MADISON, Wis. -- The results of a retailer survey commissioned by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association reveal new thinking regarding marketing strategies, perishables branding, competitive differentiation, sales and consumer behavior.
Highlights of the new IDDBA study, which polled more than 200 supermarket executives and 1,000 consumers across the United States, will be presented at the association's Dairy-Deli-Bake 2002 Seminar & Expo, June 2-4, in Orlando, Fla. Researcher Rosita Thomas, Thomas Opinion Research, the conductor of the survey, will summarize the data.
"Our research looks at how consumers think about brands and what influence they have on their purchase decisions in the fresh departments. Walk into any deli and you'll see the meat and cheese programs have brand identity, but even salads and desserts that don't necessarily say Brand XYZ have a branded identity. They're perceived as the store brand," said Carol Christison, IDDBA's executive director.
SN interviewed Christison as she prepared for Dairy-Deli-Bake 2002. She talked about the study, completed this spring, current issues facing the industry and about what else is on the agenda in Orlando next month.
Christison described how the survey was conducted and how previous IDDBA research is reflected in this year's seminar program. She also discussed the challenge retailers face in getting the "fresh" message across to consumers, and other issues.
SN: Please elaborate on how the study was conducted and on the decision to include retailers this time.
CHRISTISON: By switching [from telephone interviews used in the past] to online interviews, we asked as many or more questions and didn't have to rush the answers. Consumers, for instance, could say as much as they wanted about their buying behavior and attitudes. Also, because we're researching consumer attitudes toward brands in the perishables departments, we wanted to test the validity of [consumers'] responses by talking to retailers. That's important, because sometimes people say what they think you want to hear, instead of what they really think or do. By matching the consumer's perceptions and memories with actual in-store sales data, we can get a clearer picture of what's going on.
CHRISTISON: The entire area of food-to-go is such a growth opportunity. Food-to-go is the future. To help retailers get a handle on how they can benefit from this trend, we've brought in two of the best retailers in the business who pioneered the concept. Ukrop's Super Markets and EatZi's. Nancy Wingfield, director of food service at Ukrop's, and Jon Aldridge, manager of specialty foods at EatZi's, are on the program. There are some wonderful retailers out there with excellent meal solution programs. That's because they've made the management commitment and have created a corporate culture to sustain it.
CHRISTISON: One that shows continued growth is organic foods. The retailer's biggest concern is not whether or not to offer them but whether or not to integrate them on the shelf with nonorganics or create a separate section. We have Katherine DiMatteo, the executive director of the Organic Trade Association, coming to talk about organic dairy products and natural foods. And one of the most popular research studies we ever did was on the Hispanic consumer. The opportunities there are explosive. Retailers and manufacturers alike are searching for marketing information. Dr. Felipe Korzenny from Cheskin Research is on the program to talk about marketing dairy products to the Hispanic consumer. Keys to that include learning how brands are chosen, sources of influence, brand loyalty and other motivational factors.
SN: I know your Show & Sell Merchandising Center is a popular feature of your show. What's its theme this year?
CHRISTISON: Show & Sell has become a destination. Retailers come back year after year looking for ideas they can duplicate in their own operations. We want people to steal our ideas or build on them to make them better. We want them to sell food. This year, the theme is the United Nations of Eating -- Mexican, Asian, African, French, Middle Eastern. Our creative teams are taking what retailers do every day and making it new and exciting by putting a little tiny twist on it. This isn't "rack 'em and stack 'em" retailing. It's creative, but ever so simple to duplicate.
CHRISTISON: One of the wonderful things about doing an annual event is the opportunity to develop a core group of retailers who become "experts" at what they do. We have a lot of "repeaters" on the Show & Sell merchandising committee and we mix them with new people to give us a balance. We bring in new ideas but have some experts who understand the challenges ahead. Some of these people are here for their eighth straight year. We have team members from Supervalu, Dorothy Lane Markets, Wegmans, Brown & Cole and Unified Western Grocers. Some are using vacation time to join the team. We also get incredible support from the broker and manufacturing communities. Without their commitment, this event wouldn't be possible.
SN: From your observations, when it comes to meal solutions, what are the major issues facing retailers this year?
CHRISTISON: The scarcity of skilled labor as well as food safety and bioterrorism are on every retailer's list of top issues. Consumers want quality and consistency and convenience, and they're looking for any customer service. Retailers know that they have to not only attract better help but keep the help they already have. To do that, it costs more. Technology promises to ease some of the costs, but the high cost of entry makes it a difficult decision.
CHRISTISON: Supermarkets are not considered a destination for restaurant-type meals, and part of the problem is that we haven't educated our customers. In a restaurant or takeout restaurant, the customer thinks the food is fresh because he has to wait for it. It's probably the same food from the same suppliers that's in the supermarket, waiting for the customer. But when he sees it in the supermarket, the customer doesn't think of it as convenience. He sees it as food that's been sitting there, possibly for hours. By using some signage or labeling to say things like, "prepared fresh for you at 0:00 hours" or "fresh-baked at 0:00 p.m.," we can show the customer that it is fresh. Some very simple things can be effective.
SN: How many booths do you have this year on the exhibition floor? What's projected attendance based on pre-registration?
CHRISTISON: Our original floor plan had 1,037 booths on it. With an expansion, that went up to 1,125 -- an increase of 88 booths -- and that's after we sold out the original plan. This represents approximately 500 companies. With all of the travel concerns after 9/11, we had expected attendance would be down. However, it's ahead of last year and we're expecting a record crowd of 6,500 to 7,000 people. We're just not seeing a drop at all. In fact, we're expecting such a huge crowd that we're making arrangements for [keynote speaker] Rudy Giuliani to be televised into a nearby room, just to accommodate everyone who's interested.