Someone cuts produce into long, thin matchsticks, while another employee explains the details behind the different supplements on the shelves. Another employee teaches a cooking class using healthy products. Wondering where all this can happen? Look no further than the grocery store.
The grocery industry as a whole is in the midst of rapid evolution, under pressure from new trends rising from a shift in consumer focus. As grocers adapt to meet these trends, they are also creating new careers for people to helm these new experiences in-store and online.
With renewed consumer focus on health and wellness and the rise of e-commerce, the brick-and-mortar grocery space is headed in a few different directions. This change in focus is concentrated around areas, where grocers can create new traffic drivers — and, more importantly, new revenue streams for their stores.
Perimeter of the store
“When you think about job creation, there would be more investment in the food services department — whether that would be just the deli counter or having a waitstaff for a full-sit-down restaurant and bar that they have in the store,” Kantar Retail analyst Elley Symmes told Food Dive.
Stores are investing in more premium food departments, such as premium deli and meat counters. Stores like Whole Foods and Hy-Vee have opened up their own grocerants, extensions of the service deli that can include full sit-down service with waiters and full bars. In 2016, grocerants generated 2.4 billion visits and $10 billion in sales.
These premium food services all go toward promoting more time in-store and getting a larger spend from shoppers, since these items often carry a much higher margin than some center-store items, Symmes said.
The position of produce butcher is also on the rise. First introduced in February 2017 by Whole Foods in Manhattan, the produce butcher minces, dices, chops and slices fruits and vegetables picked out by the consumer. At Whole Foods, the produce butcher charges either a dollar per pound or, for items less than a pound, a dollar per individually priced item.
Eataly, an upscale grocer with stores in major cities across the world from New York City to Tokyo was created by celebrity chef Mario Batali, and has featured a vegetable butcher ever since its opening in 2004. Eataly’s vegetable butcher offers services like peeling, chopping, slicing or other forms of fruit and vegetable preparation —and does it free of charge. Customers pay for the whole fruit or vegetable — with peels, seeds and other waste removed from the produce put in a separate bag and weighed and paid for at check out.
At Coborn’s Chop Shoppe, customers only pay for the part of the produce that they will eat. The store also features fresh juices made just fruits and vegetables.
Personalization and localization
“In a world where there are lots of national brands, what many of our members have found is that the one way they can distinguish themselves is through their private label or their private brand,” David Fikes, vice president of communications and consumer affairs at industry group Food Marketing Institute, told Food Dive.
Kantar Retail grocery analyst Diana Sheehan told Store Brands she predicts private label sales will increase at a faster rate in the next five years than the last five due to an influx of private-branded products in stores located on the coasts and an increase of millennial shoppers.
Private label brand managers are included as one of FMI’s "10 Jobs Future Leaders Participants Didn’t Have 10 Years Ago." According to the Food Retailing Industry Speaks 2016 report, 98% of retailers emphasize private-brand products as a competitive strategy.
Fikes said that some of the larger grocery chains would even have multiple private label managers to coordinate grocers' private label ambitions.
Another way in which grocers are seeking to set themselves apart is through localization. Although many stores have begun localizing product assortments, such as produce, the new jobs under this trend go beyond that.
Every retailer has a different name for it, but this job is often called the community organizer. This person’s job is to get the grocer involved in community events, such as partnering with schools or food bank programs, or even sponsoring 5Ks, Symmes said.
Health and wellness
As consumers shift from disease treatment to prevention, there is more of a focus on health and wellness in the grocery space. According to a 2014 report from FMI, 96% of grocery stores are committed to expanding their health and wellness sections.
One job in the expanded health and wellness sector is natural specialty senior vice president. This job comes from consumer desire for natural food with easy-to-recognize ingredients. These products usually bring higher profits for grocers than traditional items in a retail store.
“I would say that the employment opportunities within the food retail framework in the past 10 to 15 years have been strongly in the health and wellness arena,” Fikes said. “ … [These opportunities have come] with stores hiring dietitians and their nutritional resources, and making those available to the customer and trying to help steer them toward making the best decisions that they can for their own health and wellness goals.”
United Supermarkets, which operates 43 stores in Texas, has a gourmet retail location called Market Street, which features a Living Well department with a specialist that serves as a point person for anything health and wellness-related.
“For probably the last seven to eight years, we’ve focused more efforts as far as that [health and wellness] goes and try to figure out how we can incorporate health and wellness into our traditional outlet,” Chance Lyde, recruiting manager at United Supermarkets, told Food Dive.
As they navigate the store today, some shoppers have an added level of need as they look for items to adhere to specific diets. These services can add an extra level of personalization, especially when thinking of senior shoppers.
“I would say that the employment opportunities within the food retail framework in the past 10 to 15 years have been strongly in the health and wellness arena.”
Vice president of communications and consumer affairs, Food Marketing Institute
However, according to Symmes, grocers aren’t providing these services to be nice.
“If you come in and meet with your nutritionist, they're going to give you some recipes to make. You're going to put those in your basket. You might pick up some impulse items on the way out. So it's [health and wellness initiatives] always thinking about how to get the shopper into the store,” Symmes told Food Dive.
The grocery store dietitian is nothing new. In 1988, Wegmans added its first registered dietitian to its staff. However, as healthiness becomes a top priority for more and more consumers, stores are employing several registered dietitians to fan out to their various stores, instead of just hiring one or two for their corporate headquarters.
About half of the stores that responded to a survey conducted in 2016 by Progressive Grocer said that they had registered dietitians on staff, with an average of 21 per company.
In the survey, dietitians reported that the most common ways to promote health and wellness to consumers was through the company website, signage, circulars and product sampling. They also reported that their greatest impact on consumers came through individual and group counseling, in-store consultations and in-store clinics.
United Supermarkets has registered dietitians who do "build a better basket" tours for consumers. The dietitians also have a Living Well blog where they answer consumer health and wellness questions, Lyde said.
Store dietitians offer grocers a competitive edge in the slim-margin industry. A company like Whole Foods is known for its nutritional products, but more traditional grocers’ healthy choices can get lost in the fray and not be obvious to consumers.
Other new jobs in health and wellness include the in-store pharmacy. Stores are investing in new positions in the aisles to educate consumers about more difficult-to-understand products, like supplements.
“Having someone in the aisle that's more like a sales representative that can educate you on a very unfamiliar category … adds a personal touch but will hopefully get a few of those probiotics, fish oil supplements into the basket that bring higher margins,” Symmes said.
In FMI’s new job list, e-commerce specialist features prominently near the top. Described as “a professional who can understand how to implement the rapidly evolving electronic commerce alternatives shoppers want, each with their own embedded systems and payment getaways,” the rise of e-commerce brings new job needs into the grocery industry.
“Since 2014, you've seen more growth in the online grocery space than you saw from 1985 to 2013. So, the space has just exploded,” Symmes said.
Grocery delivery is nothing new. Peapod grocery delivery service launched in the 1980s.
Online grocery is expensive and tricky for grocers to navigate, which is why many of them partner with third-party services such as Instacart or Shipt. Click-and-collect has been the go-to market model that many big grocers such as Walmart and Kroger have settled on — and which has brought job growth.
“E-commerce, especially with click-and-collect, is another area where retailers are investing and where job growth will definitely be, especially as they figure out the economics, ” Symmes said.
Giant Eagle Supermarkets, which has stores throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland, has a new click-and-collect program called Curbside Express.
“Curbside Express enables time-starved customers to shop whenever it is most convenient for them, using web and mobile technology to choose from nearly all items found inside our supermarkets,” spokesperson Jannah Jablonowski said in an email to Food Dive.
Giant Eagle’s service also includes elements of the personalization consumers now want.
“The customer’s items are hand-selected by our dedicated Team Members, and ready for pick up at a pre-selected date and time. Curbside Express Team Members are also trained to cater to unique customer preferences such as bananas that are a bit more green or deli meats cut to a desired thickness,” Jablonowski wrote.
“Since 2014, you've seen more growth in the online grocery space than you saw from 1985 to 2013. So, the space has just exploded.”
Analyst, Kantar Retail
The program provides employment opportunities at the store level, with positions dedicated to picking and processing orders.
United Supermarkets’ click-and-collect service goes by the name Streetside, and functions through an app connected with the grocer’s loyalty program. Streetside has created new jobs at the company.
“We added a corporate e-commerce manager, and then we also add at store level … a Streetside manager, personal shoppers, and then also delivery drivers because we do deliveries from select locations as well,” Lyde said.
Streetside is not currently at all United Supermarkets stores, but the company has plans to expand the service.
“We’re still in the launching phase of seven stores, and we’re aggressively rolling out Streetside going forward to at least have one location at every market that we operate by the end of this next year,” Lyde said.
An omnichannel director is responsible for making sure that the experience in the store matches the experience online.
Click-and-collect isn’t the only area of grocery e-commerce that’s driving job growth.
“There’s also been a realignment of ... trying to become more tech savvy and more acclimated to what it means to be living in this information age,” Fikes said.
This is noticeable in self-checkout. As cashiers are less needed, many times they are retrained to serve more as customer service representatives out on the floor. This is especially important because the industry has traditionally relied on cashiers being the face of the store.
“That’s where things are starting to shift in terms of the resources that we’re trying to provide in the different aspects of the store,” Fikes said.
For instance, many stores are really training their butchers to be not just knowledgeable about cuts of beef themselves, but how to cook them, what sauces might go with them and what might accompany it, Fikes said.
Lyde said that as the Streetside program has grown, United Grocers has seen the problem of limited face-to-face interaction more acutely. As a company that values service and putting the guest first, they have bridged this gap by educating its personal shoppers and delivery drivers in a guest-first philosophy and culture.
For Fikes, the questions and the factors that are going into the consumer value equation are greatly expanded. For years, he said, cost, taste and convenience were the three factors consumers consider when deciding whether or not to buy a product. Now consumers want to know how workers were treated, how animals were treated, where crops were grown and how items were produced. and so the questions and the factors that are going into the value equation are greatly expanded.
“We have to be able to provide additional information either via resources that they can access themselves electronically or having face-to-face conversations, and ask the questions they have about the product [get answered] with someone who is knowledgeable about the product in the store,” Fikes said.
Will e-commerce take jobs away from the store? Fikes doesn’t think so.
“I think that we will see the workforce remain the same, grow a little bit, in terms of its expertise but also it’s going to be realigned,” he said.
“Even though I see grocery retail being more e-commerce driven, I don’t think it will take away from the one-person jobs and responsibilities. I think that we’ll continue to see an evolution of what those roles and the possibilities look like for each area,” Lyde said