Recent horror stories of layoffs and shutdowns should not discourage
anyone from getting into the supermarket business. The work is there. It's
simply not the same as it used to be.
One of the major trends affecting the supermarket industry is consolidation.
When a retail giant like Safeway buys up a smaller chain, like Genuardi's
Family Markets, it may or may not take the smaller chain's employees with
it. This is a frightening prospect for the employees of an acquired company
-- they fear the loss of their jobs.
Charles A. Genuardi, however, reported that a major reason for selling
the 80-year-old company was so that it could go out with a bang -- while it
was still winning the supermarket battle. In the face of consolidation, that's
tough to do. The competition is simply too stiff.
Shannon Blagg is the public relations director at a supermarket company.
"The market is changing....The public is not going to the grocery store for
the same reasons that they used to. They used to go and buy flour and milk
and eggs and sugar and salt. [Then, they'd] go home and make dinner. Now,
they go for solutions to their lives," she says.
All food retailers, including the giants, are being forced to find a place
in today's changing market. Blagg explains that retailers have to make decisions
according to the needs of their particular market. If they don't, they'll
either go under -- or be gobbled up by a larger chain.
"You're seeing a lot of shakeup because a lot of the chains follow a formula.
Every market is different. Every market has its own unique needs," says Blagg.
Anthony Spiteri is the director of marketing and media for a grocery store
chain. He agrees that retailers in North America are waking up to the fact
that there are regional differences in what people want from their supermarkets.
"Even chains that are doing business in multiple [areas] might have a different
product mix, depending on if they're an inner city store or a suburb store
and depending on the socio-economic environment that surrounds it," he says.
Super Marketers Wanted
Spiteri suggests that successful supermarkets cater to the consumer's each
and every need. "It's nothing to see stores today which have not only restaurants
inside the store, but things like wine and liquor boutiques, cigar and cigarette
shops [and] a pharmacy. Newer locations today are also including things like
In other words, shoppers are no longer looking for basic ingredients to
the latest macaroni casserole. They want the whole package -- a ready-made
casserole, the dishes and the carpet cleaner to wipe up the mess.
Of course, not all consumers like macaroni casserole. That's why supermarkets
have to listen to the needs of their particular market. Spiteri's stores,
for example, stocks lots of natural and organic foods. "There's definitely
a call for it," says Spiteri. Thanks to smart marketing and consumer study,
his company knows that its average consumer leans toward a healthy, active
and progressive-minded lifestyle.
Spiteri explains that all their produce isn't all natural or organic. "What
it does stand for is giving the consumer exactly what it needs. And there's
a big call for it [here] because of the lifestyle."
Adam Orser is the manager of a produce market. He says the market for local
organic foods is growing in general. "People are becoming more aware of keeping
things local and [of] the growing practices," says Orser. "There's definitely
an awareness growing in that area."
According to Spiteri, people with the marketing and management skills to
keep consumers happy (and, therefore, spending money) are in high demand.
"Ten years ago, store management would be looking for strong meat cutters
and strong bakery people," says Spiteri. "What's necessary today are good,
rounded management skills,...really good consumer understanding,...good marketing
skills and then, obviously, good customer service skills."
Stable Jobs Not Guaranteed
For people who have survived the recent onslaught of consolidations, things
remain rosy in the supermarket industry. But with all these changes, can workers
expect a stable career? According to Blagg, that's not something anybody can
"I think businesses are getting smarter....I think that [the industry is]
going to continue to weed out the people who are not striving for excellence
or haven't paid attention to the needs of the market," she says.
Orser has seen numerous competitors go under. "It's still quite a tough
business. There's a lot of people that come out with this type of market that
don't make it," he says.
Spiteri adds that the industry is going to continue its path of consolidation.
While this will likely create a stronger industry in the end, it may be tough
going for smaller businesses and their employees.
"I think there's going to be, first of all, a North American consolidation,"
says Spiteri. Beyond that, he adds, there is a distinct possibility that the
industry will expand its horizons overseas. Some chains, like IGA Inc., have
already done so.
But there are plenty of jobs as supermarkets attempt to stay on top of
the changes. Today's managers are looking for people with more skills than
ever before. Many positions "are highly competitive," according to Blagg.
Spiteri says successful companies know how to hire the right people. The
right people, he adds, have marketing skills and management skills and can
deal with customers in a friendly manner.
At this point, says Spiteri, supermarket management is still predominantly
male. Customer service, on the other hand, is handled primarily by women.
"It's something that's turning," he says.
"Is it turning as quickly as other industries? No. But there's definitely
an eye on [closing] the gender gap."
Blagg says that if you've got the drive, you'll make it in the supermarket
business. "For those people who have a passionate interest in this business,
the opportunities are wide open. If they care, they're going to be the one
who gets promoted. Maybe they'll be the one who gets handed the keys to the
whole thing when the retailer wants to retire!" she says.
Food Marketing Institute
Committed to distributing groceries and listening to consumer