Grocery Business speaks with Mary Dalimonte, a 40-year veteran of the grocery retail industry who retired in 2018 as senior vice president of merchandising and commercial programs at Sobeys Inc. She is a Golden Pencil Award recipient and currently serves on the boards of Giant Tiger, the Italian Chamber of Commerce and Grocery Business Magazine. She shares her insights into how the grocery industry is addressing the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.
Can you share your thoughts on the current crisis?
It’s truly inspiring to see what the industry is doing. I commend retailers and all the organizations supporting them because what I’m seeing is nothing short of remarkable. But I’m not surprised; this industry has gone through many crises over the years, only now , its amplified to levels beyond what I’ve never seen before. During my career, I dealt with the blackout in Toronto, the SARS outbreak, closing of stores due to Hep C infection and many more all mirroring the many processes the industry is having to navigate through during this unprecedented global event.
Everyone is doing great things and a lot of attention – and rightly so – is being paid to frontline workers in stores, but I’m also seeing the tremendous support suppliers are providing for their frontline workers at plants who are so critical to keeping the supply chain going.
What changes do you see emerging from this period?
There are two things I see changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the growth of online ordering. The segment of consumers that were not fully engaged in this are now using it out of necessity. However, this doesn’t mean the end of bricks and mortar. The change I see is the resurrection of centre-of-store shopping. Previous perimeter consumers are now walking all the aisles looking for ingredients to cook at home; alternative meal-maker supplies to fill their pantries and frozen foods, so it’s re-introduced many categories back into consumers’ basket and homes
What are the lessons the industry can learn coming out of this?
This pandemic has placed a strong focus on the importance of the grocery store. Now retailers have to look at how to leverage the data and maintain the benefits of what is emerging from this period. For instance, with consumers re-connecting with categories they have never purchased or not as much in the past – i.e. yeast because many are now back to baking bread -- category right-sizing and product position will change. Another change will be product sizes and quantity as shoppers are now purchasing two, three or more of the same product because it has paid off having it in their homes when grocery stores didn’t have them in stock. This data managed with suppliers and retailers will change the shelf composition.
How do you see the grocery store and consumer shopping evolving?
I think this crisis will have the industry rethinking head office and retail efficiencies even further. The dynamic of working from home and measurement of performance will impact the future makeup of head offices across the nation. Retail merchandising will be impacted by food safety, and retailers will need to consider ways they can improve how they operate to satisfy the new consumer shopping preferences. There could, for example, be stores that focus only on fulfillment and curbside delivery, while other stores operate in more traditional fashion. For larger grocery chains, this could introduce some efficiencies long term.
This experience will change how we move forward as it has forced business transformation on so many levels for everyone in the industry, including the consumer.