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OPINIONFresh Food

People, Not Just Products, Help Our Industry Grow

The food industry’s many rich and rewarding career paths is a story that deserves to be proclaimed
Photograph: Shutterstock

Let’s pause for a second and think about our industry. We are food sellers, providers and manufacturers. And we provide a necessity. All people must eat. Luckily for us, people also want to enjoy what they eat, and our industry leads the pack when it comes to fresh and delicious options.

We offer commodities that consumers want and need, but the channels through which consumers can find these same commodities are increasing. And with them comes greater competition for consumer dollars.

There was a time, not too long ago, when an individual wouldn’t even consider a convenience store or a dollar store as a choice for purchasing fresh products. That has changed. And while new brick-and-mortar channels are no doubt vying for their share of the fresh-food segment pie, the increase in online grocery options by new entrants to the food retail arena perhaps poses the biggest threat.

So, how do we—the dairy, deli, bakery, cheese and retail prepared food industry—respond successfully to this trend? The answer lies not only in the variety, quality and convenience of the food we offer, but also the experience we should be delivering in our brick-and-mortar stores. And this experience is fueled by the talented associates we employ.

Power to the Industry’s People

The mission of the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA) is guided by six influencers. One of these is people—not just the shoppers who visit our stores and purchase our products, but the employees that give our stores and our companies their identities. The associates that offer samples next to the cheese islands; the manufacturers that provide advice on charcuterie boards in the fresh deli department; and the brokers that make the purchasing process seamless and efficient.

On the supermarket level, these are the individuals that interact with our customers in our stores each and every day. They’re the face of the company. And they create an experience that online shopping simply cannot match.

And on the manufacturer side, they’re the ones steering the flavor and taste trends of today, as well as designing new products that fit perfectly within our fresh departments.

But like most industries in today’s competitive labor market, attracting—and perhaps even more importantly retaining—individuals to help us grow our departments and companies can be challenging. In addition to low unemployment rates in the U.S., the retail food industry has the added burden of marketing an exciting industry and potential career path to professionals who aren’t familiar with the opportunities that exist in food retail.

It’s up to us as an industry to be proactive in telling our narrative of the food industry and the potential for a rewarding career. And just like creating an experience in our stores leads to greater shopper satisfaction, opening a world of possibilities firsthand can be the best way to demonstrate this.

Take, for example, IDDBA’s Fresh Careers program. Now in its third year, the program offers students pursuing careers in the food industry the chance to experience business-to-business networking at IDDBA’s annual show. Not only do these individuals experience the latest exciting products and trends, they’re also paired with Career Ambassadors, industry professionals who provide guidance during their time at the show and answer questions they have on the industry.

Additionally, training and product knowledge is vital. Our associates must feel comfortable and confident in performing their duties and interacting with shoppers. To assist the industry, IDDBA has created a library of online training and product knowledge materials to help guide associates and give them the tools they need to be successful in their roles at your stores and companies.  

Whether it’s through a mentor program, attendance at trade shows and seminars, or an internship at corporate headquarters, a real-life plunge into the world of food retail can be an ideal way to attract the talent our fresh departments need to continue our success in the future.

Learn more about IDDBA’s programs for attracting and retaining employees, including information on its Fresh Careers, Mentor Grant and scholarship programs, here.

Mike Eardley is president and CEO of the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA).

 

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