WASHINGTON -- Retailers looking to create a more user-friendly supermarket can turn to the Grocery Manufacturers of America for a solution. Solution selling, to be exact.
"Solution Selling -- Coming Soon to a Store Near You" is a report co-sponsored by GMA here and Andersen Consulting, Chicago, in cooperation with the Food Marketing Institute here, and the Association of Sales and Marketing Cos., Reston, Va.
The report defines solution selling as a way to simplify the shopping experience by bundling and merchandising products, service and information. Italian sections, baby departments and pasta stations are among the possibilities.
"Solution selling presents a real opportunity to both retailers and manufacturers," C. Manly Molpus, GMA president and chief executive officer, told SN. "We see it as another win-win situation, which has been the basic thrust of all our work over the past few years."
Solution selling will be among the topics discussed at the GMA Executive Conference, which will run from June 7 through 10 at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.
Jim Ukrop, vice chairman and chief executive officer of Ukrop's Super Markets, will join Richard Lenny, president of Pillsbury North America, Minneapolis, to discuss the concept.
This year's executive conference, themed "Creating the Future: Solutions for a Changing Marketplace," includes an impressive line-up of retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers, including Victor Lund, chairman and CEO of American Stores Co., Salt Lake City; Richard Cohen, president and CEO of C&S Wholesale Grocers, Brattleboro, Vt.; and Albert Carey, chief operating officer, Frito-Lay, Plano, Texas.
New to this year's meeting are three "strategic issues panels," which will discuss the industry's quest for efficiency, America's changing appetite and new item introductions. Participants include Danny Wegman, president of Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y.; and Edward Dunn, president of Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C.
Ukrop's is being highlighted at the conference because it is a model solution selling retailer, according to GMA. Its "What's for Dinner Tonight" program offers a different 15-minute meal solution every week. The ingredients for each meal, along with recipe cards, are displayed in a central location.
Speaking to SN in a preshow interview, Molpus described solution selling as a way to make the entire shopping experience more consumer friendly.
"Meal solutions are a way to make the shopping experience something that's quick and easy. Solution selling is the same thing, but extends to all areas of the store," he said.
The purpose of the report is to demonstrate that brands can play a significant role in enhancing the consumer shopping experience, Molpus said. For instance, a section that contains milk, eggs, cereal, bacon and orange juice will cater to shoppers looking specifically for breakfast items.
"There are hundreds of convenient foods in the market, but they're not necessary bundled together in a convenient way to the shopper," Molpus said. "What the solution study does, we hope, is point to a new merchandising direction."
The convenience issue is important because it is one of the main reasons why traditional supermarkets are losing share to other formats, said Molpus.
Just as the industry has cut down on inventories, people have reduced their home inventories. They're spending less time in the supermarket and are buying less per visit.
''People don't want to have to shop an entire 60,000-square-foot store to get six items they need for breakfast," he said.
In order for solution selling to work, though, retailers need to rethink their merchandising programs -- and possibly even their store configurations.
While this may be difficult for some, Molpus said many chains are willing to adapt to the new retail climate.
"I'm much more optimistic today that manufacturers and retailers will find a way to compete for that consumer dollar," he said.
Molpus said the GMA staff and its committees will heavily promote solution selling. Included in its marketing program are nationwide seminars and store tours about the program. Ukrop's was slated to be toured last week, and Dominick's is scheduled to be visited on June 13.
Solution selling is one of several studies GMA has conducted. Two other recent works deal with general merchandise and health and beauty care and new product introductions. The goal of all these efforts is to boost volume growth.
"Improved efficiency is fundamental to our business and should be an ongoing effort. But the key to our long-term prosperity is achieving volume growth -- and that's the industry's greatest challenge," Molpus said.
Because retailers can only do so much to cut costs, to compete they need to build their volume. Molpus is pleased with the efforts some have made in this area.
"A number of strategies are in the works to boost volume growth.
We've rejuvenated our Efficient Consumer Response effort, with leadership of Danny Wegman and Al Carey," he said. "We have some groups that will continue to focus on bringing up critical mass levels for electronic data interchange, category management and continuous replenishment."
But there's still a lot more work to do, he added. The industry needs to evaluate what its real growth drivers are. In short, it needs to cater to the changing consumers' needs.
This could mean increasing ethnic sections and convenience stockkeeping units or introducing new items, like neutraceuticals and upscale products. Catering to the booming kids' market, another topic to be discussed at the executive conference, is also a possibility.
"We can't get profits from raising prices. We have to move more products," he said.
When asked how ECR has changed the relationship retailers have with their trading partners, Molpus said it has made it stronger.
"There's now a better understanding that you can't do category management or continuous replenishment unless you're willing to share information. You need to make it a partnership or an alliance and improve the level of trust," he said.
Molpus stressed that this doesn't mean all the industry's problems have been solved, citing that there still may be disagreement about unsalables or slotting fees.
"But we do not let that stand in the way of working constructively together so that we can be partners," he added.
And while there have been many examples of how ECR can pay off, he said the industry needs to demonstrate its benefits more clearly.
"We're in the early stages of a massive change of how we do business with each other. I'm convinced the results will arrive soon," he said.