As if grocery wasn’t tough enough…

In any sector, visionaries create the stakes. Those that create a sense of feel-good and get remembered set the bar. So what happens in grocery, where visionaries are few and far between? They let others with more agile set-ups outside their sector set the benchmark. Cue the fish climbing tree analogy.

Lidl and Aldi are just the start of the worries

Everyone’s seen the figures, unless you’re Lidl or Aldi, it couldn’t be tougher in the world of grocery – and it’s getting worse. For years, Lidl and Aldi’s praises have been sung by customers as they’ve succeeded in capturing a wide net of shoppers with low prices on essentials and luxury products for less – pilling on the pressure to the likes of the Big 4, and even M&S and Waitrose.

Now, there’s a new pressure on the supermarkets

As we enjoy an increasing number of meals outside the home – and this looks set to rise – we blur the line between grocery and other food brands in our minds. Brands offering us ready-to- eat solutions are distorting our reference points, by recalibrating what good looks like.

Without intending to, we raise our expectations

Let’s take Greggs; hugely successful, customers rave about it – they create an incredible sense of authenticity and freshness, which feels unique. Quite quickly supermarkets’ delicious smelling in-store bakeries don’t look quite so shiny – despite introducing new flavours and a recent revamp. It happens so easily… suddenly we’re disappointed with Sainsbury’s gin selection, because it’s not a patch on the latest gin bar that’s opened; ready-meals looks samey vs. what wagamama has to offer; vegan and vegetarian ranges feel half-hearted compared to the menu in specialist cafés.

Previously loved stories fall flat

We’re increasingly being tempted by niche, exciting start-ups – think of a coffee van by the station; a gourmet burger stand at a Christmas market, or even farmers’ market delivery boxes. The rules of trust are being re-written, as it’s no longer so important to have an impressive back story, having served customers for over 100 years. Now, we seek care, discerning selection and passion. What these entrepreneurs’ stories lack in heritage, they make up for in obsession.

Put nit-picking aside, perception is reality

It feels unfair after all, no one can feed a family from Greggs, buy every meal from Deliveroo or replace a good cup of tea with a menu of hot drinks to rival the nearest too-trendy-for-its-own-good coffee house. But this is customer perception, and rarely is it all that fair. The important, and unfortunate thing is for customers, perception is reality. They’ll complain about quality they previously thought was great, not because the supermarket has altered its ingredients, but because their notion of good quality has been reimagined.

Up the ante, like you mean it

All this pressure on supermarkets, and yet the biggest message we hear over and over – aside from lowering prices – is ‘making shopping easy’. And easy is good, of course it is, we see so many brands triumph by making life easy. But we can’t help but wonder if this is enough? In a sector with so many pressures, and with so much innovation already in the crusade to be ‘easy’, can this really cut through?

Charm distinctively or live invisibly

We believe it’s the feel-good moments and the memorable ones that make the difference: an incredible product, an inspiring idea, an immersive experience. Of course, almost always, these come with enormous operational challenges – the trick is to spot the ones worth the headache, rather than avoiding them all in the guise of simplicity and ease. Don’t bother asking customers what they want, they’ll ask for a nicer chair in the café, and it won’t change a thing. Instead, understanding what makes customers feel good and build ideas from there.

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