RESTON, Va. -- For the National Grocers Association here, the primary goals for 1999 are to strengthen the competitive position of its retail and wholesale members and to aggressively pursue ways to level the playing field with supercenters and other alternative formats.
That's the theme that will run through most NGA meetings next year, Thomas K. Zaucha, president and chief executive officer, told SN -- beginning with the association's annual convention and exposition, scheduled for Jan. 27 to 31 in San Francisco, which will focus on ways to compete and operate more efficiently and serve customers more profitably. One of the keynote sessions at the convention -- titled "Operation Neighborhood Watch: Beating the Supercenters" -- will look at various operating, advertising and customer-service strategies that are being used to counter what supercenters offer, Zaucha said.
"We want to get that information in front of people, going case-study by case-study to show how supermarkets have competed successfully and beat alternative formats," he explained.
Another general session will focus on ways that retailers can reinvent their stores as destination centers where day-to-day lifestyle needs and interests are met and fulfilled, Zaucha pointed out.
"Becoming a lifestyle center means focusing on wellness, not health and beauty care; focusing on nutrition instead of groceries; and selling a holiday like Christmas as a high-volume shopping opportunity that has nothing to do with ads or special promotions or coupons but that focuses on the supermarket as the most efficient location to fulfill lifestyle needs for that holiday," he explained.
The convention's exhibits will be grouped as a series of destination-center concepts, including healthy lifestyles (natural and organic foods, sports drinks, HBC items); West Coast lifestyles (Mexican and Asian foods, Pacific Northwest cuisine); and a new profit-center area that offers potential destination solutions such as gas pumps, sporting equipment, banking, video and other specialty departments.
One aspect of the convention that will be expanded this year is the food-safety certification program that the NGA offered for the first time at last year's meeting, in cooperation with the American Food Safety Institute and the National Assessment Institute.
"We put a high priority on food safety because it's getting a lot of attention from the public and the government," Zaucha said.
The day-long training session, which will be offered twice at this year's meeting, is designed to teach retailers how to handle, monitor and store perishable products, based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point principles.
Last year's single session attracted 20 people, and Zaucha said he expects that number to triple this year.
The convention will also feature more than 30 workshops, with multiple sessions devoted to marketing, human resources, operations, technology, home-meal replacement, store design and wholesaling.
Concurrent with the NGA convention will be two "conferences within a convention" -- a joint marketing conference co-sponsored by Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va., and the NGA's Human Resources Conference.
The joint marketing conference, now in its third year, is aimed at retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and suppliers interested in improving sales and building image through better and more creative advertising and merchandising, Zaucha said, while the human-resources conference is aimed at developing a high-quality work force for the industry.
Each conference includes its own general sessions and marketing workshops, although participants are able -- and encouraged -- to attend NGA convention sessions as well, Zaucha said.
The NGA, along with the FDI and the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, will sponsor a joint industry Public Affairs Assembly March 15 and 16 in Washington, at which retailers will have the chance to meet with members of Congress. According to Zaucha, the most critical priority in industry dealings with Congress, as it has been for some time, is elimination of the estate tax. The industry has made strides over the years getting estate tax reductions, he said, "but it's still minuscule in terms of the detrimental impact of those taxes. And unless we enlist family business people across the country to build a national grassroots movement, we will continue to push the rock uphill."
In another effort to influence government policy, the NGA will hold its second annual Regulatory Impact Conference June 9 to 11 in Washington.
"The more we can educate retailers about the impact of the cost of compliance, the more we hope to be able to lower those costs. And we also need to educate the regulators about how the industry works to maintain a level playing field, and this conference is a good opportunity for us to send that message."
The NGA's Industry and Trade Relations Conference, scheduled for Sept. 12 to 15 in Colorado Springs, Colo., will feature the first report by the year-old committee of retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and brokers whose task, Zaucha said, is to identify an agenda for improved communication, cooperation and trust among all levels of the industry.