October 28, 2014
Title: Sobeys pushes suppliers to promote better eating
Subtitle: Move plays to grocer’s strengths in war with restaurants, big box outlets
Sobeys Quebec extolled the benefits of its “Joy of Eating Better,” campaign in a special forum for a select group more than 400 participants from 200 suppliers today. A packed schedule of presenters, including nutritionists, case study leaders and market professionals schooled participants in techniques to better meet the needs of the province’s finicky consumers.
Sobeys research shows that 95% of Quebecers believe that eating well is important. Three quarters of them read the ingredients when buying food products and 60% try to find ways to reduce salt, sugar and fat intake. “Consumers are changing,” said Claude Tessier, president of Sobeys Quebec, whose key goal is to get suppliers to improve product offerings. “We need to change with them.”
The bid, which builds on a marketing initiative launched earlier this year, aligns the grocer’s social responsibility agenda with a move to grab a bigger share of food consumers’ budgets. The hope is that building on Quebecers to desire to eat fresh and prepare their own meals will lure them from restaurants, convenience stores and the dry goods sections of non-grocer retailers.
Quebec food personalities hit home
An early and particularly effective panel consisted of francophone Quebec television food show personalities, who have surprising influence in the province. “I don’t think the fact that Quebecers read food labels is a good thing. If they trusted the ingredients, they would not have to read them,” joked Christian Bégin, host of Curieux Bégin, a subtle dig in a roomful of suppliers which no-one seemed to take offense at. “For example producing Greek yogurt with no fat in it makes no sense. When a customer buys Greek yogurt he expect fat – not a jar full of additives.”
It was one of Bégin’s several unscripted insights that got many in the room thinking, including the observation that in today’s electronic age food consumption is one of the few links that brings people together. This thus increases the importance of locally produced items. “IGA has the opportunity of being the heart of local communities by creating real links with suppliers there,” said Bégin, a nod to the fact 90% of Sobey’s Quebec grocers are independent operators, who have considerable freedom in structuring their buying. “One model could be an area I recently visited in Italy where grocers’ labels indicated the kilometres between the grocer and producer.”
Case study and market research
France Lennard, from France-based Casino provided an excellent case study on how the food distributor’s 14,000 outlets, which sold 48.6 billion euros worth of product in 2013, implemented a similar partnership with its European suppliers. In just three years, the initiative, which includes integration of nutrition information in the company’s RFPs, now comprises 448 supplier partners, of which 2,000 of their products have been assessed for their nutritional value.
Youri Rivest, of CROP, which has been researching Quebec food buyer behaviour for nearly two decades, also provided insights as to why it pays the industry to act. “Quebecers take their food consumption far more seriously than their finances,” he joked. “They will happily spend more time shopping for the right organic meal than for their $5,000 RRSP. So you had better treat them right.”
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