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OPINIONFresh Food

Storytelling Could Be the No. 1 Product Attribute in 2019

IDDBA’s chief executive discusses why all food products have a story that deserves to be told
Little cuisine
Photograph by WGB Staff

If there’s one thing the retail food industry learned in 2018, it’s that transparency is a necessity for today’s shoppers. Consumers want to know the origins of food, where and how it was grown, raised, or manufactured, and if it was done so in a sustainable fashion. And they want this information in real time.

One of the biggest stories in 2018 was the advancement of blockchain technology in our industry. Driven by the pacesetters of the food business, this manner of tracking food items through the logistical supply chain will most likely become the norm in how food is tracked between producer and retailer. In fact, Walmart is already requiring its suppliers of leafy greens to implement blockchain technology.

When conducting research for our annual What’s in Storepublication, our IDDBA staff repeatedly encountered transparency as a major purchasing consideration, regardless of the department. This need for product information is at the core of “conscious consumerism,” whereby food origin, sourcing, company missions and clean labeling take precedence over price. Sustainability is also an important factor in their purchases, such as the environmental impact of food production.

The Need for Storytelling Among Retailers and Manufacturers Alike

Consumers no longer view supermarkets and grocers in terms of just shopping for food staples. They’re increasingly looking to them as sources of education and knowledge. And because of this need, it’s imperative that retailers and manufacturers become storytellers of their products.

Perhaps more than any time in the history of the food industry, consumers have a bevy of options to choose from when planning their meals. SKU counts are growing, and the options both down the center-store aisles and within our fresh departments appear seemingly endless and overwhelming for most shoppers. Products that don’t stand out from their competitors run the risk of getting lost in the mix.

This is where storytelling and transparency come into play.

Food just doesn’t magically appear in a display case or on a store shelf. It’s part of a journey, and it follows a path from its place of origin right up to a consumer’s dining enjoyment. Many of the products in our fresh departments are prime candidates for these stories. Take cheese, for instance. It could begin its story in the pastures where a cheesemaker’s cows graze. Or perhaps it’s the locally-grown wheat used to make fresh bread at an in-store bakery.

Regardless of the product or ingredient, food has a story. Telling this story on packaging, labeling, signage, displays, menu boards, social media and other marketing channels not only instantly engages consumers specifically looking for these products (such as superconsumers, the focus of IDDBA’s latest research) butit can also perk the interest of a more casual shopper who might be intrigued to try it.

And in addition to the products themselves, it’s the experience consumers now look for when determining where to shop. The story itself can be accentuated through the sights, tastes and sounds of our fresh departments. It could be through tastings. It could be the smell of freshly-baked products in the in-store bakery. It could be through special events that feature food pairings and entertaining ideas.

2019 could be the year of transparency in our industry. Be sure your store or company is telling the story to your consumers. To learn more about industry food trends, visit www.iddba.org.

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

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