Viewpoints

Today's Turbulence Has Many Thinking Past Perfect

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The present has you down? Economic malaise? Food safety nightmares? The rush of technology? Overflow of information? Not to worry, you can always recapture the past, which is exactly what more people seem to be doing.

It's not just the current crop of movies that evoke successful story lines from the past, such as “Get Smart,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

In the music world, a small backlash against CDs has a number of retailers, reportedly including Fred Meyer, testing reintroductions of vinyl LP records, which some find to have a more realistic sound. Vinyl isn't about to threaten digital, but it's building a small, dedicated fan base.

In the workplace, an overload of emails and other electronic communications has some worrying about a digital disconnect. Judy Spires, president of Acme Markets, Malvern, Pa., recently took a small step backward. She enacted a policy requiring managers to make a phone call once a day instead of sending an email, according to a recent SN story. Her policy won't transform modern communications, but it will make people think.

Economic hard times are leading consumers to re-embrace other practices that seemed to have been abandoned long ago. Consumers are stocking pantries with food purchased on sale — which some refer to as a Depression mentality, and others as the shopper equivalent of retailer forward buying. Consumers are also abandoning restaurants in favor of more eating at home, with many re-embracing cooking. But does anyone know or remember how to cook? Retailers need to step into this void by playing educator.

On the global front, surging demand for food and tighter food supplies are leading some poorer nations to rethink policies that switched their economies from local farming into playing specialized roles in the industrial or service sectors. Those initiatives were intended to build wealth by attracting foreign money, but all of a sudden food is the more important priority.

In the U.S. and other developed countries, mounting reports of food safety problems have many consumers wishing for the days before the nightly news was filled with recall information. Initiatives such as traceability and local foods attempt to recapture a time when people knew where their food was produced. Yet many wonder if these campaigns are realistic today on a global scale.

Meanwhile, the organic movement is still transporting consumers back to a period before the food industry was changed by modern growing and processing techniques. The success of organics has created new challenges, however, including a lack of adequate supply at a time when the trend is catching fire worldwide.

It's hard, if not impossible, to turn back the clock, but that won't stop many from trying, particularly when they perceive the past as better. Marketers focused only on the new and exciting will miss this important trend of consumers holding up stop signs to today's events.

Contributors

David Orgel

David Orgel is executive director, content & user engagement, of Supermarket News (SN) and its website, SupermarketNews.com. Orgel delivers his opinions on industry trends through a bi-weekly...

Jon Springer

Jon Springer has been writing about food, food retailers and food retailing for more than 10 years, and is in his second tour of duty with Supermarket News. His prior experience includes covering the...
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In their Viewpoints columns, SN editors give their perspectives on current industry issues.

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