There is a war going on among grocery retailers—the ‘Freshness War.’ Grocers are acutely aware that the quality and selection of their produce, meat, and dairy sections is the prime determinant of where consumers decide to shop for their groceries. Studies from FMI and others1 show that the quality of produce and meat is a prime reason that people go to a particular store to buy groceries. And these are the highest-margin departments as well.
At the same time, evolving eating habits are putting an increasing emphasis on healthy fresh foods. The critical importance of fresh foods is reflected in the ways grocers market themselves and project their brand image. Witness the explosion of dedicated produce stores and farmers’ markets, ready-to-eat and fresh departments within major grocers, organic and ‘whole food chains,’ and the popularity of cooking, health TV shows, and other proponents of fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy eating. In this article, we will discuss
- Freshness—the Foundation of Competitiveness in Grocery—The changing competitive landscape in grocery, evolving consumer habits and lifestyles, and growing awareness of food safety.
- Challenges in Becoming the Best in Freshness—Challenges introduced by the increasing length and complexity of the fresh foods supply chain and the distributed nature of freshness responsibility; statistics on how big the problem is and how much it costs the grocer.
- Solutions—How an end-to-end approach, monitoring temperature from the field to the retailer’s door, can help reduce spoilage and provide consistent freshness.
- Getting Started—Steps for retailers towards achieving a self-funding freshness improvement initiative.
Although we focus on produce as the examples in this piece, the same overarching challenges, principles, and approaches (with category-specific variations) apply to other fresh food categories such as milk, poultry, fish, and meats.