctant to implement digital solutions, you are not alone. Not only is the right solution not always easy to find, but it also may not seem affordable. 

But before continuing to dismiss the need for technology, let’s take a look at how much your current process could be costing you.

According to a report, an average U.S. business:

  • Loses nearly $200,000 annually because of antiquated payment practices
  • Spends 55 hours a week on manual, paper-based processes and checks
  • Spends 39 hours per week chasing invoice exceptions, discrepancies, and errors 
  • Spends 23 hours per week addressing inquiries from suppliers

The repetitive tasks and manual processes you have in place are costing you a lot of time and money. But, the good news is, it doesn’t have to. There may be digital solutions that can take care of those administrative burdens that are keeping you from growing. In fact, 60% of workers say they could save six hours or more a week if their repetitive tasks were automated. 

As a growing grocer, comfort with the status quo along with monetary cost may have kept you from harnessing technology. But looking at the time and money you’re wasting on repetitive, manual tasks, your return on investment by implementing technology may far outweigh the initial cost.

Affordable, Proven Solutions

Technology that simplifies the food retail industry’s supply chain process has traditionally targeted major retailers. Now, that has changed. In fact, growing grocers now have an opportunity to access the same technology as big food retailers, for less.

“As independent retailers increasingly compete against mega-retailers like Amazon, it’s clear that there aren’t very many low-investment ways for them to significantly boost their top and bottom lines,” says Rhonda Bassett-Spiers, iTradeNetwork President and CEO. 

iTrade, the leading provider of supply chain management solutions for the food and beverage industry, created its iTradeOrder solution specifically for regional grocers who haven’t had access to balance sheet advantages and growth through digitization. 

Once you start to harness technology, your digital transformation strategy has the opportunity to grow beyond order management. 

“If a retailer’s digital transformation strategy includes maximum visibility into their supply chain as well as partner discovery, fresh-to-go, and mobile pick-up, that vision is possible,” says Rene Cardenas, Vice President of Strategic Planning at iTradeNetwork. “It is possible for growing grocers to offer a seamless omnichannel experience in a cost-effective way."”

3. Create Buy-In

You understand what needs to change, now it’s time to make it happen. But you can’t just snap your fingers, or else you would’ve done it already. You need to first start with a change of mindset. You may be on board, now you have to get your team to join you.

This is best represented by the Kubler-Ross Change Curve. While initially established to represent the 5 stages of grief, the Kubler-Ross model has become relevant to business, specifically when implementing change. The model helps you address that the way things have been working no longer works. It doesn’t mean we’ve done a bad job, it means we need to embrace a better way.

4. Get Connected 

You have buy-in and internal support. Now you need the right external support to help you put your idea into action. 

Find a resource that can help address whatever it is you don’t have the bandwidth to achieve on your own. If it’s automating repetitive tasks, as discussed previously, then implement the technology you need to make that happen.

Not quite ready to take the full digital leap? You can get connected in other ways. For instance, did you know you can access hundreds of suppliers ready to do business with you? Solutions like iTradeMarketplace provide you with free, anonymous access to new trading partners. This could be a great first step when it comes to dipping your toe into what’s possible with technology.

If you are ready to take the first step towards simplifying the food retail industry’s order management process, contact us today.