IEC conference: The changing face of retail

Consumers are increasingly seeking out local, “friendly” and transparent food supplies as the internet changes shoppers’ demands for knowledge of farming and food production, the International Egg Commission conference heard.

“Eggs are everywhere,” said Dr David Bosshart, of European thinktank the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute. “The bad news is, when you are everywhere, people are watching much more closely. You have to be transparent and everyone wants to look at your value chain.”

The web is also changing the way people shop and retailers are having to adapt their marketing, according to Dr Bosshart. “Retailing is essential, retailers are not,” he told the conference, held at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Edinburgh, adding that the supply chain would have to innovate to keep up with online players such as Amazon and Google.

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“Chickens are becoming part of the family,” said Dr Bosshart, referring to the growth in backyard poultry keeping, farmers’ markets and artisan food in developed countries that is driving this need for greater transparency.

Where supermarkets had traditionally won market in developed countries with a “pile it high and sell it cheap” philosophy, they now had to respond by telling the story of where food came from in stores, online and on packaging. They also had to convey it to a wide range of sales channels, from supermarkets to internet grocery sales.

“People want more local, transparent food; it’s no longer about passive consumption. They are increasingly collaborating and creating.” Dr Bosshart said retailers had to win the heart of shoppers as well as the pursestrings.

Internet shopping

A more fundamental shift to the shopping environment is taking place because of the influence of the internet on consumers’ lifestyles, he added. Shoppers have less self-discipline, less time and “decision fatigue” from the stress of constant information bombardment.

Retailers are also facing competition from the web as more money is spent online, and consumers get more used to surfing the internet for shopping. Though Dr Bosshart conceded that food would be the last market to move online, it eventually would do so. “Companies are going to have to experiment to understand what is going on,” he said.