Let's see if we've got this future thing figured out. Nothing is going to be like what it is today, right? The marketing of branded packaged goods to consumers through the overstored retail trades is facing radical overhaul in real time. Even brands are caught in the cross-fire between value-seeking consumers and the allure of private-label products. Some radical predictions:
Most traditional supermarket operators are sure to go out of business. The big guys will survive by showcasing fruit, vegetables, fresh baked goods, pharmacy and videotapes. They form alliances with L.L. Bean and Land's End to sell canned goods by catalog. Electronic marketing becomes the key to shopper loyalty. But there's so much electronic marketing going on in the store that infrequent shoppers mistake the supermarket for a video game arcade. The small guys, of course, are dead. Their stores are razed to become parking lots for supercenters. Ah, the supercenters. Anyone attending the Food Marketing Institute's Midyear Executive Conference in Orlando last month got a chilling sneak preview of the future. A consultant from McKinsey & Co., which has analyzed supercenters, called them "a powerful format that provides real consumer value." She projected 1,800 supercenters in eight years. That giant sucking sound will be the $56 billion in grocery-related sales that supercenters will take out of the competing retail stores. The big winner, you might have guessed, should be that Arkansas Traveler which by that time will have stretched its tentacles throughout the land. The prospect of one customer controlling so much volume is sobering for most brand marketers. Then there are the consumers. In the first decade of the new millennium, the forever-young baby boomers will start to morph into senior citizens. It will be a long and winding road for the Healthy Choice generation. But they will have a profound effect on the marketing of fast-moving consumer goods, as they always have. Maybe the grey boomers won't shop in supercenters. Maybe they won't drive past several swell supermarkets to race-walk through a 150,000-square-foot cavern. Maybe they'd rather moon-walk through the local IGA to say hello to the butcher and baker and pick up a few things. Others might cocoon comfortably in their state-of-the-art homes with enough cable, computer and direct-satellite gear to power a small country. Such hardware and software will presumably enable everyone to do everything from selecting movies on demand to placing grocery orders via computer or cable TV to be delivered promptly to the front door. Certainly this will be a convenience for seniors, but it should also appeal to Mom and Dad with kids. And everyone else, too. Questions: Will supercenters succeed? Will only half of today's supermarket operators survive? Will electronic marketing and other in-store marketing tactics prosper if success is measured by the number of stores operating and the number of consumers shopping in them? Will store brands rule? Stay tuned. Nobody's got this future thing figured out.