WholeFoods Magazine 2018 Forecast

Corinne Shindelar, president/CEO of the Independent Natural FoodRetailers Association(INFRA)shares her insights and expectations for independent retailers in the coming year.

The Independent Natural Food Retailer has an excellent opportunity in 2018 and beyond. The acquisition of Whole Foods Market by Amazon has basically opened the door even wider for independents to shine at what they know best.

Excellent customer service, intimate experience, high-functioning food service departments and knowing what is on their shelves will keep the independent retailer well-positioned.

Expanding and providing more in the area of prepared foods, fresh produce, cheese, meats, soup counters, self-serve hot and cold bars is where the growth is at. And while we have known this for some time and the numbers are illustrating this, we are challenged with whether or not our industry partners — especially distribution — can keep up with this area of growth while at the same time the center store shrinks.

The biggest challenge independents face in the near future will be the ability to keep the product in stock.

The demand for organics and Non-GMO Verified product is outpacing the supply. We have seen this already with our distributor partners being challenged with keeping products in stock in the warehouses. We are seeing manufacturers not keeping up with the demands, and we anticipate there will be even more challenges in 2018.

Additionally, when it comes to center store merchandising, the independents who pass on all of the discounts they receive from their brokers and vendors will be in the best position. This is no longer the place to make up margin. For healthy retailers, this is the place for having high turns on lower, competitive prices. Keeping the customer coming back and spending more time in the fresh departments is where we need to be innovative and efficient.

The other big challenge for 2018 and beyond is keeping up with the ever changing Biotechnology methods.

What does this mean for our products, the ingredients on pack and the philosophical discussion we will have in the near future when it comes to what is the risk of these new genetic engineering techniques and what is the risk without them?

Keeping ourselves and our associates educated is not easy as the information is changing radically and the issue is complex. As a natural and organic food industry we have a responsibility to continue to understand the changing food system. We must question new techniques, educate ourselves and each other, and work together as a community to stay abreast of what is next.

Independents still — and always will — have a role in being leaders in the food systems. What “leading” means will look different­­­­­­ in the future as technology increases the role it plays in food.

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