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The Supermarket Industry is Seeing Major Changes

Recent horror stories of layoffs and shutdowns should not discourage anyone from getting into the supermarket business. The work is there. It's simply not the same as it used to be.

One of the major trends affecting the supermarket industry is consolidation. When a retail giant like Safeway buys up a smaller chain, like Genuardi's Family Markets, it may or may not take the smaller chain's employees with it. This is a frightening prospect for the employees of an acquired company -- they fear the loss of their jobs.

Charles A. Genuardi, however, reported that a major reason for selling the 80-year-old company was so that it could go out with a bang -- while it was still winning the supermarket battle. In the face of consolidation, that's tough to do. The competition is simply too stiff.

Shannon Blagg is the public relations director at a supermarket company. "The market is changing....The public is not going to the grocery store for the same reasons that they used to. They used to go and buy flour and milk and eggs and sugar and salt. [Then, they'd] go home and make dinner. Now, they go for solutions to their lives," she says.

All food retailers, including the giants, are being forced to find a place in today's changing market. Blagg explains that retailers have to make decisions according to the needs of their particular market. If they don't, they'll either go under -- or be gobbled up by a larger chain.

"You're seeing a lot of shakeup because a lot of the chains follow a formula. Every market is different. Every market has its own unique needs," says Blagg.

Anthony Spiteri is the director of marketing and media for a grocery store chain. He agrees that retailers in North America are waking up to the fact that there are regional differences in what people want from their supermarkets.

"Even chains that are doing business in multiple [areas] might have a different product mix, depending on if they're an inner city store or a suburb store and depending on the socio-economic environment that surrounds it," he says.

Super Marketers Wanted

Spiteri suggests that successful supermarkets cater to the consumer's each and every need. "It's nothing to see stores today which have not only restaurants inside the store, but things like wine and liquor boutiques, cigar and cigarette shops [and] a pharmacy. Newer locations today are also including things like dry-cleaning service."

In other words, shoppers are no longer looking for basic ingredients to the latest macaroni casserole. They want the whole package -- a ready-made casserole, the dishes and the carpet cleaner to wipe up the mess.

Of course, not all consumers like macaroni casserole. That's why supermarkets have to listen to the needs of their particular market. Spiteri's stores, for example, stocks lots of natural and organic foods. "There's definitely a call for it," says Spiteri. Thanks to smart marketing and consumer study, his company knows that its average consumer leans toward a healthy, active and progressive-minded lifestyle.

Spiteri explains that all their produce isn't all natural or organic. "What it does stand for is giving the consumer exactly what it needs. And there's a big call for it [here] because of the lifestyle."

Adam Orser is the manager of a produce market. He says the market for local organic foods is growing in general. "People are becoming more aware of keeping things local and [of] the growing practices," says Orser. "There's definitely an awareness growing in that area."

According to Spiteri, people with the marketing and management skills to keep consumers happy (and, therefore, spending money) are in high demand.

"Ten years ago, store management would be looking for strong meat cutters and strong bakery people," says Spiteri. "What's necessary today are good, rounded management skills,...really good consumer understanding,...good marketing skills and then, obviously, good customer service skills."

Stable Jobs Not Guaranteed

For people who have survived the recent onslaught of consolidations, things remain rosy in the supermarket industry. But with all these changes, can workers expect a stable career? According to Blagg, that's not something anybody can predict.

"I think businesses are getting smarter....I think that [the industry is] going to continue to weed out the people who are not striving for excellence or haven't paid attention to the needs of the market," she says.

Orser has seen numerous competitors go under. "It's still quite a tough business. There's a lot of people that come out with this type of market that don't make it," he says.

Spiteri adds that the industry is going to continue its path of consolidation. While this will likely create a stronger industry in the end, it may be tough going for smaller businesses and their employees.

"I think there's going to be, first of all, a North American consolidation," says Spiteri. Beyond that, he adds, there is a distinct possibility that the industry will expand its horizons overseas. Some chains, like IGA Inc., have already done so.

But there are plenty of jobs as supermarkets attempt to stay on top of the changes. Today's managers are looking for people with more skills than ever before. Many positions "are highly competitive," according to Blagg.

Spiteri says successful companies know how to hire the right people. The right people, he adds, have marketing skills and management skills and can deal with customers in a friendly manner.

At this point, says Spiteri, supermarket management is still predominantly male. Customer service, on the other hand, is handled primarily by women. "It's something that's turning," he says.

"Is it turning as quickly as other industries? No. But there's definitely an eye on [closing] the gender gap."

Blagg says that if you've got the drive, you'll make it in the supermarket business. "For those people who have a passionate interest in this business, the opportunities are wide open. If they care, they're going to be the one who gets promoted. Maybe they'll be the one who gets handed the keys to the whole thing when the retailer wants to retire!" she says.


Food Marketing Institute
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