Tom Karst, National Editor
Tom Karst, National Editor

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Another Fresh Summit, another handful of amazing general session speakers. It is just that when I get home, I really can’t recall the specific gems of insight and direction they dole out with such ease.

“You would have liked the speaker I heard at PMA,” I told my wife.

“Yeah, what did he say?” she responded. “Um, well, he talked about the Internet, the New York Jets, working in the basement of a liquor store, Twitter and, um, well, you had to be there,” I said.

I should have taken better notes, I guess.

But one of the themes of Fresh Summit at that general session speech and also the state of the industry address by Bryan Silbermann and Cathy Burns is the rapid change of technology and what that means to the industry.

Take smartphones, for example. Right, you already have!

There are literally billions of phones in the world right now, as many phones as people and perhaps more.

And we love them for many reasons.

Using my iPhone to my economic advantage is a source of satisfaction to me. I can look forward to getting a text message from Culver’s Restaurant every single Sunday. When I get an offer for two chicken finger combos for the price of one on my text message, it is a payoff, even if I never use it.

It brings to mind a question: Why couldn’t my local grocer send me a text message when the local sweet corn crop arrives in the store, or when Honeycrisp apples have a hot sale price?

The produce industry has used quick-response codes to help engage the consumer in the produce department, but many are already looking beyond the QR code when it comes to the future of mobile marketing.

Showing that at least some are weary of QR codes, I saw that one website is filled with pictures of QR code “fails.”

Yes, a QR code on the side of a bus or on a sneaker is funny.

In place of the QR code, there is excitement about near field communication, a short range radio technology that allows NFC-enabled tags or stickers to trigger the same smartphone interactions that QR codes do now.

App developers have responded to the expressed need of shoppers to become better equipped to compare prices.

So retailers will certainly find themselves in an even more competitive environment than they are in right now, with consumers able to crowdsource the prices of the competition and use that information so they can get the best price for a similar product.

New wave

But retailers also will develop new tools to help them secure customer loyalty, much like that dependable text message I receive every Sunday from Culver’s.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal said that one goal of the Shopkick app is to turn stores into interactive worlds that are entertaining and rewarding for consumers.

When shoppers are near stores, the app uses smartphones’ location sending abilities to send them product information, coupons and other offers.

Other apps deliver coupons, recipes, the location of farmers markets and apps from online grocery marketers.

How many smartphone users will employ the apps in stores?

That is a good question, since many of us have downloaded apps we never have time for — the QR code reader, for example!

The common thought — or hope — is that many consumers, for the right deal, will embrace the trade-off of letting go of some of their privacy.

Besides delivering deals, retailers and suppliers are making more information available to consumers about the food they sell, and that information will be accessed at least in part by smartphone technology, I believe.

With the advent of Whole Foods’ “good,” “better” and “best” labeling system for produce and Walmart’s apparent intention to measure input use of growers, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think consumers will want to see each supplier score on pest management, water use, farmworker welfare, waste, and so on.

But I’m fairly sure the most transformational use of smartphones will be when consumers use their devices to do more shopping for food online.

Online grocery store sales are projected to range from $80 billion to $123 billion by 2023, according to the firm Brick Meets Click. The growth will be led by the rising popularity of the services in major cities such as New York and San Francisco.

While some estimate online grocery sales at just 3% of total grocery sales by 2018, according Brick Meets Click, online sales of groceries could represent more than 20% of the total grocery market in the fastest growing U.S. markets by 2023, and about 10% in smaller cities.

Researchers say the report said the progress of Amazon Fresh toward wide-scale implementation should be closely watched, since success in that effort will create a significant threat to supermarkets with thin margins. And Wal-Mart is ramping up its online investments.

Wal-Mart Pickup Grocery Service, now tested only in Bentonville, Ark., could also expand in the future. Less than a mile from where I live in suburban Kansas City, a startup online order/pickup grocery business called ZoomIn has set up shop.

Retailers not willing to get steamrolled by online food sales should:


  •  explore new ways of using the smartphone in selling and engaging consumers;

  •  pay attention to the behavior of your top customers and watch for erosion of sales from online services;

  •  allow trial and error marketing at store level; and

  •  position for online shopping and delivery solutions.


Do all that — and don’t forget to buy the book from that social media/Jets/wine guy who spoke at PMA. You should have been there.

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