By TODD PRINCE // LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
George Duren, a 73-year old supermarket owner, will be flying back from Las Vegas to Port St. Joe, Florida, with clear ideas on how to improve sales at his recently opened, 48,000 square feet high-end grocery store.
Dressed in khakis and a brown plaid shirt and clutching a notepad, Duren had just listened to an hourlong workshop on social media strategies for independent grocers like himself at The National Grocers Association Show at The Mirage.
The panelists stressed that grocers should use more video content to attract younger customers, hold monthly social media planning sessions and post content on products and sales at least several times a week. YouTube is underutilized by grocers, said Brian Numainville, the panel chairman and owner of The Retail Feedback Group, an industry research firm.
“I am going to enhance my Facebook effort to about four to five times a week and try to get onto YouTube,” Duren said after the conference.
Duren was among 3,400 industry professionals at this year’s NGA Show, where talk was as much, if not more, about online shopping and social media as about the latest food and health products to place on store shelves. The NGA represents the interests of privately held or family-owned grocers and has 1,600 members.
“The grocery industry, and in particular the independent sector, have come to realize that technology is fundamental to retail success and mission critical to the future,” said Gary Hawkins, chief executive officer of the Center for Advancing Retail and Technology, an industry organization that connects retailers and technology firms. “Technology underlies or impacts everything that the retail industry does today.”
Hawkins, who has attended the NGA Show the past six years and helps organize the technology pavilion, said providers of online shopping technology have become more present at the event. FreshOp, Rosie and First Data Corp. were among the e-commerce solution providers promoting their services at NGA.
Joan Daly, director of information technology for Foodtown in New Jersey, said her supermarket will be launching online shopping next month after choosing FreshOp to be its service provider.
Daly, a 30-year grocery industry veteran, was making her first trip to NGA. While her boss was looking at new products, Daly joined the social media workshop.
“The monthly calendar was a great takeaway,” she said about the workshop. “When you are posting for a business, it has to be thoughtful and well-planned.”
Laura Strange, senior director of industry relations, communications and marketing at NGA, said the need to understand the rapidly changing industry technology is one of the factors driving more people to the NGA Show. Attendance has grown by more than 20 percent since 2014.
“The economy is a little better and people are saying to themselves, ‘It is a good time for me to get out of the store and see what is going on in the sector,’” Strange said. “Some are wondering if they should be getting into e-commerce. To keep up and thrive in the industry, they have to look at their online presence.”
Despite the increase in technology solutions, the NGA Show still offers grocers plenty of opportunities to try new food and beverage products to add to their store shelves or new tools for their deli departments.
Post Consumer Brands, the maker of Raisin Bran and Shredded Wheat cold cereals, BIRO Manufacturing Co., a maker of meat grinders and chicken cutters and Odyssey, a feta cheese and Greek yogurt maker, were among the roughly 325 companies showcasing to the grocers at the expo.
Market Centre, a wholesaler offering more than 100,000 products, was presenting select goods from its organic and ethnic food line as well as health, beauty and wellness segment.
“Consumers have become more concerned about what is in their products. That has been the big thing the past four or five years,” said Tod Marks, vice president for sales at Market Centre.
The NGA expo did have its lighter moments, such as the Best Bagger competition. Brady Long of Buehler’s Fresh Foods in Medina, Ohio, defeated 22 other competitors from across the nation for the $10,000 prize.