The item supermarkets don’t yet sell by the pound is the one Americans crave most: convenience. In time, that will change.
The table is already set for it. When it comes to meeting a household’s grocery needs, we are facing a famine of sorts — not of food, but of capacity. From a lack of time to a paucity of urban space, these shortages will define how shoppers buy their groceries in the coming years.
Compounded by competition from non-supermarket rivals ranging from restaurants to dollar stores, traditional grocery chains will be forced to use their resources in increasingly creative ways. Following are seven ideas on how grocery shopping could evolve as we move past 2020.
Bananas, beer and bites
More people are forgoing shopping in favor of fun. In 2016, Americans spent more on food at bars and restaurants than at supermarkets. To recapture their interest, supermarkets in smaller cities will transform into community social hubs that combine groceries with entertainment and even basic services, such as laundry (sponsored by a major detergent brand, perhaps). In downtown Cincinnati, the Kroger Co. has announced plans to open a store in 2019 that will include a second-floor bar, a food hall with a terrace, a variety of restaurants operated by third parties and ready-to-eat items by vendors. Kroger noted that among the attractions that made the space appealing is its location on the city’s new streetcar line.
By 2020, technology will enable supermarkets to affordably go on camera and sell live. In collaboration with major food or household product brands, they will create sponsored online programming that will feature cooking, entertaining and cleaning tips as well as cooking segments. Throughout, viewers will have the opportunity to click and order any of the products featured. A guest chef, for example, can demonstrate a recipe using ingredients the shopper can order live and use that evening. The company TVPage enables shoppers to purchase products showcased in videos on retail websites, including Bed Bath & Beyond and Reebok, through links on the side of the video player.
Apples and cereals will replace anchor stores in shopping malls. Yes, this is already happening, but expect it to expand. Whole Foods opened a store in a former Sears location at a Florida mall, Wegmans succeeded J.C. Penney in Massachusetts, and Kroger acquired a space once occupied by Macy’s in Ohio. As mall operators turn to supermarkets to replace anchor department stores, ancillary merchants such as international markets, spice shops, wine stores and cooking suppliers will fill adjacent spaces as they open up, to form food villages.
The pop-up grocery concept has been talked about as a way to remedy food deserts for years. It also can solve the need for accessible food sources in dense urban areas where parking (and commuting) can be difficult. Supermarket chains and nutritional startups will roll trailers into tight, urban communities on a weekly or biweekly basis so residents can fill up on monthly staples. The genius is these visits can at the same time serve as community events people plan their days around. Long Table Grocery, in British Columbia, Canada, operates a “Pick Ups & Pop-Up” market every two weeks, as well as home and office delivery, in partnership with local food businesses. All events are planned out on its digital calendar at longtablegrocery.com.
More grocery sellers, pressured by the convenience of fast replenishment services offered by Amazon Dash and Wal-Mart’s Easy Reorder, will include auto-replenishment on their online marketplaces. Shoppers are ready: 47% of U.S. consumers said they would use auto-replenishment for household items such as soap, according to research by Accenture Strategy. More important for grocery sellers is that 43% of those surveyed said they would use auto-replenishment for fresh food items, such as fruits and vegetables.
You’ll kiosk it in
With Amazon entering deeper into the grocery format, traditional supermarket operators will need to be more aggressive and step directly into the paths of shoppers. Enter freestanding kiosks. Installed in office buildings, train stations and other convenient locations for commuters, grocery kiosks will enable quick orders that can be picked up on the way home or delivered. While more expensive than mobile apps, the kiosks will serve the dual purpose of advertising, alerting the busy commuter to overlooked or immediate needs at home. A kiosk could, for example, promote a special on rotisserie chicken dinners. They also could mimic the shopping experience, projecting specific items on a wall (or through virtual reality) so commuters see them as if in the store.
In many communities, entrepreneurs and residents will collaborate with municipalities and townships to create their own markets that will operate in reclaimed buildings, open lots or parks. Supermarket chains will be able to participate as sponsors or donors, in the spirit of a sharing economy, possibly by donating for use mobile refrigeration units (i.e., cooler trucks) or other resources. Doing so would reinforce supermarket brands as community members and strengthen shopper loyalty.
Seeing grocery shopping of the near future does not require 20/20 vision as much as it requires visionaries. But consumers are guiding the light. Together, food shopping will become more of a collaborative affair and the sooner it does, the healthier the industry will be.