Title: Quebec independent grocers ponder future
Sub-title: Participants debate challenges of new innovations, technologies and labour shortages
The two or three dozen kids running around, playing and having fun at the Association des Détaillants en Alimentation du Québec’s (ADA) annual meeting of the province’s independent and franchised grocers, which took place at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth hotel this weekend, quickly put visitors on notice that this was not your typical industry event.
“A large portion of event attendees are from family run stores or businesses in which one or both parents spend 12 and 14 hour days at work,” explained an event spokesperson. “In short, they constantly need to find ways to integrate their family and work lives.”
To help, three years ago, the ADA formed “Youth Squads,” which consist of a series of guided events and side trips for the kids to enjoy, while their parents attended the weekend-long series of conferences and events.
More than half of Quebec’s grocery retail outlets are run by franchisees and independent owners. As a result, event participants consisted more or small business owners, rather than the mid-management “suits,” that tend to pack typical industry conferences. As such, the event was more lighted-hearted and informal, yet at the same time bottom-line focused.
Presenters tackled a variety of subjects, notably technological changes, innovations and human resources challenges affecting the industry. Jean-Claude Dufour, a professor at Laval University highlighted some of the major challenges that grocers will be seeing in the years ahead. These include the increasing penetration of RIFD technology, electronic price tags, self checkout, heightened competition and an increasingly informed general public. “These new developments have the potential to substantially increase store productivity,” said Dufour. “However for that to be done effectively, the consumer needs to be at the center of all store innovations, before they are made.” In an era of Facebook, iPods and satellite communications, grocers need to do far more to listen to customers and to engage in an ongoing dialogues with them said Breton.
According to Lawrence Zert, general manager of the Comité Sectoriel de Main D’Oeuvre du Commerce de L’Alimentation, one problem continuing to plague Quebec’s independent grocers is worker recruitment and retention, particularly in specialized trades such as butchers and fish merchants. “The public perception is that grocery jobs require a lot of hard work, are basically uninteresting and offer few advancement opportunities,” said Zert. “We need to change that.” The CSMOCA has been taking a variety of steps to help deal with the challenges. These include offering apprenticeship training, online courses and conducting visits to schools, to help interest kids in the grocery profession. However more efforts are needed, Zert said.
One presentation that Quebec grocers found particularly useful was that of Francois Bouchard, president of Ottawa-based The Country Grocer. Bouchard, who is just wrapping up a stint as chairman of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, during which he had a chance to visit stores across the country, shared some of the tips and innovations he had seen.
These include in-store advertising campaigns to highlight local produce purchases as well as a merchant’s simple, yet effective idea of putting wheels on the store’s suggestion box so that it could be easily moved from department to department. Bouchard also noted the re-emergence of bulk food sections and bins in many retailers, following a period when these had seemingly fallen into disfavour.
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