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Progressive Grocer


February 2021

PROTEIN REPORT Beef powers ahead in 2021 BRANDED FRESH New potential for produce SEASONAL CANDY Hot products and merchandising trends

2021 Outstanding Independent Awards Retailer Deep Dive: Amazon Protein Report


Volume 100, Number 2





February 2021

Volume 100, Number 2




In just four years, branded fresh meat sales have 1 jumped 18% and for over a decade, the Star Ranch ® Angus brand has delivered big results for every size business. Our strategy is simple. First, make sure your meat case is always stocked with consistently juicy, USDA Choice Angus. Then, we get the word out to your customers about the name to count on for everything from Picaña to Pot Roast. Learn more at: 1


Nielsen Fresh Coverage Area 52 weeks ending 10/11/19

/™/© 2020 Tyson Foods, Inc.

Contents 02. 21

Volume 100 Issue 2


Employees at The Co-op Ozark Natural Foods jump for joy, despite the challenges of the pandemic.


22 The 21 Club

This year, Progressive Grocer bestows its 2021 Outstanding Independent Awards on 21 exemplary retailers that rose to the occasion during challenging times, including one forward-looking concept that’s eager to expand.

Departments 6 EDITOR’S NOTE


Amazon Advances Food Agenda and Retail Ranking

Beefing Up Sales

New initiatives, combined with speed and digital capabilities, put the e-commerce giant atop a food industry index.

Two Masks Is the New Mask What retailers need to know about PPE, sanitation and COVID-19 in 2021.



Condiments and Dressings

Supporting LGBTQ+ Employees at Work




April 2021

Sorting Out Natural and Organic

Next Gen of Natural

The popularity of meat in 2020 is projected to continue as consumers return to food staples.


Retail Wages in the Age of Efficiency








Room for E-Commerce Improvement

8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631 Phone: 773-992-4450 Fax: 773-992-4455 GROCERY GROUP PUBLISHER John Schrei 248-613-8672



Robinson Fresh Becomes a Brand


A 115-year-old company takes a different approach.

MANAGING EDITOR Bridget Goldschmidt 347-962-9395



King of the Mountain Cary Hoffman, president of MountainKing Potatoes, dishes on how the company has managed to thrive during an uncertain time.

Backed by pandemic-fueled consumer shopping patterns, inventive selling strategies keep seasonal candy a winning segment.



Sweet Victory



JUNIOR ACCOUNT MANAGER-GROCERY GROUP Natalie Meehan p 773-992-4410 m 619 823-4926 ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE/CLASSIFIED ADVERTISING Terry Kanganis 201-855-7615 • Fax: 201-855-7373 CLASSIFIED PRODUCTION MANAGER Mary Beth Medley 856-809-0050 EVENTS VICE PRESIDENT, EVENTS Michael Cronin EVENTS DIRECTOR Karen Mahoney 952-467-8592 MARKETING BRAND MARKETING MANAGER Rebecca Martin 773-992-4407



AUDIENCE LIST RENTAL MeritDirect Marie Briganti 914-309-3378

Pet Care Innovation

On the Menu

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES/SINGLE-COPY PURCHASES Toll Free: 1-877-687-7321 Fax: 1-888-520-3608

Five startups are ready to disrupt a hot category.

Retail foodservice equipment innovations are keeping pace with growing consumer demand.


The Future of Work


After COVID-19, digital disruption will require more from front-line workers.

Getting Prices Right in 2021

New technology isn’t the only thing food retailers need for better optimization.


Equal Time

The food and consumables industry continues to develop its policies regarding the LGBTQ+ community.

71 ON THE COVER L-R: Eddie's of Roland Park co-owners Michael Schaffer, Nancy Cohen and Andrew Schaffer Photo by Steve Ruark



PROGRESSIVE GROCER (ISSN 0033-0787, USPS 920-600) is published monthly by EnsembleIQ, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631. Single copy price $14, except selected special issues. Foreign single copy price $16, except selected special issues. Subscription: $125 a year; $230 for a two year supscription; Canada/Mexico $150 for a one year supscription; $270 for a two year supscription (Canada Post Publications Mail Agreement No. 40031729. Foreign $170 a one year supscrption; $325 for a two year supscription (call for air mail rates). Digital Subscription: $87 one year supscription; $161 two year supscription. Periodicals postage paid at Chicago, IL 60631 and additional mailing offices. Printed in USA. POSTMASTER: Send all address changes to brand, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Ste. 200. Copyright ©2021 EnsembleIQ All rights reserved, including the rights to reproduce in whole or in part. All letters to the editors of this magazine will be treated as having been submitted for publication. The magazine reserves the right to edit and abridge them. The publication is available in microform from University Microfilms International, 300 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. The contents of this publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the consent of the publisher. The publisher is not responsible for product claims and representations.


Retail Wages in the Age of Efficiency THE NATION IS MOVING CLOSER TO WINNING THE WAR ON COVID-19, BUT A CONFLICT OF ANOTHER T YPE THRE ATENS RE TAILERS. mployee wages are going to be a contentious and defining issue for the food retailing industry in 2021, judging from the way the new year has begun. Efforts to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour are underway and being positioned as protecting working families, following the election of President Joe Biden, a Democrat. Major West Coast cities have unanimously passed ordinances mandating that food retailers pay front-line workers temporary hourly increases of up to $5 an hour. Retailers and trade groups are pushing back and warning of dire consequences. The Kroger Co. went so far as to use the passage of a wage ordinance in Long Beach, Calif., as justification to close two stores that it said were struggling. There have been claims and counterclaims tossed about on the issue of working conditions and wages throughout the pandemic, leaving retailers in the awkward position of disputing increases that they initially supported. Retailers started paying “appreciation bonuses” to hourly workers at the onset of the pandemic, but then lost control over the narrative around the pay bumps that have since become known as “hazard pay” or “hero pay.” As the pandemic dragged on, the optics of discontinuing bonuses weren’t great. This was especially true late in the year, when reported infection and death rates began to climb and proponents of increased pay could argue that retail employees’ efforts were more heroic and that store conditions were more hazardous. The problem is that neither is true. Shopping and working in grocery stores are both quite safe, thanks to numerous actions taken by retailers, combined with the fact that the demographics of typical hourly grocery employees put them in the lowest risk groups to experience COVID-19 health problems. The work performed is certainly essential, but describing it as heroic requires a relaxed definition of the word. Nevertheless, proponents of pay increases are taking full advantage of the public-health situation and advancing their cause at an opportune moment. Many retailers are about to report record sales and profits for their recently ended fiscal years. They can afford to pay more and should pay more. That’s the logic, anyway. The issue for most food retailers is that their pandemic windfall is coming to an end, or will greatly diminish in the months ahead. Grocers have benefited from the expense leverage that produces outsize profit growth when sales increase rapidly. However, sales growth this year is going to be very challenging as retailers lap 6

last year’s results. Meanwhile, they will continue to face increased labor costs associated with the shift to online grocery, and with the manual processes required to fulfill orders. As a result, a race to e-commerce efficiency is underway. The current fulfillment model is widely acknowledged as unsustainable, because the time-consuming work of selecting products has shifted to retail employees. Not surprisingly, retailers are on a quest to develop highly automated picking processes, which is an area of tremendous experimentation that will eventually become widespread. The simple math of retail is that labor costs and a wide range of other expenses associated with store operations have to align with the sales volumes generated by, and the margins earned on, products sold in stores. If one or more variables in the formula are changed by external forces, then food retailers have to adjust those things within their control. Doing so ensures that they can keep America fed, create career opportunities, perform good works in communities and provide a return to shareholders who are often employees.

The simple math of retail is that labor costs and a wide range of other expenses associated with store operations have to align with the sales volumes generated by, and the margins earned on, products sold in stores.

Mike Troy Editorial Director, Grocery Group

1 2 0 2 S ’ T C I I T S A PL ONE G E B




nd e i r f Eco

Plastic Fre e

t can be difficult to keep up with the whole ‘New Year, New Me’ thing, especially THIS year. But it doesn’t have to be. The Cheeky Panda’s plastic-free range is the ultimate switch for a more eco-conscious lifestyle. Every product is certified Vegan, dermatologically tested on sensitive skin by SGS, carbon balanced, B.P.A-free, contains no


chlorine bleach AND only uses FSC-certified bamboo. Phew. Bamboo grows in abundance, it’s also super soft and hypoallergenic. So, it’s never been easier to make the sustainable switch and accomplish your green goals for 2021. The Cheeky Panda products have been incredibly popular in hundreds of major retailers across Europe. The entire plastic-free tissue range is available at UNFI.





Arab American Heritage Month Fresh Florida Tomato Month National Fresh Celery Month National Pecan Month

National Soft Pretzel Month National Soy Foods Month Scottish American Heritage Month



April Fools’ Day




National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. This classic sandwich for kids comes in countless variations.

National Chocolate Mousse Day

National Sourdough Bread Day







National Day of Silence Day. Find out how long your associates can go without speaking.

National Cinnamon Crescent Day. Any time of day, these warm baked treats are worth celebrating.







National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day

National Peach Cobbler Day

National Pecan Day. Ask your customers who’s got the best pecan sandies recipe.














National DeepDish Pizza Day. Offer an online demo on how to make this famous Chicagostyle variant at home.

National Caramel Popcorn Day. The perfect opportunity to encourage indulgent yet healthful snacking.

National Coffee Cake Day. Homemade or storebought, this offering satisfies hosts and visitors alike.

National Empanada Day. Do your shoppers know how to make these Spanish turnovers? If not, provide guidance.

National Chicken Cordon Bleu Day


National Pet Day. Offer a discount on pet care products for doting dog and cat parents.

National Animal Crackers Day. Despite the famous song lyrics, they’re best not added to soup.

National East Meets West Day. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to promote fusion cuisine meal solutions throughout the store.


National Licorice Day

National Garlic Day. It does way more than keep vampires at bay.

National Pretzel Day. Encourage families to try making these twisted treats themselves — hard or soft.

National Make Lunch Count Day

National Lima Bean Respect Day. It’s about time!

National Devil Dog Day. Do shoppers just bite into them or separate the cakes to get at the creme filling? Discuss.

National ChocolateCovered Cashews Day. Direct shoppers to the bulk food section to pick up these and other treats.

National Blueberry Pie Day. Tell those who buy one in the bakery that they can get a second at half price.

National Banana Day. Offer a free one from the produce department for kids under 12.

National Jelly Bean Day. Poll shoppers on their favorite and least liked flavors.

National Shrimp Scampi Day. Offer a heat-andeat version in the prepared food department.

National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day. Dare your store associates to show up in their PJs, with a prize for the most amusing outfit.

National Picnic Day. Provide advice on how to hold the perfect informal outdoor gathering.

National Raisin Day. Whether on their own, included in baked goods or added to custom trail mixes, these sweet dried fruits rule.

National Crawfish Day National Cheeseball Day


National Sense of Smell Day. Make the most of this occasion by generating delicious aromas from the bakery and prepared food departments.






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Research & Analysis

Next Gen of Natural Lifestyle diets range from regimes that exclude or limit certain foods (vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, keto, Whole30) and allergen-friendly diets (gluten-free, dairy-free) to clean eating favoring free-from terms like “antibiotic” or “hormone-free.” These specialty diets are finding a wider audience, according to Datassential’s “Creative Concepts: Specialty Diet Approved”: “One in five say they’d be interested in trying a restaurant that’s billed as following a special diet.” Restaurants allow for product discovery, giving consumers who are either following these diets or curious about them a chance to experiment with new dishes. Also, as consumers hit the reset button in January, grocery stores can bring these new specialty diet trends to consumers’ kitchens. Here are a few lifestyle diet-related terms from each stage of the MAC. Non-GMO MAC stage: Inception – International markets, global independents, and fine dining. Trends start here and exemplify originality in flavor, preparation and presentation. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are living organisms that have been artificially manipulated through genetic engineering that doesn’t occur naturally or through traditional cross-breeding methods. Due to lack of long-term studies about overall safety, some manufacturers choose to opt out of using ingredients that are GMO. In 2018, Whole Foods Market became the first national retailer to ban GMOs in the United States.

Keto MAC stage: Adoption – Global foods aisle at supermarkets, casual independents, fast casual. Adoption-stage trends grow their base via lower price points and simpler prep methods. Still differentiated, these trends often feature premium and/or generally authentic ingredients. Keto involves reducing or even eliminating carbohydrates, and replacing them with good fats and proteins such as olive or MCT oil, avocado, animal proteins, and cheeses. Many keto-friendly products are now available. On <1% of U.S. restaurant menus

Organic MAC stage: Proliferation – Proliferation-stage trends are adjusted for mainstream appeal. Often combined with popular applications (on a burger, pasta, etc.) Certified-organic foods adhere to strict regulations from the USDA: “Organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal-raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives.” Products that are labeled organic can’t be genetically modified in any way. On nearly 23.4% of U.S. restaurant menus

Up 275% over the past year On 1% of U.S. restaurant menus Up 160% over the past four years 83% of consumers know it/ 65% have tried it/ 41% love or like it Menu Example Counter Culture East Side Nachos Local non-GMO corn tortilla chips, house-made queso, seitan chorizo, jalapeños, avocados, local tomatoes and cashew sour cream


68% of consumers know it/ 22% have tried it/ 13% love or like it Menu Example Crave American Kitchen and Sushi Bar Keto Tuna Bowl Ahi tuna blended with diced avocado and cherry tomatoes, served over spring greens

Up 12% over the past four years 92% of consumers know it/ 77% have tried it/ 51% love or like it

Vegetarian MAC stage: Ubiquity – Ubiquity-stage trends have reached maturity and can be found across all sectors of the food industry. Though often diluted by this point, their inception-stage roots are still recognizable. Vegetarianism is a ubiquitous diet in which an individual eliminates meat-based products from his or her diet, including meat, poultry and fish. Plant-based alternatives like Impossible and Beyond Meat have been the branded leaders in the industry, although many consumers are looking past those items to something like the root-tostem approach, in which the entire vegetable or fruit is used, providing a waste-free option. On more than 37.7% of U.S. restaurant menus Up 7% over the past four years

Menu Example Next Level Burger Farmhouse Caesar Salad Organic baby kale, organic tomato, organic tempeh bacon, gluten-free croutons, house-made parmesan oil-free Caesar dressing

89% of consumers know it/ 59% have tried it/ 36% love or like it Menu Example Fireside Pies Baked Goat Cheese Oven-dried tomato, kalamata olive, basil pesto and crostini. Vegetarian


SET A COURSE FOR FLAVORTOWN IN THE DELI/BAKERY KING’S HAWAIIAN® and Chef Guy Fieri Team Up for New Omnichannel Campaign There’s something to be said for the scenic route. But when it comes to the path to purchase at retail, helpful navigation enables shoppers to find their right destination. As summer grilling season approaches, KING’S HAWAIIAN® is teaming up with world-famous Chef Guy Fieri to drive traffic to the deli/bakery department, where consumers can find hot dog, hamburger and slider buns that deliver on their high standards for flavor and quality. “We want shoppers to know there are choices beyond the traditional bread aisle when they are planning their bun purchases, and that they can elevate everyday meals and cookouts with the KING’S HAWAIIAN taste that they already know and love from our traditional rolls,” explains Raouf Moussa, Vice President of Sales and Trade Marketing for KING’S HAWAIIAN. “This engaging summer campaign pulls out all of the stops.”

OVERCOMING ROADBLOCKS People have certain meal planning habits that affect how they shop for food. Many, if not most, make shopping lists without knowing all

their options. More than half (57%) have no pre-shop touchpoint. When entering the store, they take a certain route based on previous trips.* Such habits extend to the purchase of buns for cooking and grilling. • Nearly half (49%) of shoppers pre-plan their purchase of buns, which are rarely an impulse buy* • 87% first look for buns in the bread aisle, while only 12% start in the deli/ bakery* The good news is that those roadblocks aren’t permanent. By recognizing moments that matter to shoppers — making lists, finding more variety in store and discovering better-tasting items — grocers can best meet their customers’ tastes and demands. And taste is always a true differentiator. When it comes to buns, people who try and buy KING’S HAWAIIAN buns prefer them: hamburger bun buyers are 95% likely to purchase KING’S HAWAIIAN again and hot dog bun buyers are 88% likely to purchase KING’S HAWAIIAN again.*

DESTINATION: FLAVORTOWN To overcome any barriers and drive solutions in the deli/bakery category, KING’S HAWAIIAN is unveiling a breakthrough ominchannel experience that speaks to the shopper all along the path to purchase. This summer, a scavenger hunt discovery of “Flavortown” featuring the one-and-only Guy Fieri will enable consumers to locate KING’S HAWAIIAN products in-store via an interactive augmented realitybased experience and enter a new sweepstakes with a grand prize trip to Hawaii. Created with agency partner The Wilson Group, AR platform and creative studio Zappar and Hood Packaging Corporation, the campaign capitalizes on the latest gaming and cooking trends and delivers the “total package” to its retail partners.

LEARN MORE Hit the road to “Flavortown” and learn more about this innovative campaign from KING’S HAWAIIAN: Recently celebrating 70 years in the baking industry, KING’S HAWAIIAN® is a family-run company committed to making irresistible products and sharing the Aloha spirit that people love.

In-Store Experience Innovative POS displays feature a unique QR code that enables consumers to launch an AR experience and enter the “Say Aloha to Flavortown” sweepstakes. Retailers can give shoppers more chances to win based on the size of the display. The bigger the display, the more points shoppers earn. At-Home Experience Pre-trip awareness and planning is boosted with a Hawaiian AR “Flavortown” experience that can be launched at home with games, how-to videos from Chef Guy Fieri, social media sharing and more. From Memorial Day through the Fourth of July, consumers are encouraged to return to their grocery store to scan the Flavortown displays for more points and chances to win. * Shopper Journey Mapping Study and Quantitative / Qualitative Report, KING’S HAWAIIAN, September 2020 / October 2020


Shelf Stoppers

Shelf Stoppers


(52 weeks ending April 2, 2016) Condiments and Dressings

Basket Facts

Total Department Performance Condiments and Dressings

Latest 52 Wks W/E 11/21/20


Latest 52 Wks YA W/E 11/23/19

Latest 52 Wks YA W/E 11/24/18



Top Condiments and Dressings Categories by Dollar Sales Mayonnaise



Hot Sauce/Chili Condiments


How much is the Consumers chose average American frozen broccoli over household alternativesspending for per trip on various a variety of reasons: condiments and dressings?



because it’s quick and easy




because it tastes great


$4.07 9%


on condiments and dressings

Spotlight on Frozen Broccoli



Broccoli as an ingredient is most commonly consumed at dinner, followed by lunch.


Frozen broccoli is most often used in a side dish, followed by as a main entrée. 3%


0 Latest 52 Wks W/E 11/21/20

Latest 52 Wks YA W/E 11/23/19


Latest 52 Wks YA W/E 11/24/18


because it’s healthy and nutritious


because it’s low in calories, fat and sugar

$2.99 on ketchup

29% TYPE CLASS 62% stores, drug stores, mass Source: Nielsen, Total U.S. (All outlets combined) — includes grocery select 35% merchandisers, 61% dollar stores, select warehouse clubs and military commissaries (DeCA) for the 52 weeks ending Nov. 24, 2020

Much like we’ve seen with other home-based fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) products, DINNER condiments and dressings growth LUNCH OTHER experienced SIDE meteoric DISH MAIN ENTRÉE in OTHER 2020 (up 18% in sales). With people eating more meals at home due to COVID-19, consumers are simply using more condiments than usual, but some interesting trends emerge in the demographic details. Households with children consistently purchase more than expected in this category, and display some interesting crossmerchandising behaviors. Ketchup saw great overlap in consumers who also purchased diapering needs, fruit snacks and toaster pastries, suggesting rich opportunities for targeted marketing.”

$4.07 on mayonnaise

—Eric Brown, Manager - Global Content Workstreams, Nielsen

Generational Snapshot Which cohort is spending, on average, the most per trip on mustard?

$1.99 on mustard


Gen Xers


The Greatest Generation





Source: Nielsen Homescan, Total U.S., 52 weeks ending Oct. 24, 2020


Source: Nielsen Homescan, Total U.S., 52 weeks ending Oct. 24, 2020




Gain Facings and Cut Labor with WONDERBAR®Tray Merchandising Ga








Sell More Peg Candy n Increased facings from 70 to 90, a 29% increase*. n Automatically billboards and faces product. n Reduces losses from bag hook tearout. WonderBar® Tray Merchandising

n Cuts over 1 hour/day labor for restocking. n Allows rear restocking and proper date rotation. n Dramatically increases sales in the same space. n Adjusts to accommodate various package widths.

Trion Industries, Inc. 800-444-4665

* Based upon average 8’ run by 5’ high peg candy gondola installations. Your results may vary. ©2020 Trion Industries, Inc.


Global New Products Database

Spirits Market Overview Total U.S. spirit sales fell in 2020 due to the significant loss of onpremise revenues; while consumers stocked up on spirits for at-home consumption, that didn’t offset the decline from on-premise channels.

Key Issues Spirit brands may face declines as economically depressed consumers opt for less-expensive alcoholic drinks or drop out of the market entirely, although some financially secure consumers will likely treat themselves to premium spirit products.

While one in five spirit drinkers say that their alcohol purchases wouldn’t change if the economy worsened, consumers are most likely to stick to their preferred alcohol brands but purchase less alcohol in total when facing economic uncertainty. Some consumers simply don’t want to go through the hassle of making their own cocktails, which indicates opportunities for premium RTD cocktails and cocktail-making appliances.

What Consumers Want, and Why Consumers don’t expect alcoholic beverages to be healthy. Yet betterfor-you alcoholic drinks are trending as consumers choose healthful alternatives to traditional alcoholic drinks; for example, hard seltzers exploded in popularity as a healthful alternative to beer. Consumers are drinking at home but still desire bartender-quality cocktails and the experience of trying new drinks, indicating opportunities for products and services that offer consumers experiences and help them hone their cocktail-crafting skills.


ALL’S WELLNESS By Molly Hembree

Sorting Out Natural and Organic RE TAILERS CAN HELP CUSTOMERS FIGURE OUT WHAT’S BEST FOR THEM. focus on health promotion and disease prevention has emerged as not just a temporary movement over the past year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also as a permanent shift in long-term wellness and nutrition. A number of consumers have heightened interest in improving their diets and choosing foods that prevent or treat chronic conditions, including diabetes, obesity, cancer, kidney disease and high blood pressure. Particular attention is being given to natural and organic foods. Associates at your store, or on the regional or corporate level, can help alleviate customer confusion by answering some key questions to improve the shopping experience as customers navigate natural and organic offerings.

Are Natural and Organic Foods Healthier?

The general consensus is that the healthfulness of natural, organic and conventional products is highly comparable. The various agricultural methods used to produce foods actually have minimal impacts on their respective nutritional profiles. Some studies cite modestly higher amounts of beneficial phenolic compounds in organic produce, and marginally increased omega-3 fatty acids in dairy, but many other studies come up short on determining a clear difference. Customers may be surprised to learn that much of the attention that eating organic has received regarding its impact on nutritional benefit is largely unfounded.

What’s the Bottom Line?

It’s well established that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy (or fortified soy alternatives) and whole grains is protective to our health. This is more explicitly outlined in the What Do “Natural” and “Organic” Mean? December 2020 release of the Dietary The term “natural” doesn’t have a formal definition as it applies to food; Guidelines for Americans 2020-25. instead, there’s a long-standing implication in the usage of the term. “NatuNatural and organic foods should be ral” is meant to mean that nothing synthetic or unnatural has been included framed as a choice to the consumer if they in, or added to, a food that wouldn’t normally be expected to be in that feel strongly about avoiding certain charproduct. Organic, however, indicates a USDA Certified Organic product acteristics of food, such as some synthetic that has been produced under approved methods that include certain substances, or wish to support particular cultural, biological and mechanical practices. Organic production aims to food production practices. Natural, organic promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Certain practices and conventional foods are all produced aren’t allowed in organic practice, such as the use of synthetic fertilizers safely, and a variety of and genetic engineering. Products of this process are Natural and organic foods wholesome choices from known as “genetically modified organisms,” or GMOs. should be framed as a choice any of these agricultural to the consumer if they feel methods can enhance the Are There Certain Foods I Should or strongly about avoiding certain quality of our diets. Shouldn’t buy as Natural or Organic? characteristics of food, or wish Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases to support particular food a list of its top 15 fresh conventional (non-organic) produce production practices. picks, “Clean Fifteen,” which contain the lowest amounts of pesticide residues, alongside a list of 12 conventional fresh fruits and vegetables, “Dirty Dozen,” with the highest amounts of pesticide residues. The EWG encourages consumers to choose fewer foods on the Dirty Dozen list (examples include strawberries, spinach and kale), while being less critical of foods selected for the “Clean Fifteen” list (examples include avocados, sweet corn and pineapple). However, the USDA Pesticide Data Program found in 2018 that more than 99% of products it sampled had residues well below safety standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Produce for Better Health Foundation has questioned EWG’s motives, noting that arousing unnecessary fear about Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian pesticide use is counterproductive to increasing Americans’ intake of fruits and for Kroger Health. vegetables, which is a well-recognized public-health concern.



Supporting LGBTQ+ Employees at Work THE KE Y IS TO MAKE THEM FEEL AT HOME. he Network of Executive Women (NEW) was established in 2001, and over that time, most would say that workplaces have gotten better for LGBTQ+ people. Yet there’s still a major disconnect at many organizations between stated progress and the day-to-day experience of being an LGBTQ+ person at work. In 2018, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) published its “A Workplace Divided” study, which noted that the number of employees who were closeted at work had dropped. Unfortunately, that number had only dropped by 4% — from 50% to 46% — over the 10 years since the organization’s previous study, in 2008. As the HRC observed in its report, “LGBTQ workers lack faith in accountability systems, sometimes with good reason.” The organization found that workers primarily don’t report hearing their co-workers speak negatively about LGBTQ+ people, because they simply don’t think anything will be done to stop it, and fear harming their relationships with colleagues. For LGBTQ+ employees to be their full selves at work, organizations need to prove that they’re worthy of their employees’ trust. That starts at the top.

Zero Tolerance for Intolerance

The HRC reported that one in 10 employees has heard a supervisor making negative comments about LGBTQ+ people. This leads to employees who feel excluded from company culture, 31% of whom say that they feel depressed at work. Knowing that you may have depressed employees who feel denigrated by their supervisors for who they are should be enough to prompt any employer to take swift and decisive action. Allyship can begin only when accountability has been established. LGBTQ+ employees need to hear clearly stated policies from their employer that ban discriminatory language from the workplace, and encourage those who hear it to report it via an unbiased accountability system. Forty-five percent of LGBTQ+ people agreed with the statement that “enforcement of the nondiscrimination policy is dependent on their supervisor’s own feelings towards LGBTQ people,” adding to the pressing need for an impartial resource beyond their direct supervisor. Fifty percent of LGBTQ+ workers said that they believe they’re the only LGBTQ+ person in their workplace. Ensuring that employees who feel isolated are secure in the knowledge that their identities will be respected could not be of more critical importance for their comfort, happiness and retention.

Actions Mean More, but Words Matter Allyship begins with education, and there’s no better way to start than with robust education for employees on unconscious bias and the realities of the


LGBTQ+ community. Fifty-three percent of LGBTQ+ people reported hearing jokes about their community at work, while just 37% of non-LGBTQ+ employees heard them. This gap shows unconscious bias in the minds of many non-LGBTQ+ employees, which, while unintentional, can only change with education. Respecting pronoun use is another way to show your allyship. There are many wonderful resources out there to help explain why this small sign of respect can have outsized impact on the well-being of those around you — one I recently discovered, created by the NYC Department of Social Services, does a wonderful job. Remember that educating yourself should be the order of the day, as well as arranging for professional education for your team. Relying on LGBTQ+ co-workers to educate you adds additional stress to an already stressful situation. Some effective online resources you can lean on instead include the HRC and the University of California San Francisco’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center.

Ensuring that employees who feel isolated are secure in the knowledge that their identities will be respected could not be of more critical importance for their comfort, happiness and retention. Stand by Your Team, and They’ll Stand by You After education, however, comes action. Allies need to be willing to speak up at work when they hear a co-worker, fellow supervisor or even fellow board member denigrating LGBTQ+ people. “It’s just a joke” is never an excuse for making members of the LGBTQ+ community feel that they don’t belong in your workplace. Twenty percent of LGBTQ+ people working in an unwelcoming environment said that they were looking for other jobs, and 17% of LGBTQ+ people reported being exhausted with trying to hide their identities at work. If nothing else, the

cost of replacing employees lost to prejudice — and the strong evidence that diverse workplaces lead to better business outcomes — should motivate businesses to respond. The report cited in this article is from 2018, and there can be no doubt that the COVID-19 epidemic has wrought many changes in our workplaces since that time. But with our co-workers more involved in our lives than ever — seeing our dogs, our homes and our children over Zoom, for instance — everyone deserves to be as open as they would like to be at work.

Sarah Alter is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women (NEW), a nonprofit learning, leadership and gender equality advocacy organization of 13,500 members representing nearly 900 organizations, 300-plus national and regional corporate partners, and 22 regional groups in the United States and Canada. NEW advances gender equality and diversity in the retail, consumer goods, financial services and technology industries. Alter joined NEW in 2017 and has wide-ranging experience in the markets that NEW represents.


Outstanding Independent Awards



This year, Progressive Grocer pays tribute to 21 exemplary retailers that rose to the occasion during challenging times, including one forward-looking concept that’s eager to expand. By Bridget Goldschmidt ndependent grocers are known for their ability to pivot in response to market conditions or customer demand, but 2020 threw them a major curveball in the form of a pandemic that, despite the rollout of vaccines, isn’t over yet. In recognition of the unique challenges presented by the worst public-health crisis in more than a century, Progressive Grocer made the decision to honor those resilient independents that were the most creative and undaunted in overcoming the myriad difficulties presented by COVID-19. Of course, the coronavirus wasn’t the only issue that independents had to deal with this past year. For some, there were massive wildfires, while others faced the floodwaters of disastrous storms. A few powered through planned remodels and construction projects at what might have seemed an inopportune time, while others rolled out inaugural e-commerce platforms, or greatly ramped up existing programs, in response to circumstances. All met the moment by continuing to serve their communities through countless uncertainties, providing safe havens not just for shopping, but also for fellowship and fun. Beyond the walls of their stores, these extraordinary grocers — 22

many of them the mainstays of their small towns — reached out more than ever to help the hungry, the jobless and the hopeless, with inspiring results. In a particularly poignant twist, there were instances where grateful communities repaid years of caring actions by in turn raising funds for, or offering free services to, their beloved local grocers to help keep them going. What PG’s 21 honorees, whose store counts range from one to 41, share in common, along with a steely determination to succeed despite the odds, is a vast capacity for joy. In the midst of calamity, these retailers created gorgeous displays, offered in-store music concerts to uplift shoppers’ spirits, and even arranged for kids to receive a socially distanced visit with Santa. Additionally, in another Outstanding Independent award departure, PG has bestowed its first-ever Visionary designation on Vegan Fine Brands, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based concept that may consist of just one location now, but whose founder/ CEO, Steven Smith, is determined to take to underserved areas across the country. Despite their often small size, independent grocers have never been afraid to dream big, whatever the obstacles, and that quality is still very much in evidence with Vegan Fine Brands and PG’s other Outstanding Independents.

Balls Food Stores Kansas City, Kan. Number of Stores: 26 Operating 26 supermarkets under the Hen House Market, Price Chopper, Sun Fresh and Payless Discount Foods banners in Kansas City and surrounding markets, locally owned and family-operated Balls Food Stores immediately looked for ways to take care of displaced workers when the pandemic shuttered restaurant dining rooms. In March, shortly after a state of emergency was declared in Kansas by Gov. Laura Kelly, Balls’ Sun Fresh Market banner hired furloughed workers from local restaurants. With the support of the entire Balls organization, Sun Fresh Market Store Director

Kathy Scott found jobs for the workers at one store. Further, to foster hope and unity among workers and customers alike, the transferred workers were encouraged to wear the shirts from their usual restaurants. “In my wildest dreams, I could not have foreseen any of this happening,” notes Liza Terry, who usually works at the nearby Blue Moose Restaurant. “To have this opportunity to keep the bills paid and to give my family some hope — it’s been really great.” CEO David Ball — grandson of company founders Sidney and Mollie Ball — took the outreach one step further for another local business, Jack Stack Barbecue, a fourth-generation family-owned barbecue restaurant with five locations in Kansas City. Understanding the

Bi-Rite Market San Francisco Number of Stores: 2 Over the years, the Bi-Rite Family of Businesses has been a community builder, working with others to create a healthier, more equitable San Francisco. When the coronavirus pandemic began, Bi-Rite maintained its focus on protecting the health, safety and long-term vibrancy of its staff and community, even as the company’s B2B catering business evaporated overnight, its Café and Creamery temporarily closed, and it started metering the number of customers at its markets, resulting in a significant decrease in revenue. Throughout the extraordinary year of 2020, Bi-Rite did the following: Provided financial support to local farmers’ markets’ EBT Market Match programs, the San Francisco’s Women’s Building food pantry and 18 Reasons’ Cooking Matters program, to specifically address food insecurity Partnered with SF New Deal x Great Plates Delivered to prepare more than 24,000 meals for seniors housebound due to the pandemic Donated food culls five days a week to nonprofits focused on feeding seniors and unhoused neighbors

plight of a small locally owned business and feeling a kinship with a family similarly steeped in the tradition of serving the community, Ball arranged for Jack Stack Barbecue to be in Balls’ deli sections, advertising the product and running an appeal to support local restaurants in his stores’ weekly circulars. The Ball family and organization’s century-long practice of working to improve the places where they live and

work is best summed up in a portion of a letter written by Ball to community members: “The people of Kansas City, working together with our health care workers and essential employees to do the best for the greater good, is what makes Kansas City what it is — very special. We could not be prouder or more grateful to have built our business and our lives here over the last 100 years.”

Teamed with a local restaurant to donate 1.6 million free meals to frontline and restaurant workers Increased the number of families served by the Mo’MAGIC Healthy Holiday Meals program by 60%, delivering organic turkeys, produce and fresh eggs to 400 families living in SROs and public housing Raised more than $20,000 for such organizations as Old Skool Café, a 1920s-style speakeasy and jazz restaurant offering violence prevention, job training, and employment for formerly incarcerated and at-risk youth Held a staff-led Juneteenth celebration and silent protest Boosted the staff discount to 40% to ensure that all employees had even greater access to food Provided annual wage increases for all nonexempt staff Added further sick pay protection benefits and enabled access to free weekly on-site COVID-19 testing for staffers.

As its communities rebuild and recover in 2021, Bi-Rite’s plans include: Serving more families with its Healthy Holiday Meal program

and Cooking Matters classes, and providing more frequent food boxes to help these families truly become food secure Increasing the minimum wage to $20/hour (more than 20% higher than San Francisco’s minimum wage) Expanding its commitment to being a more equitable, antiracist organization

Bi-Rite aims to accomplish all of this while continuing to offer nourishing, healthy food and maintaining a safe yet joyful place. PROGRESSIVE GROCER Februar y 2021



Outstanding Independent Awards Burns’ Family Neighborhood Market (The Fresh Grocer/ ShopRite)

BriarPatch Food Co-op Grass Valley, Calif. Number of Stores: 1 BriarPatch Food Co-op is committed to helping shoppers feel safe, welcomed and cared for, despite the challenges of COVID-19. Adding to the stress of the pandemic, the co-op’s Sierra Foothills community simultaneously faced unprecedented California wildfires and power outages. During a daunting year, the marketing team made the strategic choice to use resources not only to keep operating, but also to remind shoppers that they were supporting — and could depend upon — their long-standing community hub during a difficult time. The result was BriarPatch’s highest-ever sales year on record. Early on, the store implemented safety protocols beyond the minimum state mask and capacity mandates, such as installing plexiglass register shields, starting curbside service, and offering Early Bird and Night Owl hours for vulnerable shoppers. BriarPatch wanted to go a step further, however, by helping shoppers understand the connection between their support of the store and its positive effect on their neighbors. By March, normal donation requests had slowed to a trickle, despite the fact that many nonprofits were struggling to meet an increased need compounded by


lack of funding and volunteers in lockdown. In response, BriarPatch launched the Helping Our Heroes campaign to recognize those working on the front lines. The co-op regularly delivered small tokens of the community’s gratitude — lunch, flowers, baked goods and gift cards — to these heroes. BriarPatch also donated groceries to people in need, dollars enabling economic recovery for struggling small businesses, and a Thanksgiving meal for local firefighters, sharing these stories on social media and with local media. Subsequently, those who felt powerless and isolated shared how the stories helped them reconnect with one another. To further help local businesses, BriarPatch teamed with an area brewery on Unity in the Community IPA, sold exclusively at the co-op, and both businesses each donated $1 toward a local small-business relief fund, creating another opportunity for shoppers to participate in rebuilding the town through patronage, this time while enjoying a brew. At a time when touting promotions and sales felt inappropriate, BriarPatch opted to show its neighbors the value of its cooperative model and its deep roots in collaboration, keeping it local and sharing, all of which resonated with the community.

Drexel Hill, Pa. Number of Stores: 7 After months of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with violence in the community caused by civil unrest, The Fresh Grocer of Upper Darby was faced with yet another major challenge early last August, when it had to close temporarily in the wake of severe flooding caused by Hurricane Isaias. The severe weather brought more than 4 feet of floodwater inside the supermarket, ruining hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory and destroying millions of dollars in equipment. The Fresh Grocer of Upper Darby first opened in 2016 and provides a state-of-the-art shopping experience with more than 40 varieties of home-style prepared hot entrées made fresh daily and signature madeto-order hoagies and sandwiches, along with such other offerings as an online shopping service with curbside pickup and contactless home delivery options available daily. Bringing their more than 40 years of experience in the supermarket business in the greater Philadelphia area to bear, Patrick J. Burns and the

Burns family, owners and operators of the 53,000-square-foot store, worked with tireless staffers to reopen in record time so that the Upper Darby community wasn’t without access to its major local supermarket for an extended period of time. “Our team has been working day and night to rebuild, repair and replenish,” said Burns during this phase. “If this year has proven anything, it is that we are resilient and can overcome our greatest challenges by working together. Regardless of the obstacle, we remain committed to providing our community with access to fresh and affordable foods in a safe, friendly and topnotch shopping environment. We can’t wait to open up our doors again.” The diligent efforts of Burns and his team enabled The Fresh Grocer of Upper Darby to reopen just a little more than a week after it had been devastated by the floodwaters.

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Outstanding Independent Awards Cedar Market

Teaneck, N.J. Number of Stores: 1 As the first cases of COVID-19 began to emerge in the United States, kosher grocer Cedar Market, located in one of the hardest-hit areas of the country, took action to make sure that its store was safe to shop just weeks ahead of Passover. The market implemented daily deep cleaning and sanitizing of the entire store and all contact surfaces, and rolled out new protocols to protect customers and employees. A 25-person limit was instituted immediately, with a door monitor enforcing mandatory hand sanitizing at the front door and proper face coverings for entry, and supplying latex gloves for use. Further, a system was set up in which customers receive a sticker that is prominently displayed, showing an exit time

(20 minutes from entry), with only one member of a family allowed entry. Social-distancing and sanitizing reminder signage were also put up in prominent spots throughout the store. Cedar Market knew that Passover 2020 would be much busier than in previous years, as travel plans had been canceled and many people who were accustomed to going away would now be observing the holiday

The Co-op Ozark Natural Foods Fayetteville, Ark. Number of Stores: 1 In June 2020, The Co-Op Ozark Natural Foods, which has been in business since 1971 and is a mainstay in the local community, moved to a newly designed and renovated location with the aim of returning


at home. Subsequently, the demand for deliveries exploded. Eighty to ninety percent of customers started submitting delivery orders rather than coming to the store in person, as they were quarantining. Since the store doesn’t offer an e-commerce program, customers submit orders by making a shopping list via email. To assist customers unused to this process, Cedar Market created department guides and took

to social media to showcase available products. Its Instagram stories were saved as highlights showcasing each aisle or department, filled with pictures and videos of products. This way, home shoppers could get a sense of the store and of shopping normally when placing their orders. As a result of this new reality, staffers found themselves feverishly shopping orders to keep up with demand. The buying team went into overdrive, securing product so shelves remained stocked, even with all of the shortages experienced nationwide. Thanks to the dedication of every staff member, the team came out of this period stronger. Furthermore, the good relationships that Cedar Market formed with many vendors helped ease some of the challenges of procuring difficult-to-obtain products.

downtown and re-establishing itself with area residents. Since the move, the co-op has seen a steady 20% total-store sales increase over the previous year. It was also able to bring in more than 10 new local vendors while continuing to support the roughly 50 area producers that it has partnered with for years. The retailer’s Farmhand program has generated $20,608 for local producer projects since it opened at the new location, while the co-op’s outreach initiative has donated more than $20,700 to 74 organizations since the move. Aided by what it calls the “immeasurable” dedication of its staff, The Co-op Ozark Natural Foods has been able to offer smaller in-store services that were much needed and appreciated by the community in the midst of a pandemic: a massive indoor/outdoor patio that allowed families and college students to safely gather, study, eat lunch, grab a beer from one of the local breweries now on tap or get a to-go salad from the only store in town providing pre-packaged salads. Meanwhile, a new department, The Homestead, offers all things plant-related, including locally grown native plant seedlings, farm animal feed like chicken scratch — the only organic option in the area — and, of course, all of the pet needs anyone could anticipate for their furry loved one. The response from the community has been overwhelming, according to the co-op. Looking to the future, the retailer is full of hope. As Emily Ann Timmons, The Co-op Ozark Natural Foods brand manager, notes, “We cannot wait to see what a post-pandemic world has to offer our co-op and what we can, in return, offer to our community.”

Dayton, Ohio Number of Stores: 3 While modestly protesting that its actions in 2020 were “perhaps no more heroic than [those] of our fellow independents,” Dorothy Lane Market nevertheless finds that “ it’s quite impossible to highlight a single accomplishment.” What the retailer did manage to include among its achievements is impressive enough, however. To protect dedicated cashiers working in closest contact to customers, Dorothy Lane’s small maintenance team quickly built and installed plexiglass barriers. Meanwhile, associates at all levels pitched in to help in the face of product shortages; for instance, when yeast and flour grew scarce at times, Dorothy Lane’s bakers individually cupped and merchandised their bulk supplies, and they continued to bake. Additionally, round-the-clock positions were created at each location to sanitize any used cart before allowing it to move into the cart corral. On top of it all, Dorothy Lane’s vendors, with which it has cultivated strong relationships over the years, were there for the retailer when it needed them most, such as a valued local partner who kept on delivering his family’s farm-fresh organic eggs. Further, the grocer has

Photo by Steve Ruark

Dorothy Lane Market

seen its existing online business quadruple overnight, giving rise to dizzying growth and a remodel of its in-store dining area to serve as a curbside pickup hub. Dorothy Lane similarly improvised on the fly this past May for its annual Lobstermania promotion. Instead of canceling the eagerly anticipated event showcasing Maine lobster, the retailer converted the promotion into a drive-thru experience. As for its interactions with often worried shoppers at an uncertain period, the grocer asserts, “There is perhaps nothing more [humbling] than providing that sense of security to our community during what may be one of the most collectively eerie times of our lifetime.” All of these activities have given rise to the retailer’s key operational takeaway from the pandemic. Having adapted successfully to extraordinary times, Dorothy Lane vows that even after “this strange era that we’re living [in] continues to move into its next, hopefully happier chapter, we will continue to evolve.”

Eddie’s of Roland Park Baltimore Number of Stores: 2 While 2020 has required near-constant innovation and operational adaptations throughout the grocery industry, Eddie’s of Roland Park led by example in its beloved hometown of Baltimore. Eddie’s modified internal procedures, training additional staff and establishing dedicated phone lines to accommodate a dramatic increase in demand for Eddie’s Personal Shopping service — fulfilling more than six years’ worth of online orders during just the first six weeks of the pandemic alone. Overnight, the retailer’s decades-long tradition of personalized shopping assistance morphed from a customer convenience to a neighborhood necessity, generating a 500% year-overyear sales lift, amassing more than 100 positive customer testimonials and leading to an unprompted community-led fundraiser that collected $11,000 in gratuities to distribute among store staffers. Meanwhile, to quench homebound customers’ thirst for escapism, Eddie’s developed a summer-long Staycation Supper Club series of family-style dinners inspired by popular travel destinations. The pay-as-you-go program offered a biweekly menu from June through Labor Day, and was accompanied by a Spotify soundtrack consisting entirely of Baltimore-area

musicians and bands, curated by local musician and customer William Cashion, of the alternative rock band Future Islands. The retailer has also supported the Maryland Food Bank with more than $12,000 in contributions since the start of the pandemic, including customer donations made through an Eddie’s-sponsored virtual food drive, as well as based on sales from its Holiday-in-a-Box menu, a series of family-style holiday dinner options created to meet growing customer demand while ensuring safe and efficient store operations. Further, in recognition of Baltimore’s creative community, whose livelihood has been imperilled by the pandemic, Eddie’s collaborated with, employed and promoted various local professional artists in such ventures as sidewalk serenades from jazz musicians Eddie Hrybyk and Clarence Ward III; an instore performance of “Christmas Vibes,” a CD (sold at Eddie’s) by vibraphonist Warren Wolf, streamed via Facebook and featured on local television for Small Business Saturday; a virtual cocktail class hosted by Nikki G. Davidson, of Cocktail Crafty; and a marketing partnership with papercut artist Annie Howe, whose work inspired Eddie’s holiday advertising campaign, along with an eggnog cheesecake featuring a cinnamon and nutmeg snowflake based on Howe’s design. In sum, Eddie’s of Roland Park worked hard throughout 2020 to retain its tradition of personalized, community-minded service, and succeeded brilliantly.




Outstanding Independent Awards Greer’s

Mobile, Ala. Number of Stores: 28 When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and with it, supply-chain issues facing the grocery industry, Greer’s wanted to be more nimble in its advertising so as to give customers a more accurate description of what might be in stock. The retailer decided to create a digital version of its fresh-focused circular, titled “Fresh Picks at a Great Price.” To that end, the Greer’s team adjusted some of its normal timelines and structures to provide information more quickly and closer to the sale date, without the need to be several weeks ahead for the print ad. The retailer collaborated with Associated Wholesale Grocers Advertising and Marketing to complete the graphics for the digital versions of these ads, and digital assets. The switch to digital has proved to be a huge success: So far, 26 of Greer’s 28 stores are ahead of pre-COVID customer counts. Additionally, all 28 stores are ahead of sales goals from the previous year – making 2020 one of the most effective years to date for the longstanding family-run store group.

Kowalski’s Markets Woodbury, Minn. Number of Stores: 11 Twin Cities area mainstay Kowalski’s Markets, which bills itself as a “one-stop shop offering specialty and conventional products in a warm, accessibly elegant environment,” helped its customers shop safely, maintain social distance and stay home during 2020’s pandemic by partnering with DoorDash and Grubhub to add and increase offerings for delivery and pickup of ready-made meals, bakery and produce items, and more; increasing program capacity and product availability for curbside pickup and delivery of groceries, and selectively eliminating service fees; and upping capacity and availability of online preorder and prepay programs. Beyond its pandemic response, Kowalski’s operates industry-leading trash-to-energy and recycling programs, and enables its food waste to be used by local farmers. The retailer’s plastic-recycling program turns bags into decking, while its reusable-bag program supports Great River Greening in conserving and restoring local land and water resources. Other charitable endeavors include Kowalski’s4Kids, which benefits at-risk youth, and its Groceries for Good Causes (GFGC) has donated $2 million-plus to schools, churches and food shelves immediately surrounding each of its stores. GFGC allows customers to nominate beneficiary organizations and have a say in how funds are dispersed. The first grocery retailer to partner with Second Harvest Heartland’s food shelf network, Kowalski’s has donated more than 1 million meals to Minnesota’s food insecure. The retailer also employs numerous


clients of Merrick, a nonprofit organization offering enrichment activities and employment support to disabled local adults. As part of its business model, Kowalski’s devotes substantial resources to train stakeholders to organize, educate and set policy in accordance with democratic principles and standards. This proprietary program teaches employees that they have the capacity to know what’s good, and the responsibility to grow that knowledge and act accordingly to create sustainable solutions that serve the common good among diverse self-interests. The retailer additionally helps the local suppliers that it carries learn about the the retail industry, labeling, packaging, ingredient sourcing, and more to help them compete with bigger brands on the national level. Also as part of its food offering, Kowalski’s invests substantially in specialty/exclusive programs and recipes, such as build-your-own concepts for burrito, pho and ramen noodle bowls, and custom-made hibachi and pasta bowls featuring exclusive and private label products.


Salt Lake City Number of Stores: 18 Among the outstanding initiatives Macey’s carried out in 2020:

Little House Green Grocery Richmond, Va. Number of Stores: 1 Erin Wright, owner of Little House Green Grocery, aptly describes the spring of 2020 as “such a blur — all of a sudden our shelves were cleared out, the food staples that we counted on were no longer able to be sourced and people were getting nervous. Would we be able to get flour, rice and sugar again? How were we going to keep our staff and our customers safe? All we knew was that our customers were counting on us to provide a safe and reliable place to get their groceries, and we were going to work as hard as we could to provide for them.” Little House was able to find creative solutions to these new problems, one by one. The retailer’s small team knew it would have been impossible to put its

inventory online, since it couldn’t count on the stability of a supply chain. Therefore, according to Wright, “We simply committed to creating an atmosphere that was as safe as possible, with clear signage, requiring masks to enter, and a strict sanitizing schedule for high-touch areas.” As demand for healthy food soared, Little House was able to increase its purchases from local farms. The retailer’s Veggie Box, a weekly produce subscription, grew at unprecedented levels — in fact, Little House had to stop accepting new subscriptions because it ran out of room in its refrigerator to store them. After shoring up its business, Little House looked to aid its neighbors. “As the season wore on and we could finally lift our heads up, we saw the needs popping up in our community,” notes Wright. When it found out that one of its nonprofit farm partners, Frank Community Farm, was struggling because it couldn’t teach classes or rely on most of its former income streams due to the pandemic, Little House donated 100% of the funds raised through a tote bag sale to aid the enterprise. Additionally, the retailer asked farmers who were delivering to it if they had extra produce to add to its weekly donation of edible shrink to two organizations, and happily joined with one of its vendors, a local jam company, to help raise awareness and money for a local trans youth fundraiser.

The Community Hero Awards: This program was created to help recognize those individuals in the community who were going above and beyond to help others in the early months of the pandemic. Customers could nominate their community hero to receive a $100 Macey’s gift card. As the stories came in, they were printed and shared in the retailer’s weekly ad so that others could read about the good that was happening around them at a time that goodness was hard to see. Food drives: From May through December, Macey’s held several food drives in its stores. The food was shared with local community pantries, the Utah Food Bank and programs set up to help provide food for students living with food insecurity in the state, where one in every five children doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. The haul from the November food drive took six semi-trailers to deliver everything to the Utah Food Bank. The retailer has already planned two food drives for the first quarter of 2021. Visits with Santa Claus: This past holiday season, Kris Kringle greeted children at the retailer through scheduled pickup appointments for Macey’s Anywhere online orders. Customers could schedule their Santa pickup time with no minimum fee, so purchasing a box of mac and cheese or a bag of M&M’s would enable a visit with St. Nick. Selfie photos of Santa and the kids were taken from outside the cars, with everyone masked for safety, offering a way to preserve the memory of an unconventional — and hopefully unique — Christmas.




Outstanding Independent Awards Menomonie Market Food Co-op Menomonie, Wis. Number of Stores: 1 A community-owned grocery store founded as a food-buying club in 1973 by a small group of local residents and today boasting 3,000 owners in the Chippewa Valley, Menomonie Market Food Co-op maintained its commitment to sourcing from local producers and to helping its community amid the COVID-19 crisis. The co-op found ways to protect the rural area it serves, among them keeping employees and customers safe by installing plexiglass shields at checkstands, promoting social distancing, implementing a store sanitizing program and mandating masks. Its biggest innova-


tion, however, was launching an e-commerce platform to offer customers curbside pickup. Menomonie Market’s website allows customers to shop for local products, helping keep sales of those items at pre-COVID levels so that the retailer could maintain its purchases from, and investment in, area farms at a time when local producers were losing revenue from the closure of other businesses. Although the e-commerce launch was

originally planned for 2023, a team of five staff members managed to get it up and running in just a few months. Eager to add money to the local economy, the co-op secured a Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grant for processing equipment to increase their purchases of local food. Menomonie bought unsold produce from farmers’ markets and seconds from local farms, which were then turned into house-made foods by its

deli. The program enables farmers to earn money for products they wouldn’t otherwise be able to sell, and helps create jobs at the co-op. Additionally, the retailer’s annual Fund Our Foodshed grant program awarded $4,500 to fund projects at three small farms in the area. Further, when Just Local Food Cooperative, in Eau Claire, Wis., lost its entire administrative staff just before the pandemic, Menomonie Market staff stepped up to help by providing interim general management and administrative services. The two co-ops are currently looking at ways to continue their collaboration. All of these activities added up to Menomonie Market’s busiest and most productive year ever — achieved while helping their tiny town to survive and thrive despite a global emergency.

Nature’s Food Patch

Clearwater, Fla. Number of Stores: 2 Since the COVID-19 crisis began, family-owned local community grocery store Nature’s Food Patch (NFP) has stepped up to the plate to ease the pains of the pandemic for consumers. Under its initiative to facilitate grocery shopping for its customers while keeping everyone safe, NFP has implemented a number of new concepts, innovations and operations with respect to its online technology. Since March 2020, the retailer has spent countless hours establishing and honing an online ordering platform for all departments, including its café and deli. These innovations involve Instacart delivery, Patch Curbside Pickup and a café ordering app. While considering the needs of its customers and staffers, NFP devised a solution for its “Patch Family.” As an accommodation for those who weren’t shopping in-store, NFP teamed with Instacart to offer grocery pickup and delivery, thereby establishing a safer means of providing essential services to the community. Shortly thereafter, the retailer introduced its own free online ordering platform for convenient curbside pickup, enabling consumers to continue to receive senior and wellness discounts, save on in-store sales, and earn rewards toward their Patch Perks. This service permitted NFP to continue providing enthusiastic and courteous service to its family in a new medium. At a critical time, NFP succeeded in creating a more prudent and

accessible approach to shopping for high-quality natural products, organic produce and scratch-made deli items, among other offerings, with safety always top of mind.


Over 80 Base Sizes PROGRESSIVE GROCER Februar y 2021



Outstanding Independent Awards Oliver’s Market

Northgate Gonzalez Market Anaheim, Calif. Number of Stores: 41 Family-owned for the past 40 years, Northgate González Market (NGM) this past year committed more than $650,000 to support and assist its most vulnerable community members during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was just a continuation of the Southern California retailer’s partnerships to aid those who live and work in the areas it serves. NGM’s actions during this time included donating more than 55,000 bags of tortillas supporting food distributions, more than 5,000 meals for first responders and hospitals, and thousands of meals through Meals on Wheels at store level for seniors; assisting food distributions by lending its transportation team for deliveries, associates to support food drives, and refrigerated trucks to store perishable foods, as well as forklifts and warehouse storage; the creation of several


food voucher programs for families in need of assistance; supporting organizations by shopping and bagging groceries for families affected by COVID-19; aiding organizations with food distributions by providing in-kind donations, bulk sales at cost for the first time in its history, and matching and donating gift cards; the early-April 2020 launch of a bilingual multimedia platform, Stay-at-Home Solutions, aimed at keeping families safe and healthy at home by offering fun recipes, tips, activities and more; the creation of free bilingual PSA messages for in-store radio spots specific to its community regarding COVID-19; and conducting free COVID-19 testing at three of its stores. Further, the supermarket operator worked in concert and maintained frequent communications with public-health authorities, as well as adhering to sanitation and cleaning protocols that exceed recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Along with providing all associates with masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment, and instituting quarantining with pay for employees age 65 and older to protect their health, NGM became one of the first grocers in the United States to designate early shopping hours exclusively for high-risk senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Santa Rosa, Calif. Number of Stores: 4 Oliver’s Market, a 32-year-old grocer in California’s Sonoma County, adapted nimbly not only to keep employees and customers safe amid the pandemic, but also during two wildfires and planned local utility outages in the area. The retailer’s leadership team installed plexiglass shields at checkstands, instituted daily temperature and wellness checks, and established aggressive practices to remove staffers who may have been exposed, offering supplemental paid sick leave in addition to paid time off. Staffers receive notification of any case in their facility, and of the sanitation plans and actions taken. Oliver’s also listed all cleaning protocols, precautions and maximum store capacity; posted store signage containing safety messages; installed socially distanced line markers; played recorded pages to remind customers of proper protocols; sanitized all baskets/carts; and had door greeters monitor customer counts during key shopping hours while checking for masks. To make shopping safer for seniors, the retailer extended its Wednesday Senior Discount event to three days per week and added store hours for elderly and immune-compromised shoppers. Meanwhile, Oliver’s converted its self-service delis to full-service hot bars or pre-packed food, launched a full-service hot soup bar behind the counters, and added Square for online ordering. Crucially, Oliver’s leadership team opted not to lay off staff when foodservice sales plummeted, instead extending hazard pay to associates. In fact, the business is one of the few grocers who has paid hazard pay throughout the entire pandemic. Faced with product shortages, management gave staff autonomy to source replacement items for out-of-stocks, while buyers leveraged relationships with multiple vendors to improve inventory gaps. Oliver’s relied on its local vendor relations to keep products in stock, particularly meat and produce. In its fourth year as an employee-owned company, the retailer transitioned its Employee Appreciation month from in-person activities to an independent activity packet completed for raffle tickets, a Zoom raffle prize event, online video employee education, and meal vouchers supporting local restaurants. Finally, as the festive season loomed, Oliver’s Q4 advertising offered full-month discounts, encouraging people to shop early and avoid holiday congestion. Most spectacularly, the Windsor store’s closed Tavern Off the Green was reimagined as a holiday shopping wonderland.

Pomegranate Market Sioux Falls, S.D. Number of Stores: 1 Local grocer Pomegranate Market made the strategic decision to view the challenges of 2020 as “even greater opportunities to better serve our community and expand our brand.” The first such opportunity was a total brand refresh after 10 years in business. A major part of the overhaul was the creation of vinyl graphics for the retailer’s front windows to communicate to existing and potential customers what Pomegranate is as a store and what it provides. The next step was to redesign the store image with new banners, signage, and such private label items as snacks, water, vitamins and local wines. Along with these changes, Pomegranate began to create its own monthly ad amid the shortages of the pandemic. Constantly confronted with out-of-stocks from its distributors, the retailer opted to offer an online-only ad. This move gave Pomegranate the ability to home in on the products and offerings that make its store unique, while giving customers a more personal experience. Only as its delivery schedule and product

stock normalized was the retailer finally able to roll out in-store ads. As the pandemic wore on, Pomegranate identified the need to expand its services even further. The retailer began offering free curbside pickup to any customer looking to limit contact, as well as creating its own online shopping experience via Mercato — a service the store’s customers have been making full use of. Finally, a major highlight at the close of the year was the donation of more than 1,000 pounds of food to Feeding South Dakota, a local hunger relief organization. Throughout November and December, Pomegranate teamed up with customers to assemble and donate natural food bags, each full of such essentials as organic cereal, pasta, pasta sauce, mac and cheese, soup, and crackers. This past holiday season, Pomegranate’s donation surpassed the original goal that it set of beating its 2019 donation of 680 pounds of food, reaching 1,004 pounds. Buoyed by its accomplishments in 2020 and the rock-solid support of customers, vendors and local residents, Pomegranate promises even more improvements in store, as regards both its business and its community outreach efforts.




Outstanding Independent Awards Thompson’s County Market Oconto, Wis. Number of Stores: 1 When COVID-19 struck back in March 2020, third-generation grocer Thompson’s County Market sprang into action. The local school system hadn’t developed a lunch program for students quarantined at home, so Thompson’s stepped up to the plate, offering all school-age children free lunch, no questions asked, and the retailer continues to do so, ensuring that no one in its community goes hungry. Thompson’s also worked to make sure that its elderly and high-risk customers have access to home deliveries when they can’t make it into the store. Since the retailer has no formal delivery program, its managers

Trig’s Wausau, Wis. Number of Stores: 7 While for 50 years Trig’s associates have demonstrated the retailer’s core value, “Make A Difference in Our Communities,” the coronavirus pandemic showed them the business’ deep impact on the community, and the depth of appreciation of its customers. One key way that Trig’s, operated by T.A. Solberg Inc., embodied its core value in 2020 was by supporting those facing food insecurity and donating to local organizations. This past year, those needs only increased. With community members choosing to shop at Trig’s over larger chain retailers, due to customers’ reliance on the neighborhood mainstay for its fresh, quality foods; superior service; and integrity during an uncertain time, the grocer experienced significant sales lifts from in-store


take calls from these customers and deliver the groceries personally. Simultaneously, Thompson’s used this time to completely change out all of its registers and front end fixtures, as keeping up to date and providing the best shopping experience have always been priorities for the retailer. Part of living in a small town is the unique connection that a grocer can develop with its customer base. In Thompson’s case, the retailer not only takes personal product requests from the customers its staff knows so well, it also frequently

donates products and cash gifts to local charities, and its attached gas station gives a percentage of profit back to the local Booster Club, a school partner organization that helps students purchase sports equipment, among

other enrichment programs. This dedication to helping others comes straight from the top: owners Mike and Wendy Thompson, who truly value their shoppers and their community, and take such great pride in their store.

and online visits. This led to increased staffing needs, so Trig’s actively hired people who had lost their jobs due to business closings, providing temporary or permanent work for those in need of a new source of income. Also, recognizing the financial hardships that local restaurants were enduring, the retailer reached out to have daily meals catered for its staff, essential workers who were now working

harder, longer hours than ever. This move not only kept the restaurants open, it also helped to boost energy and morale within Trig’s own team. Then, as it was facing the exponential growth in product demand, work hours, community fear and ever-changing policies, Trig’s unexpectedly found itself on the receiving end of support from its community as other businesses and

individuals came forward to make a difference of their own. Without hesitation, community members offered their expertise and gifts to enable the retailer to make its stores safe and comply with new mandates. For instance, local businesses sanitized shopping carts and fabricated and installed plexiglass shields at no cost, residents and businesses alike proposed to sew masks for associates, and customers showed renewed gratitude to Trig’s front-line workers by displaying yard signs that paid tribute to their efforts and thanking the team for coming into work so that they had a place to shop. As Director of Marketing Kindl Furtak notes, “We’re proud of the work our associates do in our communities, and a very bright spot in this challenging year was how we were all able to come together to support each other.”

Vegan Fine Brands

Turnip Truck Nashville, Tenn. Number of Stores: 3 Celebrating its 20th year in business, Turnip Truck – a locally owned natural and organic grocer in Nashville, Tenn., began 2020 preparing to open its third location in the heart of Music City. Those plans were jeopardized when a deadly wind storm ripped through the area, demolishing much of the equipment for the store the same month that the COVID-19 pandemic began. Undeterred, founder/owner John Dyke and his team sourced available equipment and built the West Nashville store, ensuring a local food source for a new part of town. The West Nashville store features environmentally responsible design, including solar panels and the reuse of an existing structure on a busy road. In common with Turnip Truck’s other locations in East Nashville and The Gulch, the new location is near established neighborhoods, increasing residents’ access to healthy fresh food. Not only was Turnip Truck able to weather the storm, its three stores thrived in difficult conditions by protecting employees and shoppers and giving back to the communi-

ty. From installing sanitizing stations and sneeze guards to being an early adopter of strict cleaning protocols, the retailer worked diligently to combat disease spread. Its good stewardship led to prominent coverage by numerous local news outlets, including TV, the front page of The Tennessean, and a multi-issue series in the local business press. In the area of community outreach, Turnip Truck supported Nashvillians facing homelessness, joblessness and food scarcity because of storms and the pandemic by donating food to worthy causes, including Martha O’Bryan Center’s Second Harvest Food Bank in East Nashville and The Nashville Food Project. Further, to help heal Nashville’s storm-ravaged ecosystem, the retailer raised funds for Nashville Tree Conservation Corps, which replanted mature trees in town. Meanwhile, on a lighter note, in a city increasingly known for its mural art, Turnip Truck brought beauty to its newest store by commissioning an original work by a local artist. In collaboration with Fairtrade America, which sponsored the project, the retailer designed and installed a mural promoting gender equity and Fair Trade products.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Number of Stores: 1 Progressive Grocer’s first-ever Outstanding Independent Visionary designation goes to Vegan Fine Brands, a single-store Blackowned and -operated business founded in 2016. The brainchild of founder and CEO Steven Smith, the retailer not only survived the 2020 pandemic, but also has just revealed an equity crowdfunding raise that will help the company expand and franchise to bring its one-of-a-kind retail experience to millions across the country. Located in the Riverwalk section of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Vegan Fine Brands encompasses Vegan Fine Foods, a 5,000-square-foot 100% vegan market; Vegan Fine Café, featuring plant-based sandwiches, bowls, smoothies and baked goods; and Vegan Fine Body, offering high-quality plant-based face and body care products. The enterprise is far more than a retail option for vegans, however. Smith, a former engineer for Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo, estimates that more than 75% of his customers in South Florida don’t identify as vegan or plant-based eaters. That statistic is one of the reasons that wants to bring the Vegan Fine Brands model to cities across the country. “I spent years living in food deserts with little to no accessibility to nutrient-dense foods, and I see how damaging that can be for underserved communities,“ notes Smith. “I’m competitive and driven, and my extensive business background has given me the tools and connections to see this through. My commitment to increasing access to quality plant-based products for everyone deepens my conviction.” While 2020 was a challenging year for most retailers, Vegan Fine Brands was able to thrive by forming a strong bond with, and understanding of, its loyal customers, who see this unique retail experience as a mainstay in their lives. A 100% vegan market in every city, bringing healthy options to food deserts across the country? Smith is dedicated to turning his ambitious vision into reality.





New initiatives, combined with speed and digital capabilities, put the e-commerce giant atop a food industry index. By Mike Troy


mazon’s aggressive moves in food retailing have come fast and with increasing frequency of late. The first Amazon Fresh store opened in Southern California last August, other units were quickly added in that market, and more recently, Chicago saw its first Amazon Fresh store. There are now nine locations. The first Amazon Go cashierless store opened to the public roughly two years ago, and the concept has since quietly expanded to 26 locations in Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Chicago. The first Amazon Go Grocery store opened a little over a year ago in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle, and was followed by a second location in nearby Redmond, Wash., in September 2020. In November, Amazon began a pilot program called Key In-Garage Grocery Delivery that lets Prime members in select markets in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle have orders placed with Whole Foods Market or Amazon Fresh delivered inside the customers’ garages. Drivers use a one-time code to gain access to a Prime member’s garage. The service is an extension of the Key program, which was also recently expanded to 4,000 cities from an initial 50 markets, a move that offers an indication of what could be next for the in-garage grocery service, since Amazon Fresh is already available in 2,000 cities and towns. Those are some of the high-profile food moves that Amazon

Amazon Fresh stores are expanding quickly following the banner’s debut last August in Southern California and its recent entry in Chicago.

Meal kits. New shoes. Home décor. Only one container is flexible enough, clean enough, cushioned enough and strong enough to ship all the products today’s consumers shop for online. They click it, corrugated ships it. Cushioned. Clean. Extraordinary. Learn more about the renewability, recyclability and responsibility of boxes at



Overall RPI Ranking: Shoppers’ perceptions of speed, safety and digital prowess propelled Amazon to the top of dunnhumby’s annual Retailer Preference Index.

COVID Momentum: A new metric was added to the 2021 edition of dunnhumby’s annual Retailer Preference Index to account for the unique shopper dynamics brought about by the pandemic.

Overall RPI Ranking

















































Price: Amazon

























Digital: As a


be relatively few Amazon branded retail locations, but the ability to quickly get in and out of those stores became synonymous with safety and was a key driver of the retailer’s performance.

COVID Momentum


digital-first retailer, Amazon was well positioned to gain as digital grocery adoption surged.

Speed: There may

has room to improve shoppers’ perceptions of its prices, but it did manage to find itself among the top quartile of the 56 companies ranked in dunnhumby’s annual Retailer Preference Index.

Source: 2021 dunnhumby Retailer Preference Index (RPI). Companies shown are those in the top quartile of 56 measured retailers.

has made outside of its Whole Foods brand, which it acquired four years ago. The volume of recent activity, combined with pandemic-driven shifts in shopper behavior, helped Amazon gain traction with American food shoppers faster than it might otherwise have done in a non-pandemic year. As a result, Amazon secured the top spot in dunnhumby’s 2021 Retailer Preference Index (RPI), a ranking now in its fourth year, and is poised for further success, given what dunnhumby refers to as the company’s “strong value core.” It’s the first time that Amazon has been ranked first overall, thanks to an approach that resonated strongly with shoppers on many fronts. “COVID-19 created a perfect storm that played right into the unique strengths of Amazon’s customer value proposition,” dunnhumby concludes after surveying 10,000 U.S.

The Whole Foods Factor shoppers for the RPI. “Amazon easily blew every other retailer out of the water on our COVID Momentum Metric and customer safety ratings.” The overall RPI ranking evaluates retailer performance on seven drivers of customer preference: price, quality, digital, operations, convenience, speed and discounts, and rewards and information. This year, dunnhumby also included a new “COVID Momentum Metric” to account for pandemic-driven marketplace dynamics. Amazon ranked first on this new metric, and first overall. It was also top-ranked on speed, second on digital and 11th on price. Amazon wasn’t in the top quartile of the 56 food retailers evaluated in the areas of quality, operations, convenience and discounts, and rewards and information. “COVID has led to record highs and lows in economic metrics, along with huge shifts in where and how consumers shop food retail, changing the competitive trajectories of retailers who were winning and those who were struggling before the pandemic,” says Grant Steadman, president of North America for Chicago-based dunnhumby. “As a result, we viewed 2020 through a different lens than we’ve viewed the grocery industry in previous years. When looking at Amazon’s strengths, it is clear why they are first this year. They rank second in speed and first in digital, two of the most important preference drivers for COVID momentum. Amazon also occupies a clear price-first position, ranking 11th out of the 56 retailers in our study on price, ensuring a strong value core.” While Amazon may have made tremendous strides with digital- and safety-minded shoppers during the pandemic, its fledgling physical presence could make it difficult to stay atop the RPI in coming years. E-commerce share of grocery sales was about 5% in 2019, according to data from London-based Edge by Ascential in the RPI, and even though sales grew 50% in 2020, that still puts e-commerce’s share of grocery sales at around 7%. Grocers that increase investments in e-commerce to chase Amazon, dunnhumby cautions, must not permit a drop off in the quality of store experience or increase prices, as those moves would harm a retailer’s value core and long-term prospects.

It’s not the first name that comes to mind when thinking of fast-growing retailers, but Whole Foods Market’s store-opening activity during the pandemic put most other retailers to shame. The Austin, Texas-based, Amazon-owned company opened 18 new stores during 2020, giving it a year-end total of 502 locations. The new stores ranged in size from a 60,245-squarefoot store in the 28-acre mixed-use Hudson Yards development on the west side of Manhattan to a 22,500-square-foot limited-assortment store in Denver branded as Ideal Market and based on a concept in nearby Boulder, Colo., that Whole Foods picked up when it acquired Wild Oats Market back in 2007. Remove these extremes in size from the equation, and most of the new Whole Foods stores that opened last year were in the low-to-mid-40,000square-foot range. On top of that, its first-ever online-only fulfillment center store opened in Brooklyn, N.Y., last September. Whole Foods’ ambitious store expansion totaled nearly 800,000 square feet and came as many other food retailers pumped the brakes on growth to focus on meeting a massive surge in digital demand. While its growth exceeded that of other retailers, Whole Foods stores earned a more dubious distinction in 2020: Due to the presence of stores in densely populated areas and a focus on higher-income shoppers, it saw the steepest traffic declines in 2020, according to, a Los Altos, Calif.-based provider of location analytics. “The approach that gave [Whole Foods] strength, a focus on urban areas and high-end products, turned into a significant obstacle as the pandemic raged,” notes’s analysis. “Yet the brand had an impressive end to 2020, watching average monthly visits go from down 24.1% year over year in Q3 to down 18.7% in Q4.” Looking only at December 2020, store traffic was down 16.2% year over year, the best showing for the retailer since February 2020. If traffic trends continue to normalize in 2021, shoppers will also have more locations to visit. The impact of last year’s traffic trends and store openings is difficult to quantify because the sales performance of Whole Foods is obscured by Seattle-based parent company Amazon’s financial reporting. Sales at all of Amazon’s physical stores declined 8% and 5.6%, respectively, during the company’s fourth-quarter and fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2020. However, what’s not reflected in the physical-store sales figures are online orders that were fulfilled by stores either for pickup or delivery. Those sales are lumped together in a large category of online stores that saw sales increase 43% to $66.4 billion.

Whole Foods Market opened a different type of market last September when it introduced its first dark store to fulfill online orders for Brooklyn, N.Y., residents.



Why working with Amazon’s cloud computing group may be a good idea. By Mike Troy

ood retailers that want to win with shoppers by offering a range of Amazon-like capabilities have a friend in Tom Litchford, the head of worldwide business development for retail with Amazon Web Services (AWS). The veteran technology executive is an evangelist for the speed, flexibility and potential of cloud computing to transform food retailers’ operations following a year of unprecedented digital growth. He may not seem like a friend at first glance, considering that AWS is part of Seattle-based Amazon, but Litchford makes a compelling case for why retailers should use the same technology to run their businesses that Amazon does. “The perception is sometimes that retailers don’t want to work with us, which is totally the opposite of what’s happening,” says Litchford. “We have thousands of retailers around the world that work with us. There are a few vocal grocers that are more competitive or inward-facing, but the customers that work with us are taking the long view. The most important thing they think about is not focusing on the competitive dynamic, but listening to their customers and doing what their customers are asking, and then giving their builders the ability to go solve those customer problems.”

“We are always looking for where friction is in the shopper journey.” —Tom Litchford, Head of Worldwide Business Development for Retail, Amazon Web Services


Litchford maintains that AWS offers retailers the ability to do the same things that Amazon does, and cites the following examples: product recommendation, fraud detection, demand forecasting, call center operations, and cashierless store experiences such as those found in Amazon Go stores. “We take the learnings from working with Amazon’s consumer business, and we offer them to all of our customers,” notes Litchford. “How we operate the Go stores, we don’t hide that. We say, ‘Here’s how we did it, and here’s the services we used.’” In the case of the Go stores, Amazon applied its customer-first lens to the issue of store experience and friction at the checkout. It knew the business outcome it wanted to achieve — a cashierless experience — and then focused on a technological solution. “We looked around and saw the technology that was emerging to solve that problem was computer vision, but there was no way at the time to take feeds from hundreds of cameras simultaneously and figure out what was going on,” says Litchford. What AWS did was develop a service called Amazon Kinesis Video Streams, which allows for the monitoring of a large number of video streams, and the management of the data generated, so that a shopper can just walk out of a Go store after choosing products and receive a receipt minutes later. “We are always looking for where friction is in the shopper journey,” observes Litchford. Where he sees friction these days is in the grocery e-commerce world. Shoppers rushed to use pickup and delivery services, but most grocers rely on manual pick processes in stores. “That model is not sustainable,” asserts Litchford. “They have to figure out how to get to more of the micro-fulfillment center architecture in place so they can apply more automation. We like to work backward from business outcomes. We work with our customers to figure out what their challenges are, and try to apply technology to solve the problem There is so much today that we can do. Technology has finally made it easier, less complex, and cost-effective.” That wasn’t the case when Litchford began his career. Growing up in the 70s and taking computer science classes in high school got him hooked on technology. “I’ve always been a geek,” he admits. After graduating from Florida Atlantic University with a computer science degree, he went to work for NCR as a systems engineer at around the time that point-of-sale scanning technology was rolling out. “When I started in the technology world, we had the ideas, but the technology was either cost-prohibitive or took too long to implement,” recounts Litchford. “If you had an idea, it could take 12 months to procure the hardware and software and get everything set up just to try a test.” He spent 18 years with NCR, followed by 13 years at Microsoft and five years at the National

INTO THE LEAD The food retailing world will be hearing the name Andy Jassy a lot in 2021 and beyond. The founder and CEO of Amazon Web Services, the division which powers Amazon's innovation engine and the operations of thousands of customers, is set to replace Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who called the timing of the executive move optimal because Amazon is at its most inventive.

Retail Federation as VP of retail technologies, in which role he led the trade group’s Chief Information Officer Council. He joined AWS in November 2017 as head of worldwide business development for retail, one of 22 industry verticals within the organization. During that span, Litchford has been part of, and has had a front row seat for, a retail technology revolution, but it’s nothing like what he sees happening now, especially when it comes to speed and the capabilities available to retailers. “With AWS, you can have stuff up and running in an hour,” he notes. “You can be doing computer vision tests, voice tests, IoT stuff, just about any idea you have. We want to change the culture to a culture of experimentation.” Within the retail vertical he leads, retail is further broken down into three segments consisting of general merchandise; specialty retail, which includes fashion apparel and hardlines; and food and drug, which includes grocery, drug and convenience. To lead the food and drug group, Litchford recently hired Scott Langdoc as global lead of grocery, drug and convenience retail. Langdoc was previously CIO at West Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley’s Supermarkets, and prior to that, he held the CTO role at Fujitsu and also led the retail practices at AMR, which became part of Gartner, and IDC. Langdoc and Litchford have a unique perspective on food retailers’ technology challenges and are focused on cloud migration and modernization strategies, partner solutions, and go-to-market capabilities suitable for all types of fast-moving consumer goods retailers. “Retailers — at least over the course of my career — don’t do a good job of understanding consumers and the technology those consumers are using, and how that is changing their shopping behaviors,” says Litchford. “Another big problem retailers have is, data is siloed everywhere. So just getting to the point of being able to use machine learning, we have to figure out how we get this data in some single source of the truth, and clean it up.” PROGRESSIVE GROCER Februar y 2021




Two Masks Is the New Mask What retailers need to know about PPE, sanitation and COVID-19 in 2021. By Gina Acosta If 2020 was the year of masking and sanitation, then 2021 is promising to be the year of double-masking and double-sanitation. Despite large-scale optimism that the availability of vaccines will end or at least greatly curtail the pandemic, many retailers and suppliers say that the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation protocols hasn’t diminished, and is, in fact, more critical now than in 2020. “With the newly discovered ‘variant’ strains of COVID-19, as well as the expanding ‘COVID-19 fatigue,’ it is more important than ever to continually reinforce the policies and procedures that have been established for operating under COVID-19 protocols,” asserts Michael Stigers, CEO of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Cub Foods. “All of the learned protocols and practices will be in place for the foreseeable future. This is a multiyear, if not a multigenerational, experience.” Stigers may be right about that “multigenerational experience.” While the United States has been vaccinating nearly 1 million people a day, new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 have led to more global surges in cases. In late January, one of the vaccine makers, Moderna, said that it was “not sure” whether its vaccine would be able to fight off all of the new strains, and revealed that it would test an additional booster dose of its vaccine (which would now require three shots instead of two) to strengthen the immune response against emerging strains, especially the South African variant. Shortly before that development, Europe, which has been a pandemic harbinger, began to tighten PPE and sanitation regulations in public spaces, workplaces and retail stores, in the hope of slowing the spread of the new strains. Germany has made it mandatory for people riding public transit or shopping in supermarkets to wear medical-style masks, either N95 respirators or surgical masks. France is discouraging the use of cloth and homemade masks, arguing that they may not offer sufficient protection against the more highly transmissible coronavirus variants. In the United States, White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci is now recommending that Americans upgrade their PPE game by double-masking. “If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on; it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” Fauci told the “Today” show. “That’s the reason why you see people either double-masking or doing a version of an N95.” According to Fauci, wearing a surgical mask underneath a cloth mask


Key Takeaways Despite the advent of COVID-19 vaccines, the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation protocols is more critical than ever. Retailers need to take ever more innovative approaches to address the challenges of keeping the virus at bay. Beyond implementing such such strict protocols as N95 respirators, double masks, plastic face shields, latex gloves and full body suits, as well as head, eye and foot protection; plexiglass partitions; and hand-sanitizing stations, retailers must make sure that the rules are followed.

With the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 mutating around the globe, neither face shields nor cloth masks may be enough protection in the near future. White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci is now recommending that Americans double-mask or wear N95 masks that have been traditionally reserved for health care workers. Double masks and N95 masks protect better against the new, more highly transmissable strains of the virus.


Simplifying Occupancy Counting for Grocery Retailers SPEAKING WITH… Andy Clutter, Marketing Director, SenSource Progressive Grocer: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we shop and how grocers have had to respond. Can you address the issue of occupancy as it relates to the challenges retailers now face? Andy Clutter: When Covid hit, grocers suddenly needed to quickly and accurately count the number of people in-store, as cities and states set occupancy guidelines each location had to meet. For example, Albertsons Companies, like many grocers, reacted by assigning staff to entrances armed with click counters.

number of customers allowed in a store at a time. They liked the fact they could strategically target in which stores to install SafeSpace, based on local regulations. They have since installed it at more than 200 locations across several of their brands, including Acme and select Safeway and Albertsons Market stores.

PG: How did SenSource help Albertsons Companies manage new occupancy guidelines? AC: Albertsons Companies sought out a reliable system to measure occupancy and found our SafeSpace Occupancy Monitoring Solution. The system leverages our extensive experience in people counting in retail stores and uses smart sensors to monitor and report on customers entering and exiting their stores. If a location has multiple doors, SafeSpace calculates a real-time occupancy by combining counts from each sensor. The system helps Albertsons Companies meet state and local Covid guidelines that specify the

PG: Besides helping businesses with compliance issues, what benefits can SafeSpace help grocers realize? AC: There are many. It provides cost savings because it reduces the need to have a dedicated employee at the door. For example, a store with a single entrance, paying an employee minimum wage to tally count, would see a return on investment within a month for installing an automated system. It makes scheduling more efficient because stores can use the traffic data to showcase peak and slow times, which arms them with insights on how to schedule staff. It’s proven a more

accurate method of counting customers compared to manual tally counts. And because it is displayed at the entrance, it gives customers peace of mind knowing a store is promoting social distancing. PG: Why did Albertsons Companies choose to convey SafeSpace occupancy counts to customers? AC: First and foremost, the top priority at Albertsons Companies is protecting the health and safety of everyone who walks through their doors. SafeSpace does an effective job of collecting the counts to make sure the stores are staying within guidelines. However, taking things a step further and sharing those counts provides transparency to the customers and employees. SafeSpace shows them how they are proactively taking safety measures. This type of system and display can make impacts on stakeholders that long outlive this pandemic. PG: Are you working on any other products to help

stores optimize safety? AC: We’ve recently introduced SafeSpace Face Mask Detection that uses smart sensors to identify customers who aren’t wearing masks. If a mask is detected, the customer gets a friendly thank you message; if no mask is detected, a red screen reminds the customer masks are required. Automating this process can alleviate the stress and potential uncomfortable position employees could be in, when trying to enforce mask wearing. PG: What happens when we return to a post-Covid life? Will SafeSpace be rendered obsolete? AC: How people shop has changed dramatically. And moving forward, they’re probably not going to shop the same way they did in the past. Once things start getting back to normal, retailers will have to redefine what is “normal.” The data our people counting system, including SafeSpace, collects can help them make that determination. For example, when retailers know how customers are spreading out shopping times, they can use the data to inform decisions about things like staffing and store hours. Once our sensors are installed, the data will continue to be collected and shared via our cloud-based analytics platform to allow retailers to make better decisions.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON SafeSpace, please visit or call us at 1-800-239-1226.


Sanitation/PPE provides maximum protection because the surgical mask acts as a filter and the cloth adds an additional layer and helps with fit. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not yet recommended double-masking in the United States, the practice is becoming more popular among American consumers, meaning that shoppers will come to expect grocery employees to double-mask also. This is just one way that the PPE and sanitation standards are changing rapidly in the grocery channel. Another area of concern for retailers is surfaces. While the CDC said in November that contaminated surfaces aren’t the main way that the virus spreads, retail store surfaces remain favorable environments for transmission. Crucially, metallic surfaces can retain live viruses for longer than those of other materials. Retailers will need to stay ahead of what’s next in the crisis by taking ever more innovative approaches to address these challenges, especially if the new, more contagious variants of the virus become the dominant strains infecting Americans.

Problems With PPE

Since the COVID-19 crisis hit last March, Walmart has been spending $4.3 million a day on PPE and other COVID safety measures, according to the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer’s third-quarter earnings report. Providence, R.I.-based United Natural Foods Inc. has spent $20 million over the past year on signage, plexiglass and other safety measures, according to its While some retailers have had challenges enforcing mask mandates, some consumers, like this shopper at a Publix store in Florida, have embraced with enthusiasm PPE such as face shields.


financial disclosures. Now these costs are poised to increase even more as the bar for PPE gets higher. Yet retailers must rise to the occasion even as they face uncertain demand from consumers. Examples of best-practice COVID PPE in food retail in 2021 should include N95 respirators, double masks, plastic face shields, latex gloves and full body suits, as well as head, eye and foot protection; plexiglass partitions; and hand-sanitizing stations. “Accessible hand sanitizer is extremely important,” affirms Chris Barreca, director of national accounts at Maryland Heights, Mo.-based Buckeye International, a leading manufacturer of cleaning chemicals for retailers. “It is critical to choose a hand sanitizer that is liked by employees, gentle on the hands, keeps hands hydrated and leaves no sticky residue. The more employees like a hand sanitizer, the more they will use it, and the safer everyone will be.” At Cub Foods, Stigers says that his employees have been issued personal hand-sanitizer containers with refill capabilities, and new enhanced face masks. Additional screening for temperature checks and updated questionnaires to support new government guidelines have also been implemented. For a retailer, showing that you use PPE and sanitize frequently is more important than ever, Barreca advises. Customers want to know they’re as safe as possible while shopping. “Face masks are available for customers who need one, and ‘sanitizing stations’ have been placed throughout the store in all high-traffic areas that include hand sanitizer, wipes, gloves and paper towels,” Stigers observes. Shoppers and employees both expect strict PPE protocols from retailers in 2021. Implementing these protocols is only one element in a retailer’s 2021 COVID safety toolkit, however. The other element is making sure that the rules are followed. And that all starts with the right communication program, according to Stigers. “At Cub, communication with customers begins with media advertising on TV, radio and social media,” he continues. “In-store communication, with planned audio messaging and video messaging on in-store screens, highlights the additional efforts being implemented to provide as safe an environment as possible. Noncompliant customers are offered a face mask or a simple reminder of their responsibility to be in the store. If continued noncompliance is a factor, customers are invited to leave the store.” Another way that retailers can ensure that employees and customers are following PPE rules and maintaining a safer in-store environment is through detection systems. For example, tech firm SenSource has launched a face-mask detection system that uses smart sensors to detect the absence or presence of a face covering. The sensors communicate data to a customer-facing smart TV or tablet to display a green “enter” sign or a red “mask required” sign. It automates the task of monitoring mask wearers, eliminating the need for a staff member at the entrance and

When Amazon opened its first Fresh grocery store, in Woodland Hills, Calif., last August, signs instructed shoppers to social distance, wash their hands, and keep their coughs and sneezes to themselves.

preventing potentially uncomfortable encounters. “The importance of properly wearing face masks will continue to be a high-priority focus, says Andy Clutter, marketing director at Youngstown, Ohio-based SenSource. “A system to help detect proper mask wearing can alleviate stress on employees. Industry leaders are stepping up and finding innovative ways to simplify protocols.” Face-mask detection is part of SenSource’s SafeSpace COVID-19 solutions suite, which includes an occupancy-monitoring program that helps stores keep tabs on occupancy in real time. The same sensor can count customers for occupancy metrics and detect face masks. “As unfortunate and devastating as this pandemic has been, we do not foresee an end to mask wearing and social distancing in the near future,” Clutter adds. “Our outlook and recommendation is for

“With the newly discovered ‘variant’ strains of COVID-19, as well as the expanding ‘COVID-19 fatigue,’ it is more important than ever to continually reinforce the policies and procedures that have been established for operating under COVID-19 protocols. All of the learned protocols and practices will be in place for the foreseeable future. This is a multiyear, if not a multigenerational, experience.” —Michael Stigers, Cub Foods

retailers to embrace it and find ways to ease the burden on shoppers and employees alike.”

A New Normal for Sanitation

Last year saw food retailers scrambling to redefine and enhance their sanitation procedures amid the COVID-19 storm. Cleaning shopping carts and high-touch areas went beyond just safety, becoming a central component of retailers’ value propositions and brands. According to Cub Foods’ Stigers, the cleaning stakes are even higher in 2021, with shoppers stressed out about mutant COVID strains, air filled with virus droplets, and vaccines that may not work. For Stigers, retail sanitation in 2021 has to start with store leadership: tasking each leader with fighting against pandemic fatigue and keeping safety protocols on the front burner. Many retailers are leveraging EPA-registered cleaning and disinfecting products, UV lights that disinfect, and specialty air filters that remove contaminants. Relying on experts for guidance is also critical, according to Chris Wright, VP of sales at San Diego-based Brain Corp, which makes software for robotic floor scrubbers. “The retail industry is tracking for sanitation guidelines from groups like ISSA, GBAC and CDC that continue to refine and recommend best practices,” Wright says. “We’re seeing industry leaders follow and enforce these guidelines across stores, rather than allowing for independent decision-making, which is for the best.” Other best practices include enhanced sanitation schedules for all high-touch areas of the store, enhanced sanitation for all restrooms and associate break areas, and enhanced checkout cleaning between every customer, with cleaning of all PIN pads and high-touch areas. “At Cub Foods, microbial checkstand belts have PROGRESSIVE GROCER Februar y 2021


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Sanitation/PPE been installed in all intake and takeaway belts, greatly improving productivity and customer acceptance,” Stigers notes. “Store huddles are held daily with COVID-19 protocols leading the agenda.” He adds that his team is studying new “cart cleaners.” Cub Foods and other grocers are also embracing robotics with open arms to help solve sanitation challenges related to COVID-19. “Retailers have turned towards antimicrobial surfaces, electrostatic sprayers for disinfection, shopping cart-cleaning machines and autonomous floor scrubbers to sanitize effectively,” says Barreca, of Buckeye. “Whether or not the use of these innovations persists over time is still to be determined, but the odds are good.” Ahold Delhaize USA seems to think the odds are better than good. Earlier this year, the company’s services arm, Retail Business Services (RBS), launched a pilot of UV disinfection robots from Cambridge, Mass.-based Ava Robotics in two of its distribution centers to aid in enhanced cleaning procedures. “2020 was an unprecedented year for grocery retail,” observes Chris Lewis, EVP of supply chain for Quincy, Mass.-based RBS. “The robots have enabled us to further enhance disinfection procedures at two sites to protect our greatest asset — our people. We were pleased to be the first in the industry to support the testing of this technology.” Ava’s robot disinfects both air and surfaces at a rate of about 9,000 square feet per hour, with 99% effectiveness against COVID-19. It also allows for remote access and provides emailed reporting for managers. When asked about plans to introduce the robot at additional company facilities and divisions, an RBS spokeswoman told Progressive Grocer: “The team continues to evaluate the technology at this time. No decisions about further rollout have been made yet.”

Walmart began requiring customers to wear masks at all Walmart and Sam's Club stores on July 20, 2020. The rule represents “a simple step everyone can take for their safety and the safety of others in our facilities,” the company said. Employees are stationed at store entrances to enforce the policy.


Some retailers have focused on hand washing as one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs in the store. Putting a sign in restrooms that encourages shoppers to wash their hands for a specific period of time and with warm water is one way to stop germs from spreading.

One thing that needs no evaluation: Retailers won’t be able to ease up on their PPE and sanitation protocols anytime soon, and in fact, these factors are more poised than ever to impact a retailer’s reputation, customer loyalty and profitability, Stigers points out. “Retailers that are consistent and aggressive with their PPE and sanitation practices with collaborative enforcement programs are observed as a ‘safe’ place to shop,” he says. “Those stores that are inconsistent and not executing posted policies and practices are observed as ‘non-safe’ or ‘not serious’ about COVID-19 protection. You cannot simply tell a good story without good follow-through.”


Signs of the Times The in-store experience underwent dramatic changes throughout 2020 as essential retailers implemented new operational procedures and customer communication strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Now, following the rapid development of multiple vaccines, and with their administration to Americans well underway, there are reasons to feel good about an accelerating return to normalcy. But new, faster-spreading variants of the virus and slow vaccination rollouts mean that the pandemic won’t be ending soon. In addition, many risk-averse shoppers are expected to continue wearing masks even after they have been vaccinated. As a result, the in-store communications, mask requirements and social-distancing recommendations, which are prominently and extensively displayed in many retail outlets, will remain a key element of the store experience throughout 2021 and likely beyond.







Whole Foods Market (1) goes as far as telling shoppers how they should be wearing, and not wearing, a mask. At Sprouts Farmers Market (2), an employee is stationed at the entrance at all times to sanitize carts, offer a hand wipe or give a mask to shoppers who need one. Publix (3) has placed signs througout the store, politely asking customers to keep their masks on. Also at Publix (4), an unlimited supply of hand-sanitizing wipes are available as soon as shoppers enter the store. At Aldi (5), right next to the produce department, wipes are available for cleaning hands or carts, along with signage instructing shoppers how to social distance and stay safe. Wawa (6) has a bold colored sign at the front door, informing customers of its mask requirement. Finally, Costco (7) takes things one step further by putting its COVID-19 safety messaging on its TV screens, as well as on banners and other signs in the interior and exterior of the store.




MAKE CLEAN FLOORS PART OF YOUR SAFETY PROTOCOL Speaking with… Chris Barreca, Director of

National Accounts, Buckeye International

“ANTIMICROBIAL” is now a word in most everyone’s everyday vocabulary. As grocery retailers, you’ve made antimicrobial wipes and hand sanitizers, along with enhanced cleaning protocols, a regular part of the shopping experience. But what about the surface that everyone who enters the store touches? Have you done all you can to protect your floor? Progressive Grocer asked Chris Barreca, director of national accounts for Buckeye International—a leader in the cleaning and maintenance products industry— to explain why floor care has become an essential part of the cleaning process.

Floor/Wall decal

Progressive Grocer: Most grocery retailers have become hyper-sensitive about cleaning in this era of Covid. Why must they start paying as much attention to their floors as they do to their carts, checkout counters and food cases? Chris Barreca: A 2016 Grocery Store Study* determined that a clean store is one of the most important features to customers—and that is even more true in this new, Covid-impacted world we live in. Keeping stores spotless is a must, and your store’s highly trafficked floors have to be part of the cleaning protocol. Studies show that the soles of peoples’ shoes, and consequently the floors they walk on, are sources of contamination—and grocery stores are one of the top places Covid may be transmitted. PG: Buckeye has built a reputation as a leader in cleaning products and programs. How are you answering the call for floor cleaning products that offer the optimum protection? CB: The CDC’s recommendations for grocery retailers are pretty straight-forward: Practice routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces with products that meet the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2—and we have multiple disinfectants that achieve this. It is also important to take a look at the overall environment for customers and employees. We partnered with Microban** to develop our exclusive Clarion 25 with Microban Antimicrobial Floor Finish. It is the first and only floor finish with built-in Microban technology that embeds an EPA registered antimicrobial into the floor finish. This provides continual antimicrobial product protection 24/7 for the life of the coating. Microban technology reduces the overall bacterial load, continually fighting the growth of microbes. Clarion 25 with Microban can be an important component of any comprehensive cleaning plan—one grocers can add to their overall cleaning protocol during the pandemic and beyond.

PG: What are some features and benefits that make Clarion 25 ideal for grocery stores? CB: First, it doesn’t’ matter what kind of floor the store has—it can be applied to vinyl, LVT, rubber, vinyl composition tile, terrazzo, concrete and quarry tile. Also, thanks to its built-in Microban technology, Clarion 25 protects against bacteria, mold and mildew that can cause stains, odors, and product deterioration— and that means floors are easier to clean and stay cleaner, longer. Finally, the finish is U.L. Listed slip resistant, resists scuffs, and can be refreshed and removed, as needed. Many grocers already use some kind of floor finish—but it isn’t antimicrobial. Investing in Clarion 25, which is similar in price to non-antimicrobial finishes, is an investment in cleanliness. Additionally, because of its superior durability, Clarion 25 with Microban can actually save your company money by extending stripping and recoating cycles and deliver the benefit of antimicrobial protection, too. PG: If a grocery store decides to use Clarion 25, is there some way to let customers know? CB: Yes! We understand how important it is for customers to know the stores they shop have gone above and beyond when it comes to cleaning…so we’ve designed signage stores can put on their floors and/or mount on their walls announcing that the floor is protected with Clarion 25 with Microban Antimicrobial Floor Finish. Showing you have a Microban-coated floor is a huge benefit—it shows you are serious about keeping your store clean, and gives customers and employees peace of mind, too.

For more information on protecting your floors with Clarion 25, call (800) 321-2583 x187 or visit clarion-25-microban. *Little, Jay. (April 19, 2016). Five Tips For Measuring Grocery Guest Experience. Retrieved **Microban® technology is not designed to protect users against disease causing microorganisms. Microban Products Company makes neither direct nor implied health claims. Normal cleaning practices should be maintained.

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Protein Report

Beefing Up Sales THE POPUL ARIT Y OF ME AT IN 2020 IS PROJECTED TO CONTINUE AS CONSUMERS RE TURN TO FOOD STAPLES. By Marian Zboraj onsumers have returned to the familiar amid COVID-19, and meat has come back to the center of the plate. Specifically, consumer perception of the beef industry has positively shifted. From January to September 2020, the percentage of consumers claiming to eat beef at least weekly has increased from 67% to 72% compared with 2019, according to the Centennial, Colo.-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). In addition, the number of people with a positive perception of beef has increased, resulting in positive perceptions reaching 70% for the first time.

A Meat Resurgence

The year 2020 proved to be uncharted territory for the meat category. Retailers were forced to keep up with demand as consumers panicked at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and prepared to shelter in place. They bought more meat than they needed, not knowing whether stores were going to remain open or whether there would be product shortages, as meatpacking employees were unable to work due to rising coronavirus infections. As a result, many retailers experienced empty meat aisles, leading big names like Kroger and Costco to restrict how much meat customers could buy at a time. In 2020, overall meat dollar sales increased 18.4% and volume sales grew 10.3% versus the same period last year, as reported by IRI and 210 Analytics. This translates into an additional $12.7 billion in meat department sales during the pandemic, which includes an astounding additional $5.7 billion for beef, $1.6 billion for chicken and $1.1 billion for pork, versus the same period in 2019. (See top table on page 56).

“In the beginning of the pandemic, we saw people fall back into more conservative eating patterns, perhaps [for] a bit of nostalgia or comfort, but healthful choices are roaring back.” —Anne-Marie Roerink, 210 Analytics


Key Takeaways In 2020, overall meat dollar sales increased 18.4% and volume sales grew 10.3% versus the same period last year, with beef and other protein grinds particular standouts. Meat, poultry and seafood all saw above-average growth in the frozen food section, which has emerged as a true extension of the meat department. Increased beef consumption following COVID-19 is creating new opportunities for food retailers’ deli/prepared food sections.

The protein-focused Tyson Foods Inc., which produces approximately 20% of the beef, pork and chicken in the United States, reported that its fiscal-year sales climbed to $43.2 billion from $42.4 billion the year prior, with beef, the strongest-performing category, responsible for 36% of sales. One segment that was particularly popular throughout 2020 was grinds, and during December 2020, the dominance of grinds in meat sales continued, with ground beef sales totaling $798 million, or 202 million pounds, according to IRI and 210 Analytics data. “In early summer, when beef had a very tight supply, we saw other grinds stepping up to the table,” says Anne-Marie Roerink, president of San Antonio, Texas-based 210 Analytics. “The price per pound for beef, and the availability of ground beef, was such that people shifted to other grinds.” In December 2020 alone, for instance, ground turkey sales totaled $104 million. (See bottom table on page 56.) Lamb also experienced an increase in sales, thanks to a shift from foodservice to food retail. (See graph on page 58.) In December 2020, lamb continued to experience the highest percentage gains on its small base, up 34.1% versus the same month a year ago, according to IRI and 210 Analytics data. Lamb has kept its monthly gains very steady, at 30%40% over year-ago gains.


Protein Report 2020 Overall Meat Dollar Sales Dollar Sales

Dollar Gains

Absolute Dollar Gains

Volume Gains





Total Fresh Meat





Total Processed Meat





Fresh Beef





Fresh Chicken









Fresh Turkey





Fresh Lamb






Total Meat (Fresh + Processed)

Fresh Pork

Source: IRI, Integrated Fresh, MULO, % growth versus year ago, 52 w.e. Dec. 27, 2020 versus a year ago.

Sales of Grinds, Dec. 6-27, 2020 Category

Ground Beef

Dollar Sales (in millions)

Dollar Gains





Ground Lamb



Ground Plant-Based Meat Alternatives









Ground Chicken

Ground Pork Ground Turkey Ground Veal

Source: IRI, Integrated Fresh, Total U.S., MULO, % change versus a year ago.

The Big Chill

Consumers also hit the freezer aisle in 2020 for their protein needs. According to IRI and 210 Analytics data, meat, poultry and seafood all experienced above-average growth in the frozen food section, which has emerged as a true extension of the meat department. “When you look throughout 2020, there are periods of shelter in place, and time periods where mobility was much higher, when virus counts were down,” notes Roerink. “During the periods of low consumer mobility, you see both frozen and shelf-stable gear up. This is directly related to people wanting to go to the store less, but actually having to cover more meals, from breakfast and lunch to dinner, beverages and snacks. This means that people looked for items that can easily be frozen or items that have longer shelf life.” According to Roerink, frozen seafood in particular experienced exceptional growth during 2020. Whereas fresh and frozen seafood were of similar size in total dollar sales at the beginning of 2020, the aggressive growth in frozen seafood has moved it well past its fresh counterpart. Overall, double-digit increases versus the same week a year ago were seen for the vast majority of frozen categories, led by meat, poultry and seafood. These proteins increased their contribution to sales to 25.9% in December 2020.

Consumption Trends Create Opportunity

Increased beef consumption following COVID-19 is creating new opportunities for food retailers. While many restaurants across the nation


are still under COVID-related restrictions, the deli-prepared food section can step in as a safer alternative to eating out while providing quick-serve meal solutions, with proteins playing a significant role. NCBA’s November 2020 Deli-Prepared Survey found that almost half of consumers would be more likely to make purchases in this section if there were even more beef options. “However, having a variety of protein options is still important, especially among younger consumers,” the survey notes. “Shoppers are also looking for a variety of cuisine options as well, such as American, Italian and Mexican, when they shop the deli-prepared section. Incorporating beef into options utilizing these cuisines could entice even more consumers.” The survey also revealed that consumers are currently buying, and are more open to buying, beef meatballs and beef sausage than meatballs or sausages made with other proteins. The interest in proteins and specific beef items shows that beef options could help draw even more consumers to shop for deli-prepared foods. More at-home cooking is also driving a greater variety of cuts/kinds purchased, so food retailers should leverage enthusiasm for experimentation. In its top cooking trends predicted for 2021, Bronx, N.Y.-based e-grocer FreshDirect indicated that the demand for premium cuts of meat will rise, as the retailer’s meat sales had recently increased 63%. The online grocer expects this trend to

“Beef has added about as many additional dollars alone versus all the other meats. A lot of it was ground, but we also see great movement in premiumization.” —Anne-Marie Roerink, 210 Analytics

Confidence & Convenience: Case Ready brings the full package Meat packaging matters more today than ever before. Safety concerns lead shoppers to choose products that have been through less handling, while bulk buying raises the demand for freezer ready packaging. Open Prairie® Natural* case ready products meet these new consumer needs while also helping the meat department save time. This convenient new product lineup brings Never Ever beef and pork to the meat case in exact weight, code dated and UPC scannable packages, which reduces time and labor spent for the meat department. Each product is vacuum sealed to ensure freshness while also reducing shrink and out of stocks and increasing assortment. The packages also come in cases that are lighter and easier to handle than traditional boxed beef and pork, reducing physical demands on your staff.

As consumers look for ways to shop with confidence and convenience, they are searching for meat that is mess free, freezer ready and consistent in size and quality. Exact weight packaging ensures they are getting the same product every time, even when shopping online. Plus, as more shoppers search for meat with no antibiotics or added hormones, Open Prairie Natural Meats provides a wholesome, uncomplicated protein that consumers feel comfortable feeding their families. Refresh your meat case with the new, easy to stock Open Prairie Natural case ready product lineup. Find out more today at



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Protein Report In the meat department, retailers should consider packaging that supports longer shelf life, as shopper behavior continues to show that shelf life matters.

Retailers should ensure that they have solutions that address beef offerings for these smaller households. Roerink also reminds retailers about the health aspect when promoting beef. “In the beginning of the pandemic, we saw people fall back into more conservative eating patterns, perhaps [for] a bit of nostalgia or comfort, but healthful choices are roaring back,” she observes. “Immunity is a big area of focus for consumers, and beef brings zinc to the table, to name just one. Consumers highly associate vitamins C and D and zinc with immunity building.” hold steady even after the pandemic. Shopper behavior also shows that shelf life matters. Retailers should consider packaging that supports longer shelf life, and think about holding stock-the-freezer events. “In the meat department, there is a real opportunity to address shelf life with packaging, so people can buy for several days and weeks at a time and be easily able to freeze it without repackaging, or store it in the refrigerator for several days or weeks,” says Roerink. While there has been much discussion of adjusting portion size for smaller holiday celebrations, a big shift in cooking versus eating out has been observed among single consumers.

What’s for Dinner in 2021?

One year into the pandemic, many consumers are now scrambling to look for any shortcut they can get when it comes to mealtime. According to Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson, cooking and preparing meals from home has increased 67% since COVID-19 began. Ready-to-eat, -heat and -cook solutions can serve as ways to keep the food dollar in the retail channel. In fact, Tyson says that retail demand for its prepared items surged during its most recent quarter, in both average sales prices and volume. “Consum-

Dollar Sales Growth Versus Comparable Time Period A Year Ago Total Meat

Fresh Beef

Fresh Chicken

Fresh Pork

Fresh Turkey

Fresh Lamb


70% 60

43.9 %






34.0% 26.3%










13.0% 5.6%





17.1% 12.9% 11.5% 7.2 % 6.8%

-4.6 % -10

March (3/1)

March (3/28-3/29)

April (4/5-4/26)

May (5/3-5/31)

June (6/7-6/14)

Source: IRI, Integrated Fresh, MULO, % growth versus a year ago.


July (7/5-7/26)

August (8/2-8/30)

September (9/6-9/27)

October (10/4-11/1)

November (11/8-11/29)

December (12/6-12/27)


Protein Report ers are really getting tired of cooking at home,” Dean Banks, Tyson’s president and CEO, told analysts on a conference call. To help ease the burden of cooking fatigue, the company launched Instant Pot Kits, Instant Pot Seasoned Proteins and Tyson Oven Ready Family Size Kits in January 2021. “Families everywhere are looking for their next great-tasting dinner solution,” says Steve Silzer, senior marketing director for the Tyson brand. “It was important for us to offer our new varieties of fresh meal shortcuts to cut down on the time spent chopping and stirring so families can spend more time together at the table enjoying comfort food classics.” For example, Tyson Instant Pot Kits’ Creamy Stroganoff Beef & Noodle variety provides prepped fresh ingredients offering four to five servings, with 17 grams of protein per serving. The meal kit cooks in 25 minutes and consists of USDA Choice Beef strips and wide egg noodles topped with a creamy sauce. Consumers are also looking for dependable meal ideas that they don’t have to worry about messing up. “Beef roasts and ribs are intimidating to many,” notes Roerink. “What are ways in which you can lower the confidence barrier, much like the meal-kit companies have done?” Grinds could be the key here. Not only are they an economical choice for many who are experiencing financial burdens during the pandemic, but grinds also have a very low confidence barrier. “In other words, anyone, regardless of skill level, can prepare grinds, whether

Protein-packed Tyson Instant Pot Kits are designed to ease cooking fatigue.


While some consumers are willing to pay more for higher quality, others may be intimidated by the thought of preparing pricier cuts of meat, so retailers should ensure that they also have plenty of inexpensive, versatile grinds on hand.

form them into a patty or cook them up to put into a sauce,” explains Roerink. “People know the meat will not go to waste because they prepared it incorrectly. For cuts such as roasts or ribs, many shoppers are intimidated by lack of knowledge of how to prepare them.” Roerink adds that grinds are highly versatile. “They can be used as burgers or meatballs, in meat sauces, or casseroles,” she suggests. “A lot of shoppers are in the store less often than they were pre-pandemic, and have shifted their meat purchases to cover more days. While some people may have planned out exactly what they are going to eat, others will opt for versatile cuts that they can use for a variety of dishes.” Meanwhile, the famed Wahlberg brothers are focusing on the premium beef category for their Wahlburgers brand, targeting those customers who are willing to pay a little bit more for a high-quality product, like the brand’s new American-style Kobe blend boasting a rich flavor profile. Additionally, Wahlburgers is introducing a 100% grass-fed blend finished patty this year. A Flex blend is also in the works, targeted to meet the growing popularity of the flexitarian diet. “Patties are our best seller, and we’re looking for it to stay that way,” says Ryan Jahnke, VP at Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based ARKK Food Co., the exclusive licensee of the Wahlburgers product line for retail. “We didn’t want to be a singular SKU of a gourmet blend, so it was important for us to get a couple more options for retailers.” Wahlburgers will also tap into a slightly different category this year with all-natural beef hot dogs and bacon, thanks to a collaboration with Golden, Colo.-based Coleman Natural Foods. Both products are


INSID For decades, foodservice and retail professionals alike have relied on the ibp Trusted Excellence® brand and those boxes full of high-quality beef and pork products, delivered with the consistency and uniformity you depend on. But we’re just as proud of what takes place before filling your box – superior customer service every step of the way, ensuring your order arrives on time and is exactly what you’re expecting. That sort of big thinking – inside and outside of the box – makes us your trusted source. ®/© 2021 Tyson Foods, Inc.


Protein Report

Where’s The Beef? While demand for beef and other meats continues to surge, it’s impossible not to acknowledge the emerging alternative-protein segment. The food industry has moved toward offering more plantbased options in their product lines. For example, Jensen Meat Co., a San Diego-based processor of ground beef, is currently expanding both its facilities and its team to manage co-packing opportunities for plant-based beef alternatives. Its new processing facility, to be completed by April 2021, will include bulk and patty forming for foodservice and retail finished products. Among its alternative-protein trends for 2021, The Good Food Institute (GFI) mentions that plantbased meat snacks could be a sizable opportunity. According to the organization, conventional meat snacks are a $2.8 billion category in the United States, split 50/50 between jerky and other formats. Plant-based meat snacks could tap into snacking and high-protein trends. Washington D.C.-based GFI also says to keep an eye out for different plant protein sources this year. Key emerging ones include sunflower, mung bean, potato, rice, duckweed, chickpea, navy bean, oat and fungi. Alternative-protein products are still a relatively small segment of sales compared with the traditional meat category, however. “When looking at plant-based meat alternative sales, they represent 0.6% of total meat department dollar sales and 0.3% of volume sales,” says Anne-Marie Roerink, president of San Antonio, Texas-based 210 Analytics. “But absolutely, they have seen robust growth in 2020, upwards of 80%. The thing about alternatives is that it doesn’t replace the meat purchase; it’s just one of the protein choices for most people. There is a very small segment that drives the majority of these purchases, and most others buy it once or twice a year. So it’s not a matter of meat versus alternatives, but for most consumers, it is meat and alternatives.” Further, according to Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts, it’s younger American consumers, particularly those between the ages of 18 and 44, who are the most likely to eat plant-based meat and who account for the majority of plant-based meat consumers. As plant-based meat alternatives’ integration continues amid the pandemic, Roerink points out that they’re not a threat to meat sales, but an opportunity to engage with younger shoppers in the meat case.


The Wahlburgers brand has teamed with Coleman Natural Foods on a line of all-natural beef hot dogs.

antibiotic-free and don’t contain nitrites. Jahnke notes that the Wahlburgers line has been perceived very well, and that the company feels confident in Wahlburgers’ growth plans because of it. “We pulled IRI/Nielsen data on the Walburgers brand and were blown away at what we saw,” he recounts. “We focused in on some of our better accounts and found that we were anywhere from the top SKU to, at worst, the third-best SKU in the branded beef category in very major retailers. And nationally, our signature patty was the second-best SKU, according to Nielsen data in that same branded beef category. So we’re very excited for this year, as hopefully COVID eventually fades out, and we’re back to some sort of typical purchasing environment.”

Beef Outlook

On an adjusted basis, Tyson anticipates that the beef segments will remain strong, although not at fiscal 2020 levels. Roerink agrees, pointing out that once we lap the COVID weeks, which would start March 8, retail meat sales will turn negative for the simple reason that meat sales shot up 90% over year-ago levels, due to pandemic panic buying and preparation for sheltering in place. “This was uncharted territory for all of us, industry and consumer,” she says, “so we’re not going to see that level of sales again in all likelihood. In the fourth quarter, we’ve been seeing meat sales pretty steadily at about 10% versus year ago, and I imagine that this is where we’re going to see demand hold for the first quarter of 2021 — using 2019 as the base year, not 2020. “Beef has been king of the castle in 2020,” continues Roerink. “Beef has added about as many additional dollars alone versus all the other meats. A lot of it was ground, but we also see great movement in premiumization. That’s actually a trend we’re seeing throughout the store with people buying little indulgences instead of eating out, or perhaps recreating a restaurant meal. Interestingly, right along with beef, we’ve seen tremendous strength in mushroom sales as well, for a great cross merchandising opportunity for retailers.”


Branded Produce Q&A

Robinson Fresh Becomes a Brand A 115-YE AR-OLD COMPANY TAKES A DIFFERENT APPROACH. By Mike Troy

randed fresh products aren’t new, but they are to the Robinson Fresh division of global supply chain services provider C.H. Robinson. Founded in 1905, Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson has long been a force in the fresh industry, but now it’s entering new territory with the launch of products under the Robinson Fresh brand. Leading the way is veteran fresh executive and Robinson Fresh President Michael Castagnetto. He spoke with Progressive Grocer about the brand launch, produce packaging and fresh supply-chain challenges.

Progressive Grocer: Why, after 115 years, did you decide that now is the right time to introduce products with your own brand name on them? Michael Castagnetto: As we’ve evolved over the last five to seven years within the fresh supply chain and fresh produce specifically, we felt the timing was right. Robinson Fresh has been marketing fresh produce since 1905, but really, in the last few years, we felt the need to tell a much more consistent story and really provide our retail customers a specific and scalable brand.

we’ve seen huge growth in online shopping. And what we’ve heard from consumers is two things. One, 64% of consumers have tried online shopping for the first time. And many of those consumers have now told us that they plan to keep doing it in some form, even when things get back to whatever normal becomes. When you engage consumers online, you need to be able to show them products that will match what they receive. So that’s where we felt it was important that we have a singular brand to tell that story. Our new packaging has a large window because consumers want to see the product they’re buying, and it helps our customers market the product in a way that is manageable.

PG: How so? MC: Some of our items are items that you might traditionally buy by the pound. Whether those are cucumbers or peppers or chilies, it’s impossible to do that online. You need to buy things by the each or, in our case, in a packaged form that the retailer can deliver. We feel really good that the packaging that our team has designed meets aesthetic and brand requirements, but will translate into good value for the consumer.

PG: You’re creating the Robinson Fresh brand from scratch in the mind of the consumer. What are the key differentiating attributes of the brand, and how you are telling that story? MC: Our plan is to be very aggressive with digital marketing to create a consumer brand and be realistic about the role of brands in the fresh department. A lot of our focus is how do we connect our brand story to the retail custom-

PG: What effect did the arrival of the pandemic have on your launch plans? MC: We started working on this probably in the middle to end of 2019. And as we built out the brand ideas and moved into 2020, it became very apparent, with the pandemic, that we were certainly correct in that the time was needed for us to be far more consistent in how we went to market, but also to provide our customers the opportunity to tell our story together with them. Delivering freshness since 1905 is a story that we believe resonates with consumers’ desire for healthier lifestyles, for access to healthy, fresh produce. And when you combine that with the large growth we’ve seen this year in e-commerce and online retail shopping, which requires a consistency in branding and consistency of product and packaging, the time really couldn’t have been better for us to make this launch.

“Our advantage we bring to our customers is the ability to solve the global supply chains in such a volatile and dynamic category as fresh produce.” —Michael Castagnetto, Robinson Fresh President

PG: How does brand factor into produce shoppers’ online buying behavior? MC: Shopping in produce for many people is an emotional and a spontaneous event, and the fresh department of stores is an important part of shoppers’ experience. But with the pandemic,


ers that have known us for 115 years, who know us as a company that delivers fresh produce through complex supply-chain solutions, and who now will have products on the shelf that match that value proposition that we bring to those customers every day.

PG: How did you decide which items to include in the offering, what does that number look like currently, and where do you see it headed?

Robinson Fresh's new branded produce line comes in packaging with large windows so that consumers can see what they're purchasing.

MC: We look for products that have a high reliance on complex supply chains. When you’re a division within one of the world’s largest global logistics companies, our advantage we bring to our customers is the ability to solve the global supply chains in such a volatile and dynamic category as fresh produce. We look for items that move around a lot, and we use the term “follow the sun,” which means products grown in multiple growing regions and global growing regions. You’ll see us start in greens and what we call dry vegetables, so cucumbers, peppers, squash, chilies. Then we’ll move into larger fruit categories like tropicals, mangoes, limes, avocados, papayas, and then into our melon program as we get in closer to the summer, watermelons, mini watermelons, et cetera. Overall, we have a fairly wide group of categories that we engage in that does make us relatively unique in the fresh produce industry. There are a lot of great companies in our industry; many of them focus, though, on one or two categories. And we tend to be across the whole department, which is another reason why it was time for us to put our name and consolidate our business into a single brand, because we think it allows us to tell that story across the entire produce department, as opposed to just maybe a different story in each category.

PG: Are there specific supply-chain advantages associated with putting things in bags, perhaps at the store level in terms of replenishment?

PG: Will Robinson Fresh have some of its own exclusives like you would see maybe in other categories?

PG: C.H. Robinson’s history closely parallels that of transportation in the United States. There are some interesting things happening now in transportation, especially if you look at what’s going on with autonomous vehicles and drones. What opportunities in the transportation of fruits and vegetables are you looking to seize today?

MC: We’re always looking for the next item or the next point of differentiation in the department. And we certainly work with our growers and suppliers to identify what those next varieties could be. But I think our focus is really making sure that the products we do supply are the very best quality, that we do it through a dynamic supply chain to give our customers multiple opportunities to adapt their supply chains to meet their needs.

PG: Pre-chopped and value-added produce products have been a growth area. How are you approaching those items in your branded offering? MC: Historically, that is not a high area of focus for us, but it is an area of focus for us in terms of supply-chain management. Pre-pandemic, pre-chopped items were growing very fast, as consumers’ focus was convenience and everybody was so time-starved. When the pandemic hit, we saw those items take a pretty strong hit, as people were unsure of when they were going to get to the store next, but we are starting to see those categories come back.

MC: There are a couple strong benefits from having a bag line, especially in today’s environment. One, to your point, in a very space-constrained category, you can market an item pretty effectively and quickly in a relatively small amount of space, as opposed to having to build a large bulk display. Secondly, if you think about being able to then offer that item both in store and online, the product can translate to both locations without the retailer having to carry two different SKUs of the same item. From a supply-chain perspective, the bagging can be done at all points throughout the supply chain. So while we will bag most of these items at the growing point, we have the ability to supplement inventories through our own facilities or other third parties that we work with to pack up additional products, if necessary, because a retailer sees a surge or needs product at a different distribution center than what they had anticipated before.

MC: Our focus is the development of flexible and dynamic supply chains so that we can surge and flex back where consumers and our customers need product. You saw this during the pandemic. Where we’re heading is the ability to have dynamic perishable supply chains that can meet consumers’ desires to have product where and when they need it. For much of our history, we focused on the best execution of the first mile of a supply chain, but for the next few years, the perishable industry will be working on the last mile. We believe we’re way ahead of the competition in terms of the ability to deliver multiple last-mile solutions, whether that’s to a consumer’s doorstep, to the back of a restaurant, to the back of a grocery store, or an online solution. PROGRESSIVE GROCER Februar y 2021



Branded Produce Q&A


s president of Houston-based MountainKing Potatoes, Cary Hoffman presides over a company that, like suppliers across the store, saw huge pandemic sales spikes as homebound consumers rediscovered home cooking, but also faced certain challenges in keeping shelves sufficiently stocked. Hoffman has led MountainKing to greater sales and consumer interest during the age of COVID-19, but sharing his deep enthusiasm for potatoes presents no problem at any time for Hoffman, who has spent most of his life in the produce business and looks forward to exciting new developments in the potato category.

Progressive Grocer: How has MountainKing dealt with the pandemic, especially increased demand spurred by panic buying and stockpiling? Cary Hoffman: The reality is, there’s only so much farmland in the United States suitable to grow fresh potatoes, so you have to look at becoming more efficient with your existing growing areas and facilities. That said, we stepped up operations at our Alpine, Colo., packing facility, where we pack our smaller-sized varieties — our Steakhouse Roasters, Baby Golds and Baby Reds — all of which have experienced exponential growth this year. Production lines at the plant were reconfigured for rapid-response packing, and we’ve increased the frequency of our outbound shipments. We invested in more efficient packing equipment in our other Colorado facility and transitioned about half our Russet fields to growing our popular Butter Russets.

PG: Do you anticipate that any of the lessons learned/ practices adopted by the company during this time will carry on past the pandemic? Why or why not? CH: Shopping patterns for fresh potatoes during the pandemic reinforced what we’ve known for quite some time: that shoppers desire gourmet varieties that are high in flavor, versatile and easy to prepare. There’s no question the growth of varietals will continue well past the pandemic. That’s why we continue to have our eyes on Europe and look at new varieties they’re trying.


MountainKing Potatoes President Cary Hoffman grew up in the produce business.

PG: What tactics has the company adapted in competing successfully with larger growers? CH: It’s all about making a commitment to gourmet varietals — Butter Reds, Butter Golds, Baby Reds, Baby Golds and others — that give the shopper a choice beyond Russets. We built MountainKing by commercializing these and other gourmet varieties found in restaurants across Europe, and we’ll continue in this direction as we discover new gourmet types. From there, our sales team works closely with our retail partners to promote and properly merchandise these varietals.

PG: How affected has MountainKing been by the locally grown movement, and how has the company addressed it? CH: I’m certainly a big fan of locally grown produce, but the fact is, potatoes aren’t like peppers or tomatoes. You just can’t grow them anywhere. MountainKing farms between two Colorado mountain ranges, where the soil offers a sandier, lighter composition. Scientists tell us thousands of years ago, the wind blew sand up against the side of these mountains and, in the process, created ideal growing conditions for fresh potatoes. You simply can’t replicate these soil conditions close to home.

PG: How has MountainKing kept pace with the evolution of growing methods and stayed current with science?

CH: When we launched our Colorado farming operations, we started working with scientists and professors at Colorado State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences to help us study the soil composition of our fields and make recommendations as to the best varieties for each field. A couple of years ago, we brought on an in-house agronomist to oversee our soil management program. Together, these experts help us determine the feasibility of new varieties and where they can be planted to generate the greatest yield.

their popularity among younger shoppers. There was a time when you went to the grocery store, some 25-30 years ago, and there were just Red Delicious apples. Now you see dozens of varieties, because shoppers want a choice in taste and flavor. We’ve started the ball rolling with more fresh potato choices, but there’s certainly more to come.

PG: What are the particular challenges of working with retailers large and small, outside of the pandemic? CH: The biggest challenge, in the case of fresh potatoes, is presenting the benefits of expanding a grocer’s offerings beyond Russets. Even though they’re far more profitable than Russets, gourmet varieties are, for the most part, still under-promoted and under-merchandised. It takes time, but we’re making great headway.

PG: How do you come by your passion for potatoes, and how do you maintain it? CH: I grew up in the produce business in Waco, Texas, so we were always having fresh potatoes at home. Ironically, my wife also grew up in a family where fresh potatoes were served four to five times a week. Thanks to today’s varieties, we have a baked potato one day, a Gold potato the next and perhaps roasted fingerlings a couple days later. I really look forward to asking, “What kind of potatoes are we having tonight?” That same curiosity is what drives my passion at MountainKing, where instead of “What kind of potatoes are we having tonight?” I’m asking, “What kind of new variety can we bring to market?”

PG: What new trends in potato varieties or preparation methods do you see coming in the months/ years ahead? CH: There’s no question we’re going to see more varietals come to market, particularly as we get more coming out of Europe. You’re also going to see new, smaller varieties as their versatility, flavor and ease of preparation continues to drive PROGRESSIVE GROCER Februar y 2021



Seasonal Candy Forecast

Sweet Victory BACKED BY PANDEMIC-FUELED CONSUMER SHOPPING PAT TERNS, INVENTIVE SELLING STR ATEGIES KEEP SE ASONAL CANDY A WINNING SEGMENT. By Barbara Sax andy is still a sweet category for supermarket retailers. Consumers turned to indulgent treats to take the edge off their pandemic panic — a trend that’s not likely to change anytime soon — and seasonal candy remains a key segment of the category. “Our data shows that chocolate is among the top categories that consumers are eating, in part because consumers turn to chocolate for comfort and because people are looking for ways to have more fun while they’re at home,” says Lynn Hemans, VP of consumer intelligence and strategy at The Hershey Co., in Hershey, Pa. Mike Gilroy, VP of trade development and sponsorship at Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Wrigley USA, notes that nearly half of all treat and snack consumption occurs during screen time like movie nights and streaming binges. “Mars Wrigley is finding new ways to connect with consumers in this moment,” Gilroy asserts. “We’re helping retailers prompt consumers to think of our category when shopping with in-store promotions, offering a variety of share-size packaging, and engaging people with relevant brand communications.” While the pandemic might have shifted shopping habits, it hasn’t dampened consumers’ desire to make candy part of their seasonal celebrations. Super-

markets won big this year when it came to seasonal candy sales — the channel was the most commonly shopped for seasonal confectionery, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association (NCA). This past year, NCA data shows that online ordering through the local grocery store for delivery or pickup overtook online retailers as the biggest online channel for confectionery. During a trying year, manufacturers and retailers found new ways to maximize instore seasonal candy sales. According to Hemans, “The way we’ve celebrated seasons this past year has been different, but we’re all finding new ways to make special times of the year continue to feel special.” This past Halloween, for instance, Mars Wrigley launched Treat Town, a digital platform that allowed customers to engage in fun activities and virtually trick-or-treat for credits, which could be redeemed at select retailers, including Walmart, Target and CVS. In addition to fan favorites, treats included seasonal items

Key Takeaways While pandemic stress increased shoppers’ everyday candy consumption, it hasn’t dampened their desire to make sweets part of their seasonal celebrations. During a difficult year, manufacturers and retailers found new ways to maximize in-store seasonal candy sales, including through virtual promotions and unique limited-time products. Birthday cake flavors, as well as individual fruit flavors and fruity combinations, should continue to be popular, while unique hot and spicy products are also gaining traction with consumers.

Digital platforms and new products can help manufacturers keep seasonal candy exciting for consumers despite pandemic-related restrictions.


New flavors continue to keep consumers coming back to the candy aisle, with sweetand-spicy combos particularly popular.

Consumers love to experiment and try new flavors, and they tend to purchase and consume them earlier in the season, when they first hit shelves.” —Caitlin Servian, Just Born

such as M&M’s Creepy Cocoa Crisp, M&Ms and Snickers in Glow in the Dark packaging, and Zombie Skittles. The program effectively extended the holiday to a month-long promotion, and Mars Wrigley execs expect digital components to become an integral part of every seasonal confectionery program going forward. Similarly, Parsippany, N.J.-based Ferrero USA is currently working with retailers on an upcoming digital initiative of its own this year for key seasonal selling occasions. Candy manufacturers also rolled out new products designed to address the often discussed “new normal.” As a result of research indicating that parents are no longer comfortable with the door-to-door trick-or-treating aspect of Halloween, Louisville, Ky.-based CandyRific designed a new Halloween Surprise Hunts concept, based on an Easter egg hunt. “These 20 glow-in-the-dark plastic skulls filled with pressed dextrose bone candy can be hidden either outside or inside to create a fun Halloween activity for kids,” suggests Clark Taylor, CandyRific’s SVP of sales and marketing. CandyRific has also fine-tuned other seasonal programs based on its consumer research. The company found that for Valentine’s Day, consumers wanted more gifting options and fewer flower bouquets and dinners out. In response, CandyRific “created two different mug-and-hot-cocoa giftable sets,” says Taylor. For Easter, the company worked with Seoul-based Pinkfong, owner of the Baby Shark license, and Fairfield, Calif.-based Jelly Belly Brands for a fun new “talking” product filled with organic jelly beans. Limited-edition launches still play an essential part in holiday promotion programs. “Seasonal periods like Halloween and holiday are always a priority, now more than ever before,” notes Jeff Schoenfield, director of marketing, base and innovation at Haribo, a Bonn, Germany-based company with its U.S. headquarters in Rosemont, Ill. “Whether it’s the Sour Vampire Bats for Halloween or festive Candy Cane Gummies for the winter season, seasonal products offer consumers new and festive varieties, shapes and flavors. For Valentine’s Day, Haribo offers Goldbears in standard 4-ounce packs and treat-size packs, and Goldbear heart-shaped boxes. For Easter, the company is focusing on [a] Happy Hoppers Goldbears mix.”

The way we’ve celebrated seasons this past year has been different, but we’re all finding new ways to make special times of the year continue to feel special.”

Hershey takes a two-pronged approach to seasonal products, with some products brought back annually — such as Reese’s seasonal shapes and Cadbury Crème Eggs — and new seasonal offerings. “We continue to introduce new products we hope help add a little more happiness to consumers,” says Hemans. “Last year, Reese’s Frankencup was a fun seasonal spin on our classic Peanut Butter Cup.” While Just Born’s Peeps Marshmallow Chicks and Bunnies have been Easter staples for decades, in the past 10 years, the Bethlehem, Pa.-based company has focused more on growing its portfolio and sales with an assortment of flavored marshmallow candies. “Consumers love to experiment and try new flavors, and they tend to purchase and consume them earlier in the season, when they first hit shelves,” says Caitlin Servian, brand manager for Just Born’s Peeps brand. “Flavors helped us generate excitement among fans.” This year, the brand is introducing Hot Tamales Fierce Cinnamon Flavored Chicks and a Froot Loops Flavored Pop.

New Products Spur Sales

While the pandemic slowed new product introductions in 2020, experts believe that 2021 is poised for increased confection launches. Products like the Frankford Hot Chocolate Bomb, which launched in the 2019 holiday season and sold out at nearly all locations, offer something totally new to consumers and create plenty of buzz in the category. “The product has taken off as a viral sensation, and we’re seeing overwhelming demand from consumers,” notes Molly Jacobson, director of marketing at Philadelphia-based Frankford Candy. “In a year like this, consumers are seeking out small, permissible

Manufactureres keep brands fresh with new spins on old favorites, such as this slimmeddown Kit Kat introduction.

—Lynn Hemans, The Hershey Co. PROGRESSIVE GROCER Februar y 2021



Seasonal Candy Forecast indulgences that bring them comfort and happiness, and we think the Frankford Hot Chocolate Bomb helps meet this need.” The company is exploring product extensions that will take the Frankford Hot Chocolate Bomb to the next level in 2021. Mega-brands are continuing to launch brand extensions. Hershey recently added Kit Kat Thins, a new version of an old favorite that has one fewer layer of crispy wafers, while Reese’s Stuffed with Pretzels and Reese’s Snack Cake are hitting shelves now. Birthday cake flavors, as well as individual fruit flavors and fruity combinations, should continue to be popular, while unique hot and spicy products have also been gaining traction with consumers. Last year, Jelly Belly launched BeanBoozled Fiery Five, a series of increasingly spicy jelly beans. The company also introduced Gourmet Milk Chocolate Truffles and Bars, the first time that it brought Jelly Belly flavors to its chocolate products. For her part, Sally Lyons Wyatt, EVP and practice leader at

Innovative products depend on off-shelf promotion.

Chicago-based market research company Information Resources Inc. (IRI), is seeing new forms entering the market, including bites, twists and crawlers. “Consumers are open to exploring new twists from their favorite brands and are looking for more options when it comes to flavors, textures, pack types and price points,” affirms Mars Wrigley’s Gilroy. Leveraging this growing trend, Mars Wrigley is launching products like Skittles Gummies, a pop-able gummy candy offering the same fruit flavor that consumers already know and love in an innovative gummy form. This spring, meanwhile, Jelly Belly will roll out a new line of gummies featuring Jelly Belly flavors.

Display Drives Confection Sales MERCHANDISING, ALWAYS CRUCIAL TO DRIVING INCREMENTAL SALES IN THE CANDY CATEGORY, HAS BECOME E VEN MORE IMPORTANT AS CONSUMERS SHIF T THEIR SHOPPING PAT TERNS AND RE TAILERS RELY MORE HE AVILY ON SELF-CHECKOUTS. “The way people shopped the category changed over the past year, and we’ve adapted our consumer engagement strategies in response,” says Mike Gilroy, VP of trade development and sponsorship at Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Wrigley USA. “We’re working with retailers on new instore merchandising opportunities, leveraging our beloved brands around new moments.” While the Halloween, Easter, Valentine’s Day and winter holidays generate the majority of sales, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association, there’s ample opportunity in smaller and self-invented holidays, particularly in summer. Sales during smaller holidays, such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, graduations, or Independence Day, can add up quickly. To capitalize on this trend, Mars Wrigley has created a new 2021 Never Stop Summering cohesive portfolio summer program that, according to Gilroy, “gives the company’s products an authentic role during the summer, keeps shoppers engaged throughout the long promotional period, and drives basket building and conversion.” As consumers shift to more at-home eating and entertainment, retailers are finding new merchandising opportunities. “We know that activities like s’mores and movie night have become even more popular, and snacks are an important part of those events,” notes Lynn Hemans, VP of consumer intelligence and strategy at The Hershey Co., in Hershey, Pa. “The growth in streaming and in-home viewing creates a much larger family movie-night occasion, where snacking companies like Hershey’s can provide solutions.” Spring baking displays are another incremental growth area as families look for activities that can be done together at home. Merchandising is particularly important in promoting new offerings and creating excitement for seasonal category sales. “This is particularly important during key seasons, and retailers


are increasingly interested in using merchandising to create instore theater,” says Phil DeConto, VP of category management and shopper insights at Parsippany, N.J.-based Ferrero USA. Display not only drives impulse purchase, it’s also an important vehicle to help consumers learn about new products. “Off-shelf merchandising helps encourage consumers to think about using products in different ways,” observes Caitlin Servian, brand manager for Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born’s Peeps brand. “While people primarily purchase Peeps for consumption, almost one-third of fans purchase them for other reasons, such as using them in recipes, crafts dioramas and more. Merchandising the products outside of the seasonal candy section can be an effective way to prompt consumers to think about the countless ways they can use Peeps to add even more fun to their Easter celebrations.” Additionally, large display events, such as NCAA March Madness, should offer a significant opportunity for retailers in 2021. “Since the tournament was canceled in 2020, fans are hungrier than ever to see their favorite teams play, and it represents a huge growth opportunity,” advises Hemans. Retailers can expect more in-store display support from manufacturers this year in regard to seasonal products, with the aim of creating excitement around holidays such as Easter and Halloween. Impactful built-out seasonal displays, like this Valentine's Day example at Wegmans, drive candy sales by helping remind shoppers of a new season.

Pet Care Innovation FIVE STARTUPS ARE RE ADY TO DISRUPT A HOT CATEGORY. etailers looking for the next big thing in the pet care category have a friend in St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare. The Purina 9 Square Ventures group, founded in 2014, and startup investor Active Capital recently chose five winners from more than 100 companies to receive the Pet Care Innovation Prize powered by Purina. The winners receive a $10,000 prize, mentorship from the Purina Pet Care Innovation team, and the opportunity to participate in a final pitch competition in March, with the grand-prize winner pocketing another $10,000. This year’s recipients of the Purina Pet Care Innovation prize are:

ClueJay: The online diagnostic platform allows pet parents to access lab tests on demand from the comfort and safety of home. ClueJay lets dog and cat owners collect and mail fecal samples for parasite screening, without the hassle and stress of vet visits.

Kitty Sift: This product offers a convenient, healthy and sustainable alternative to the plastic litter box. Made from 100% post-consumer recycled cardboard, Kitty Sift’s disposable sifting litter boxes and liners enable pet owners to ditch plastic alternatives for a sanitary, eco-friendly solution.

A Pup Above: This fresh dog food uses the sous-vide cooking method, which makes meat tender and moist while also preserving nutrients. Made with 100% human-grade ingredients that are fully traceable back to the source, A Pup Above delivers on average 72% more protein than other leading gently cooked dog foods.

Mella Pet Care: Co-created with veterinarians, Mella Pet Care is launching the first smart axillary thermometer, which measures temperature under the foreleg rather than rectally.

VetGuardian: This company makes the only zero-touch remote telemonitor for veterinarians. The device continuously gathers a patient’s vitals, including pulse, temperature and respiration rate, from up to 5 feet away to minimize stress for animals. “Purina is committed to supporting early-stage pet care startups,” says Blair Morgan, co-lead of Purina’s 9 Square Ventures group, and VP, strategy and innovation for Purina. “Our culture thrives on collaboration and mentorship, and by extending that outside of our walls to startups who share our passion for enriching the lives of pets, we are able to both help and be inspired by a new generation of entrepreneurs.” PROGRESSIVE GROCER Februar y 2021



Workforce Development

The Future of Work AF TER COVID-19, DIGITAL DISRUPTION WILL REQUIRE MORE FROM FRONT-LINE WORKERS. By Mike Troy ront-line retail employees dealt with a wide range of personal challenges and new work requirements for most of last year. As shopper behaviors changed dramatically, so did expectations of hourly employees. They had to fulfill new job functions and execute different types of tasks brought on by a public-health crisis. This made 2020 a year of feverish activity for training and development. Now, there’s a growing sense that 2021 could see a return to normalcy as COVID-19 fades. As it does so, however, there’s expected to be an even greater need for employee training, because the pandemic accelerated technology’s impact on innovation and created all manner of new and elevated shopper expectations that front-line employees must satisfy. “What we once thought of as the future of work has now become the ‘now of work,’” asserts a landmark research study, the “Global Work Ahead” report conducted by the Center for the Future of Work at Teaneck, N.J.-based multinational product-led digital corporation Cognizant. Released in January, the study is conducted every five years, with the latest installment involving interviews with 4,000 executives, 1,300 of whom are in the United States, conducted in June 2020. While the research looked across industries, one of the top takeaways for food retailers is that “humans will continue to add value and be valuable by upskilling — having skills and capabilities that cannot be supplied by even the smartest of machines,” the report notes. “This is as true for those in the boardroom as for those on the factory or sales floor.”

The changing nature of work means a shift from jobs to tasks. The future of work requires a more fluid mindset to break down work into tasks as the most sustainable way to transition to a fully hybrid human-and-machine workforce. COVID-19 and AI are galvanizing efforts to more highly value employees. In the wake of the coronavirus, businesses in North America that are the furthest ahead in their adoption of AI and AI ethics are significantly more likely to believe that the next three years will witness higher pay for essential workers (66%), augmented workforce safety (65%) and greater social protections for free-lance workers (57%). With this outlook, these businesses are poised to help “make real” the stated intent of American CEOs to value stakeholders in addition to shareholders. While the nation appears to be much closer to the end of the pandemic, new challenges for food retailers are just beginning when it comes to workforce training and development.

Other key highlights with implications for food retailers, how stores will operate and how employees are trained, include the following: Investments in the right skill sets will modernize North American work. The pursuit of skills development will be an essential need throughout careers. Fresh new ideas are in high demand, with those most in demand by 2023 being analytical skills (59%) and decision-making (59%). Algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) are fueling — and changing — the modern North American business. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) have data analytics implementations underway, and a similar number are employing AI. As cutting-edge digital technologies become bigger partners in work, jobs and tasks, those companies that combine data-driven insights with the ability to innovate will thrive. The North American ethic of “working faster and harder” will endure as a technology-assisted feature in the future of work. Speed and efficiency top the list when it comes to how respondents think work will change by 2023.


Euan Davis, associate VP, Center for the Future of Work

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Diversity & Inclusion


he day after he was inaugurated, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing every federal agency to affirm that civil rights laws prohibiting sex discrimination likewise extend to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. As Mark David Stern reported last month in e-magazine Slate, “This move will extend nondiscrimination protections to millions of LGBTQ people with regard to housing, education, immigration, credit, health care, military service, Peace Corps service, family and medical leave, welfare, criminal justice, law enforcement, transportation, federal grants, and so much more.” President Biden’s executive order comes amid the growing visibility of the LTBTQ+ community. A 2020 McKinsey report points out: “Hundreds of major consumer brands have It is still a become regular sponsors of annual burden to Pride events. A record 206 major corknow that coming out porations signed an amicus brief ... advocating for the Supreme Court’s professionally won’t June 2020 decision protecting result in spoken or LGBTQ+ individuals from workplace unspoken backlash.” discrimination. Companies are also increasingly making business-critical —Ben Conrad, Five North Chocolate decisions about recruitment practices, employee-resource groups and marketing that embrace LGBTQ+ rights.” Despite these gains, challenges unfortunately remain, particularly in the workplace. “It is still a burden to know that coming out professionally won’t result in spoken or unspoken backlash,” says Ben Conrad, founder and CEO of Plainview, N.Y.-based Five North

Key Takeaways Despite gains in recent years, the food and consumables industry’s LGBTQ+ workforce is still vulnerable to discrimination. Major CPG companies have stepped up their diversity and inclusion efforts with respect to LGBTQ+ employees and consumers. Retailers can do their part by implementing similar policies and committing to recruit LGBTQ+ suppliers. PROGRESSIVE GROCER Februar y 2021



Diversity & Inclusion

Chocolate, an LGBTQ+-owned Fair Trade and vegan chocolate business. That backlash could entail lower pay, missed promotions or unfair treatment, adds Conrad. Even after President Biden’s executive order, which implements the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, under which Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be read to protect LGBTQ+ people,“firings and discrimination will still happen,” asserts Dominique Dick, customer service specialist and LGBTQ+ ambassador co-lead at St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare. “It doesn’t take much for an employer to conceal the real reason for termination or lack of internal advancement in the organization. This leads to LGBTQ+ community members continuing to hide their true selves.” “Currently, many LGBTQ workplace issues stem from the fact that there is no federal law that explicitly protects employees from discrimination due to their sexual identity, gender identity or gender expression,” explains Eric Dyson, content marketing specialist at Chicago-based PeopleScout, the world’s largest recruitment process outsourcing provider. “Such protections have come from state laws and federal court cases interpreting the law to protect LGBTQ workers. However, this patchwork of court rulings and state legislation leaves many LGBTQ individuals vulnerable.” “To engage a new generation of workers and consumers — many of whom choose careers and products based on diversity and inclusion — companies must move beyond public gestures of support for LGBTQ+ issues to create a more positive work experience,” the McKinsey report notes.

Food and Consumables Industry Action

What are companies across the food and consumables industry currently doing in support of their LGBTQ+ employees? One standout leader in this area is Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble. As Brent Miller, P&G’s senior director, global LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion, points out, the company’s commitment in this area goes back more than a quarter-century and ranges from “the implementation of LGBTQ+ diversity training in the 1990s, same-sex partner benefits, transgender health benefits, parental leave equalization, to the public support of Pride, implementation of marketing campaigns featuring LGBTQ+ individuals and themes … the list goes on.” Of particular note on that list is the updated parental leave policy. “We believe that caring for home and family has no gender or sexual orientation,” asserts Miller, who describes the global minimum for paid parental leave for all P&G parents as a “big step forward for LGBTQ+ parents both biological and adoptive.” The company has also stepped up its commitment to drive LGBTQ+ visibility in its advertising. “Currently, only 1.8% of ads represent the LGBTQ+ community,” observes Miller. “As the largest advertiser in the world, we have a responsibility to accurately and authentically represent the community and help people see themselves in the world.” P&G isn’t alone among major CPG companies that are continuously evolving their LGBTQ+ engagement policies. “We continue to build on creating a culture where people feel a sense of belonging,” says Florida Starks, director human resources at Chicago-based Conagra Brands. “Paramount in this process involves featuring LGBTQ+ imagery. We will update internal and external websites to


reflect individuals from the LGBTQ+ community. ... We are also seeking opportunities on how to become a company that attracts LGBTQ+ professionals. ... Our talent acquisition organization is establishing partnerships with professional organizations in the LGBTQ+ community to attract diverse talent.” The company also boasts a leader development program targeting behaviors necessary to engage employees across multiple dimensions of diversity, including sexual orientation and gender identity; is mindful in its review of policy, facilities signage, resources and job descriptions to leverage use of gender-neutral language; and adheres to a zero-tolerance policy as part of its commitment to provide a safe and respectful work environment. Nestlé Purina PetCare, meanwhile, “has implemented a robust diversity and inclusion program which spearheads a multitude of events such as participation in Pride Fest, and Listening Sessions for LGBTQ+ members to voice their thoughts and experiences to non-LGBTQ+ people, and supports a D&I ambassador lead group comprised of LGBTQ+ members raising awareness and support,” notes Dick. “A few of the other ways Nestlé Purina PetCare is addressing [diversity and inclusion] issues are through our benefits and policies such as nondiscrimination protections in the workplace, domestic-partner benefits and transgender-inclusive health care benefits,” adds Dawn Higgins, diversity and inclusion manager at the company. A key way to improve the workplace experience for LGBTQ+ employees is through the formation of employee resource groups (ERGs), a.k.a. affinity networks. “A well-run ERG program should support LGBTQ individuals in the workplace by offering workshops, training and support from both management and

We believe that caring for home and family has no gender or sexual orientation.” —Brent Miller, Procter & Gamble


Diversity & Inclusion The Issue of Intersectionality WHEN IT COMES TO THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY, THERE ARE OFTEN SEVERAL OTHER IDENTITIES IN PLAY. An important — and often unspoken — factor when it comes to promoting LBGTQ+ diversity across the food and consumables industry is that of intersectionality. The term is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination, among them racism, sexism and classism, combine, overlap or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.” While this concept undoubtedly exists among other groups, it may be particularly pronounced among LGBTQ+ folks, who often juggle multiple identities at once. “LGBTQ people are often subject not only to discrimination based on their sexual orientation, but also multiple aspects of their identity such as their race, gender, religion and immigration status, and other traits unique to the ‘intersection’ of their identities,” notes Eric Dyson, content marketing specialist at Chicago-based PeopleScout, the world’s largest recruitment process outsourcing provider. “Intersectionality goes beyond acknowledging the multiple forms of discrimination an LGBTQ individual may face in the workplace, and recognizes that the different forms of discrimination may intersect with each other and result in overlapping and reinforcing barriers to career opportunities.” According to Dyson, “An intersectional approach in the workplace helps LGBTQ individuals by focusing on the unique challenges presented by the overlapping systems of discrimination they may face and finding ways to reconcile issues with attention and empathy.” “The impact of intersectionality shapes the employee experience in several ways,” observes Florida Starks, director human resources at Chicago-based Conagra Brands. “This includes health care options offered by the company, parental planning benefits, ability to navigate the corporate landscape, and societal impacts of both parts and whole of identities. There are nuances of experiences across the LGBTQ+ spectrum that vary by race and ethnicity. Having a conversation on these topics is a necessary step to understand needs and shape future actions.” “Intersectionality can be complex, as it can effect multiple forms of discrimination, but I believe our [diversity and inclusion] ambassadors help to break down the barriers of intersectionality at work,” asserts Dawn Higgins, diversity and inclusion manager at St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare. “Our approach provides us the opportunity to not be ‘boxed’ into groups based on race, gender, etc., giving associates room to embrace many areas of diversity and to work crossfunctionally across these many dimensions of diversity. Everyone has a seat at the table to engage in the work, including the white male.” “These intersections bring challenges, but they also bring insight and rich opportunity,” says Brent Miller, senior director, global LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion at Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble. “We always work to bring intersectionality into what we do — not only as one community supporting another community and the challenges they face, but to bring to life the rich and wonderful diversity within the LGBTQ+ community.”


HR,” notes PeopleScout’s Dyson. Minneapolis-based General Mills includes among its affinity networks the LGBTQ+-focused Betty’s Family, “where employees can find a foothold within a more intimate cultural niche and build an even deeper sense of belonging,” says Mollie Wulff, who oversees corporate reputation and brand media relations at the company. P&G, Conagra and Nestlé Purina PetCare likewise offer such groups.

More to Be Done

Food retailers such as Walmart, Kroger and Ahold Delhaize USA have instituted similar LGBTQ+ policies, but there’s undoubtedly more that can be done. For instance, more retailers can commit to work with suppliers with robust LGBTQ+ diversity programs, as well as seek out LGBTQ+-owned businesses, as Meijer and Schnucks have through recently launched supplier diversity efforts. That could include companies like Five North Chocolate, which, in January 2019 added to its packaging “the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce seal and a statement on our LGBT Business certification and commitment to celebrating diversity,” notes Conrad. Beyond actively recruiting LGBTQ+ suppliers, “[t]he food and consumables industry must continue to work on their workplace environments,” advises Dick, of Nestlé Purina PetCare, noting that there are still locations “where the mentality is not of acceptance.” “In terms of connecting with LGBTQ customers, simply showing and not telling can be the most powerful way to engage with customers of different backgrounds,” counsels PeopleScout’s Dyson. “For example, seeing LGBTQ workers in management positions or hiring at-risk or homeless LGBTQ youth could display your commitment to LGBTQ diversity more impactfully than marketing or branding your support. It’s one thing to say you support the LGBTQ community; however, seeing you take direct social action speaks louder than words.” With all that remains to be done to improve the LGBTQ+ experience in the food and consumables industry, there’s still cause for optimism, according to one keen observer. “A generation ago, conversations concerning the LGBTQ+ community were not happening very frequently,” notes P&G’s Miller. “We are in the midst of a transformative period of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace — and that is both hopeful and exciting.”


Retail Foodservice

A supermarket deli shopper passes a Henny Penny rotisserie.

Although the Super Erecta hot shelves and Metro2Go Hot Stations are just being introduced to the grocery world, they’ve already been well received by the quick-service restaurant sector, and, as Austin asserts, “grocery stores are pretty much doing a lot of the same things when it comes to takeout and delivery orders.” The equipment can also be used in other supermarket areas, like the heated food display section, to entice customers to add hot food items to their carts, and behind the counter in the restaurant/deli area, to help keep items warm during prep and other operations. Austin sees the integration of hot and cold holding equipment in center store as part of the future of supermarket foodservice innovations. She believes that equipment with technological advances allowing for less human interaction will be necessary with the shrinking labor force.

Big Fry

On the Menu RE TAIL FOODSERVICE EQUIPMENT INNOVATIONS ARE KEEPING PACE WITH GROWING CONSUMER DEMAND. By Bob Ingram he pandemic-driven shuttering or limiting of restaurant operations has thrust the supermarket foodservice segment into an accelerated role, and equipment suppliers have responded with innovations to prepare, hold and deliver quality food. Jeri Austin, strategic account manager, grocery, at Intermetro Industries Inc., in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., notes that her company has added a heated shelf platform. The Super Erecta hot heated shelves and heated self-enclosure kits are “a super-flexible and convenient way to keep food hot for carryout, delivery, grab-and-go, and [back-of-house] staging applications.” Intermetro has also developed Metro2Go Hot Stations to keep food hot, organized and ready to go, according to Austin, who adds, “With the increase in online orders, grab-and-go products and meal orders for grocers to handle, they need products that are not only efficient, but meet food safety requirements.” The new heated shelf does this by integrating into an existing shelf system or becoming an entirely new unit. “The product line is super-flexible, and you can add a heated holding solution for packaged ready-to-go food virtually anywhere,” Austin points out.

Greg West, SVP of marketing and food innovation at Broaster Co., in Beloit, Wis., says, “During this unprecedented time of disruptive change in the retail foodservice industry, equipment has played a role in satisfying operator needs to meet channel growth demands.”

Key Takeaways In response to pandemicdriven disruptions in restaurant operations, equipment suppliers have come out with innovations enabling retail foodservice providers to prepare, hold and deliver quality food. These innovations encompass heated shelf platforms, holding cabinets, hot stations, fryers and ovens, among other items, and units previously used only for self-service are being converted to full-service or grab-and-go operations. In the near future, ovens and fryers will be pre-programmed, with equipment faces matching those of smartphones.




Retail Foodservice

To help meet those demands, Broaster has introduced two equipment innovations: the E-Series 18G pressure fryer and the SmartTouch Ventless fryer. The E-Series 18G offers more than a 25% reduction in gas usage, multiple days of increased fry-oil life, and ease of use, while the SmartTouch Ventless fryer doesn’t require a hood and features an intuitive operator controller. West notes that pressure-fried chicken is the best for overall taste, and that “grocery has a huge opportunity to significantly expand their fried chicken offerings for carryout and curbside in the pandemic, but also in the future.” He adds that fried foods are best when they aren’t oven-baked as a shortcut, and that Broaster has the expertise to deliver great fried-food programs.

Something in the Ovens

At Alto-Shaam Inc., in Menomonee Falls, Wis., Director of National Accounts-Retail Tami Olson notes, “Whether designing a curbside, grab-and-go or meal-kit program, it’s important to choose equipment that drives profits and exceeds customers’ quality expectations.” As a prime example, Olson cites Alto-Shaam’s Vector MultiCook Ovens, which provide up to four ovens in one unit, and whose Structured Air Technology allows retailers to cook four separate food items simultaneously at different temperatures, cook times and fan-speed controls, with zero flavor transfer. “Cooking food two times faster than conventional technology, Vector ovens keep up with the demand to execute new food program opportunities,” she observes. “With programmability and ChefLinc remote connectivity, Vector ovens are intuitive and easy to use, reducing training time and improving deli workflow.” Olson adds that Vector ovens are available in countertop H Series models, which are ventless and feature a compact 2-inch footprint. Additionally, Vector F Series ovens can be stacked with the company’s Combitherm combi ovens. Alto-Shaam also makes heated shelf merchandisers for graband-go and meal-kit programs. They feature radiant Halo Heat technology and are customizable to a store’s branding. “Customers who are using our heated shelf merchandiser have seen an average increase of 8% to 10% in hot prepared food sales,” Olson says. Heated holding cabinets are another Alto-Shaam innovation, according to Olson, who notes that retailers can keep product at a perfect serving temperature and hold it for hours without its overcooking or drying out, further helping to increase shelf life. “Casters also provide easy mobility for an expanded supermarket curbside pickup program,” she adds.

Smart Cooking

Gregg Brickman, corporate executive chef at Henny Penny Corp., in Eaton, Ohio, sees simplicity as key to the successful use of retail foodservice equipment. “The easier the piece of equipment is to use, the more often it will be appropriately utilized and consistently maintained,” Brickman explains. “The average cook or sales clerk needs to maneuver through the equipment without too much supervision.”


Alto-Shaam's H Series countertops provide up to four ovens in one unit.

Brickman notes that Henny Penny’s Velocity pressure fryers filter oil after every load, allowing the frying oil to last four times longer. “In some situations,” he says, “it is not so much about new, trendy pieces of equipment, but more [about] trends based around different cooking styles. Combi ovens can handle massive production needs for a large variety of cooking methods. Everything from traditional rotisserie-style cooking to slow cooking to air frying can all be done in a combi oven. Small kitchen spaces are a major challenge for our customers, too. Our Space$aver Team Combi addresses this need by providing two independent cooking chambers with an integrated hood, all in one 22-inch-wide space.” Brickman believes that smart cooking is the future of supermarket foodservice equipment. He predicts that ovens and fryers will be pre-programmed, and that the equipment faces will match what smartphones look like, because people are familiar with this type of communication and learning style, and respond well to apps like programs on cooking platforms.

Time to Experiment

In Columbus, Ohio, Dan Poor, VP and business unit leader at Amtekco Wasserstrom, asserts, “Foodservice equipment will need to adapt to support the quickly developing variations we are seeing in operations and delivery.” His company has seen a significant need for modular service-level conversion options for its equipment, according to Poor, who says: “Equipment that was only used for self-service is now being converted as needed for full-service or grab-and-go operations. We are also seeing an increase in full-service kiosks offering products and services that consumers found in traditional restaurant destinations.” Poor continues: “The desire for convenience and limited social contact has led to increased experimentation and adaptability in the marketplace. We believe consumers will continue to search for options, and the brands that can deliver freshly prepared alternatives, coupled with a convenient experience, will see increased sales.”


Price Optimization

Getting Prices Right in 2021 NE W TECHNOLOGY ISN’T THE ONLY THING FOOD RE TAILERS NEED FOR BE T TER OPTIMIZ ATION. By Thad Rueter ew things are as important as price when it comes to grocery shopping — but how to optimize those prices is undergoing significant change in 2021, and retailers that don’t get on board could face problems sooner rather than later. Thanks in large part to the pandemic — but also cheaper technology — price and promotional optimization efforts are moving from manual processes to automation, which is often powered by machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI). Even when the pandemic subsides and food retail gets back to normal — or as normal as will be

Key Takeaways A pandemic that threw the grocery sector into a tailspin has made it clear that price optimization is an imperative. Retailers should strategically consider the role of private label in their overall product mix, and price accordingly, using optimization for speed and efficiency. Keeping up with consumer demand for e-commerce services, and keeping ahead of competitors, will require more food retailers to invest in software-as-a-service solutions or other forms of optimization technology. PROGRESSIVE GROCER Februar y 2021



Price Optimization

possible after months of supply-chain hiccups, pantry loading and e-commerce growth — merchants that intelligently embrace price and promotional optimization will have an edge when it comes to dealing with new consumer habits. Cheryl Sullivan, president of San Mateo, Calif.-based pricing and promotional data and technology company DemandTec, sums up the situation and stakes better than most. “Even in early 2018, many retailers considered science-driven price optimization as a nice-to-have,” she says. “By 2020, it was no longer viewed as a nice-to-have, yet retailers struggled to understand it. Fast-forward as we move into 2021, and retailers have begun not only to understand it, but to embrace it. With the onset of a pandemic that threw grocery into a tailspin, it’s clear that optimization is an absolute imperative.” A recent study cited by Sullivan helps to illustrate her points. In mid-2020, 60% of retailers said that they were focused on putting AI-powered pricing in place. In 2021, that technology will stand as a top priority for retailers that haven’t already progressed on the optimization journey, she notes. “About the only thing that didn’t change was the importance of price — shoppers continue to rank it as the single most important factor in choosing where to shop, which it has consistently been for many years,” Sullivan adds. “It won’t come as a surprise that I see 2021 as a critical year for price optimization to take center stage for retailers.”

Private Label Pricing

A change that took place during the pandemic — a change still playing out, in fact — shows the importance of better food retail price optimization efforts, and how grocery store operators can use the technology to gain ground over rivals. Before the pandemic, according to Sullivan, shoppers reported a 37% increase in their purchases of private label products. That increased to 44% during the pandemic — with that figure expected to go even higher in 2021 and after the COVID-19 outbreak fades. I see 2021 as “Heightened price sensitivity, changing a critical year KVIs [known value items] and supply-chain for price optimization hiccups that sometimes resulted in to take center stage national-brand stockouts all combined to make shoppers more inclined to give store for retailers.” brands a try,” she explains. “As a result, —Cheryl Sullivan, DemandTec shoppers are discovering that private label brands provide both high quality and value, and they are more interested in them than in the past. Retailers need to strategically consider the role of private label in their overall product mix, and price accordingly, which optimization can help you do effectively and quickly.” Indeed, one sign of the increasing importance of price optimization comes from Washington, D.C.-based Datasembly, which describes itself as the leading provider of real-time product pricing, promotions and availability data for retailers and CPG brands. In the latter part of 2020, the company raised $10.3 million in a Series A funding round, and said that it counted as customers three of the top 10 CPG brands and two of the top five regional and national retailers. Datasembly’s proprietary technology collects billions of grocery and retail product records from hundreds of thousands of loca-


tions every day, and the new funding will go toward accelerated product development, and expand sales and marketing efforts. “Datasembly is changing the way retailers and CPGs can get and share pricing information, eliminating the need to visit stores in person or to settle for averaged data,” says founder and CEO Ben Reich. “Using real-time store-level pricing and promotions data, customers get unprecedented transparency between retailers, partners and suppliers. The top retailers and CPGs we’re already working with are reaping the benefits of the value we provide. Along with our two strategic investors, we have the talent and resources to continue to grow our customer base and solve the industry’s archaic pricing problem.”

New Realities

Eventually, consumers will return to stores even as online grocery shopping remains popular, says Matthew Pavich, managing director, global strategic consulting for Austin, Texas-based Revionics, another price optimization firm. “People will always want to shop and interact with others, so some elements of 2020 will only last as long as there is a virus risk, but for the most part, the trends that grew last year will stay in place,” he notes. Two examples of those newer trends? Grocery deliveries and curbside pickup. But keeping up with consumer demand for those services in 2021 and beyond, and keeping ahead of competitors, will require more food retailers to invest in software as a




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Price Optimization

service (SaaS) or other forms of optimization technology. “Price better recommendations and personalization.” optimization remains one of the best ways to translate what She also stresses the importance of investing in consumers like into viable actions to stay relevant as trends real-time data sources and crafting a pricing strategy evolve over time,” Pavich says. with enough flexibility to be able to analyze all of that Such SaaS technology can provide the benefit of a team to reinformation and respond accordingly — and before tailers that deploy these systems — a reflection of a larger trend in competitors do. the food retail world in 2021, as business becomes ever more digital, and new and real-time data points accumulate more quickly. Coming Changes “Retailers using SaaS pricing platforms also benefited from Another anticipated change serves to further underscore being part of a community of customers, having strategic why food retailers this year need to take price optimizapartners who were able to monitor broader pricing trends and tion even more seriously than has been the case. advise on best practices during very challenging times,” Pavich “In 2020, consumers took fewer trips, went to points out. “Imagine how Apollo 13 would have turned out if the fewer retailers and spent more per trip,” notes Edris crew didn’t have all of their instruments, gauges, and a room full Bemanian, CEO of Engage3, a price optimization of experts and scientists in Houston advising them and helping firm with offices in Davis, Calif., and Scottsdale, Ariz. them through their crisis.” “During this period, prices skyrocketed due to lack Even if a particular food retailer isn’t quite ready to of supply, and a significant reduction deploy new price and promotional optimization strategy in promotions driven by the lack of Retailers — or has yet to earmark the money for doing so — supply. At the same time, a greater work toward that goal can be completed now. percentage of sales than ever before will need to “The main thing that retailers should be doing is shifted to e-commerce, and retailers focus on the items re-evaluating and refreshing their strategies to reflect had to be more sensitive to pricing that drive their price the new realities of the current market,” Pavich advisactions that would be perceived as es. “This includes taking a new look at pricing zones, unethical or unfair.” image to keep competitive indexes, KVIs, category pricing roles and In 2021, according to Bemanian, traffic up.” other key aspects of their pricing strategy. High-qualongoing economic constraints promise —Edris Bemanian, Engage3 ity analytics and industry best practices can help reto place an even higher focus on price. tailers build a pricing strategy to meet today’s needs “Price optimization will need to shift to while driving sustainable value in 2021 and beyond.” be able to deal with smaller trip sizes, households with less money to spend on each trip, shifts to private label, and smaller pack sizes,” he predicts. “Historical price Not Just AI It’s hard to go even a day in the world of food retail without hearing optimization models of increasing price to drive profit about some new deployment of artificial intelligence, or fresh won’t work. Retailers will need to focus on the items boasting about its near-term promise. That holds true when it that drive their price image to keep traffic up.” comes to pricing and promotional optimization — but don’t make In other words, the future is pretty much now the mistake that everything is about AI. when it comes to better pricing and promotions. Other technologies and processes also matter significantly, The race toward better optimization could even according to Maia Brenner, a data scientist for Tryolabs, a San prove more important in the longer term than the Francisco-based data science consulting firm. fight to win over online shoppers. That includes machine learning — kind of like the less sophisticated but useful older cousin of AI. Brenner says that mastering price optimization in 2021 requires food retailer tech departments to either master machine-learning techniques or In 2021, ongoing economic find a partner that can. To do that, retailers need to break past constraints old habits and embrace the future. Many grocery operators promise to place proved they could do that in 2020 when they went full force with an even higher e-commerce and associated services. Now, that same attitude focus on price. is required for better price optimization. “Old statistical univariate forecasting tools aren’t sufficient, since forecasting future sales can’t be predicted only by having a look at last year’s or month’s sales,” Brenner observes. “Without doubt, handling new real-time structured or unstructured data sources also helps anticipate the future and make better decisions. For instance, price optimization technologies can be powered up with computer vision and natural-language-processing techniques by providing more information to perform



Food, Beverage & Nonfood Products

Straight to the Top

Yogurt brand Stonyfield Organic has teamed up with Nature’s Path’s EnviroKidz organic kids’ cereal to offer Stonyfield Organic Kids Yogurt with Nature’s Path EnviroKidz Cereal Toppers. Available in two varieties of yogurt made with organic lowfat milk, the line offers a nutritious breakfast, lunch or afternoon snack. The products contain 25% to 35% less sugar than the leading yogurt with toppings, while also offering 10 grams of protein per serving. Additionally, both varieties are USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified. Strawberry Yogurt & Choco Chimps features EnviroKidz Choco Chimps cereal, organic corn puffs coated in organic Fairtrade cocoa, while Vanilla Yogurt & Koala Crisp includes EnviroKidz Koala Crisp cereal, organic crispy rice puffs with a Fairtrade cocoa flavor. By uniting two popular organic brands, Stonyfield and EnviroKidz are delivering a product that should appeal to parents as well as kids, since it’s free from toxic pesticides and made with always organic and non-GMO ingredients. A 4-pack of 4-ounce cups of either variety retails for a suggested $6.49.;

A Toast to Bagels

In response to consumer demand, the Einstein Bros. Bagels chain is rolling out Take & Toast Bagels, a thaw-and-sell product, at food retailers nationwide. Take & Toast Bagels are par-baked and designed to be finished at home in the consumer’s toaster or oven, a format that the company’s innovation team found to be optimal for at-home consumption, as it provides a hot, fresh-tasting bagel. The product line comes in four popular flavors — Plain, Everything, Cinnamon Raisin and Asiago — with a suggested retail price of $4.99 per 5-pack sleeve. Einstein Bros. Bagels is the largest bagel retail company in the United States, with more than 700 locations in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

Purple Craze

Purple Antimicrobial Inc., a maker of eco-friendly household cleaning products, has introduced what it describes as the only alcohol-free nontoxic soap spray that’s made in the United States, U.S. lab tested and proven to kill COVID-19 with an FDA-registered formulation. Also free from alcohol, ammonia and fumes, the water-based Purple P-19 Soap Spray solution is optimized to remove dirt, grime, gunk and grease. This past year, demand for cleaning products skyrocketed, leaving many retailers without sufficient stock on shelves. Since March 2020, Purple Antimicrobial has seen shipments grow by 100 times while it has continued to expand and control its supply chain and aggressively grow its product offerings. A 32-ounce bottle of Purple P-19 Soap Spray or a 25-count box of wipes retails for a suggested $7.99, and a 1-gallon bottle goes for a suggested $19.99.

From Hell’s Kitchen it Came

Famed chef and television personality Gordon Ramsay is the inspiration behind Hell’s Seltzer, a hard seltzer line brought to store shelves by distribution platform Brew Pipeline in partnership with specialist beverage development and branding agency Global Brews of London. Offering bold flavors with premium drinkability, the seltzers are based on popular menu items from Ramsay’s U.S. Hell’s Kitchen restaurants, with each tested and approved by the chef himself. The gluten-free 5.5% ABV line comes in four all-natural flavors: Berry Inferno (peach, blueberry, raspberry); Knicker Twist (passionfruit, pineapple, orange); Mean Green (kiwi, lime, mint, pineapple); and That’s Forked (Key lime, vanilla, graham). Hell’s Seltzer is sold in 12-count variety packs of 12-ounce cans, featuring three of each can, with a suggested retail price range of $15.99-$17.99.;; PROGRESSIVE GROCER Februar y 2021



Room for E-Commerce Improvement CLOSE THE PICKUP AND DELIVERY GAP IN 2021. s grocery e-commerce surged throughout 2020, Americans reaffirmed a preference for curbside pickup over delivery. Households tend to favor grocery pickup because it costs less than delivery and, in theory, they have more control over when their order is received. However, satisfaction with pickup has lagged delivery in two key areas that affect the overall shopping experience: selecting a time slot and receiving the order. Food retailers have an opportunity to improve both this year.

Selecting a Time Slot

Pickup satisfaction scores related to selecting a preferred time slot lag delivery by 10 percentage points when comparing the share of very/ extremely satisfied customers, according to research that Brick Meets Click conducted with Toronto-based Mercatus last November. The culprit is a lack of capacity to meet the elevated shopper demand for pickup. While that’s understandable, given the onslaught of online order volume that grocers experienced as the pandemic set in, the reality remains that retailers own this opportunity, as third-party providers have adapted more quickly to meet the growing demand for delivery. Regardless, picture your customer trying to select a pickup slot at 11 a.m., only to discover the first available time slot isn’t until the next day. Yet, if they toggle to delivery, they could get something within two hours, or maybe a little further out, but at least on the same day. Closing the performance gap is important because retailers risk losing entire orders and customers, as the vast majority don’t use both. In fact, our research highlights that household usage of pickup and delivery options from the same retailer are very limited. Only 15% of the active online grocery households across all online retail formats used both service types during the same month,

Closing the performance gap is important because retailers risk losing entire orders and customers, as the vast majority don’t use both pickup and delivery.


according to the Brick Meets Click/Mercatus November research. Additionally, the dual usage for a single retailer would almost be cut in half, based on Brick Meet Click’s analysis of 30 retailers that offered both fulfillment options.

Receiving the Order

The other opportunity for retailers in 2021 is to reduce wait times, an area where our research shows pickup also lags delivery. Ironically, a year ago, satisfaction with pickup wait times exceeded delivery. What’s changed is third-party delivery providers proactively pushing notifications about the order and unattended delivery options that collectively mean that customers don’t have to guess or wait for when their order will arrive. Conversely, pickup customers may wait five minutes or more. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, if more grocers took advantage of geo-location tools to anticipate when shoppers were arriving to pick up their orders. Retailers may be hesitant to take this step, because it adds cost. However, it also improves the shopper experience and reduces the risk that customers will shift their allegiance to another retailer — one that appreciates the value of time. Retailers face a similar false choice when it comes to solving the capacity issue that negatively affects the ability to select a time slot. They can add labor to increase throughput, or they can train a laser focus on enhancing fulfillment processes, which our experience has shown can yield a 30% improvement in labor productivity. Improving the efficiency of the assembly process and leveraging technology to enhance the process of distributing orders is vital to strengthening shoppers’ experience and winning more market share in 2021. David Bishop is a partner at Barrington, Ill.-based Brick Meets Click, where he leads shopper research, market forecasting and retailer benchmarking programs.

Nominations are now open for Progressive Grocer ’s 2021 Top Women in Grocery awards program, which recognizes the integral role women play across all segments of the North American retail food industry.

We’re honoring outstanding female leaders from the retailer/wholesaler and supplier/vendor communities in three categories: SENIOR-LEVEL EXECUTIVES (titles of Vice President or higher) RISING STARS (titles lower than Vice President and Area/Region Director) STORE MANAGERS (titles of Store Manager, Store Director) Winners will be featured in our June 2021 print issue and winners will be recognized in person at our gala in Orlando, FL in November.

Contact Bridget Goldschmidt for details:

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