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Consumer sustainability demands drive grocery industry innovation

New ideas and solutions in technology and sustainability influence the trend-sensitive grocery industry. Disruptive changes affect many Nordic companies, and they don’t know how to deal with this skyrocketing trend.

Recently, Narva ran a full-to-capacity seminar that tackled key issues the grocery industry now faces. Participants discussed how the industry could cope with today’s rapid developments and consumers’ increased demands for sustainability and transparency.

These stakeholders participated in Narva’s expert panel: Kaj Török, information and sustainability manager (Max Burgers); Stefan Lagerqvist, director home & personal care (Unilever); and Louise König, sustainability business manager (Ramboll Sweden) and previously sustainability manager (Coop).

Brand ambassadors lead the trend

The panel highlighted the importance of listening to tribes, green opinion leaders, and ambassadors. Note: these terms denote the same group of people, i.e., dedicated people who are engaged in the brand.

“Early on, we launched a falafel burger, but our customers didn’t bite,” said Kaj Török (Max Burgers). “So we retracted falafel burgers, took customer feedback to heart, and rebounded with an even stronger concept: five vegetarian burgers that gave customers what they were looking for, i.e., tasty vegetarian burgers.

Stefan Lagerqvist (Unilever) also confirmed that it’s business critical to have an ear to the ground and listen to customer needs – something that external quantitative analyzes cannot replace.

Big operations feel threatened by innovation

In a discussion about competition, Louise König (Ramboll) highlighted enterprises’ biggest concerns. Newcomers’ ideas are scary in an industry in which you must closely monitor margins and sometimes find yourself in slow-moving organizations.

“It’s easy for big companies to buy out these newcomers because newcomers might be perceived as threats,” said König, “instead of developing in parallel with them.”

Panel members agreed that they must continue to develop to keep their customers and their market position. In addition, different customer groups have different needs, so it’s important to reach them on their terms.

“With all the data available today, we can make communication more personal,” said König. “We can even ask customers what kind of information they want and adapt communications accordingly.

Consumers demand transparency

Transparent communication requirements increase in parallel with customer demands for sustainability.

“As a large multinational company, Unilever has enormous responsibility,” said Lagerqvist. “Our sustainability efforts must reflect our size. That’s why we think it’s positive that transparency is increasing and that our customers are demanding more information. If you’ve got nothing to hide, then sustainability communication won’t be a problem.”

Török noted that sustainability work is like bicycling. “It’s a bit wobbly sometimes. You might fall off but then you try again. You learn from doing new things; that’s why you need not always test the waters.”

Panel predictions for the grocery trade’s future:

• Packaging is a gigantic global issue. Consumers want new solutions other than currently existing solutions – especially regarding plastic.
• Plant-based food will grab an even bigger market share – and solar-based food production will appear on the scene.
• Traditional produce, such as beans, get revenge.
• An increasing number of people, especially younger people, eat fewer meals. Instead, they are more likely to eat snacks and light meals, which means that the industry must offer sound, nutritious alternatives to the traditional meals.