NGA Webinar Speakers: Communication, Education Key for Shopper Satisfaction

August 16, 2017

By: David Orgel, principal, David Orgel Consulting LLC.

Independent retailers are raising their games with strategies from fresh to local, but they need to effectively communicate these efforts and educate shoppers.

That was the message from speakers in an NGA webinar last week that focused on insights about consumers of independent retailers.

“You are the shopper’s choice for fresh, you do it best,” said Laurie Rains, group vice president, Retail Commercial Strategy, at Nielsen. “Local is very important as well. Make sure you are getting credit for all these efforts by communicating through signage and other means. You are in a good situation to be that educator.”

She said shoppers are “thirsty for information,” and encouraged independent retailers to communicate through a range of platforms, including in-store, in-aisle, online and through mobile apps.

Darlene Murphy, marketing director at Metcalfe’s Market, a fifth-generation, family-owned retailer in Wisconsin, said the company uses a wide range of communications platforms, from traditional to emerging. These include store circular, in-store signage, email newsletter, the website, videos, special events, and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and You Tube). Much of the retailer’s communication leverages the expertise of dieticians and department managers, and touts a major emphasis on local products across categories.

“We use local ingredients whenever possible in our prepared foods, and we make sure to tell consumers about it,” she said.

The NGA webinar leveraged insights from a 2017 research report called “The Independent Consumer,” which was produced for NGA by Nielsen. The report was based on a national consumer survey.  It spotlighted how independent retailers can improve their performance in a wide range of strategies. These included fresh foods, prepared foods, nutrition and wellness, and e-commerce.

Nutrition and healthy living was spotlighted in the research as an important differentiator for independent retailers. About 60 percent of shoppers polled said healthy foods should be displayed alongside more mainstream food items, rather than in a separate section.  Shoppers said there are a number of ways stores can help educate them about nutrition, ranging from marking items for healthy diets to providing cooking instructions.

Laura Strange, vice president of Industry Relations, Communications and Marketing for National Grocers Association, noted independent retailers can differentiate themselves against their competitors through more education and communications with shoppers about health and wellness.

“There are opportunities for grocers to educate using resources such as shelf tags with nutrition labeling, and in-store dietitians,” she said.

Alex Chew, senior director Consulting, Reputation and Brand Management, Harris Insights & Analytics, said the survey pointed to a significant increase in the number of shoppers saying that primary stores have a nutrition education role to play by leveraging shelf tags, nutrition information and other resources and services.  “We’re seeing a trend in which the number of shoppers wanting help from their primary store is growing,” he said.

On the e-commerce front, the research found that some 20% of consumers take advantage of online grocery shopping, compared to 16% last year. Rains said click and collect will increasingly become the important model for retailers because of its lower cost structure than delivery. She said online shopping will drive changes in the ways brick-and-mortar stores operate.

“The perimeter categories aren’t moving online as quickly, so there’s an opportunity to make the perimeter parts of the store more important,” she said.

Metcalfe’s has offered online shopping and delivery since 2001, and it continues to raise its game for customers, Murphy said. This includes a new software platform introduced last year that has improved functionality to provide a better shopping experience.

On the fresh food side, the research found that more than 80 percent of independent store shoppers spend over half of their fresh food dollars in supermarkets versus at other outlets selling fresh food.  Strange said Nielsen’s findings about the importance of fresh food are backed up by other NGA research.

“In NGA’s Financial Benchmark Survey, independents’ annual sales per square foot were above average in the fresh segment,” she said. This is an indicator that retailers are pulling out all the stops in fresh to battle competitors, she added.

The Nielsen study found that freshness is key in the presentation of prepared foods, with pizza, hot dinner entrees and side dishes cited as the most frequent types of prepared foods purchased at supermarkets.

“Freshness is very important in prepared foods,” said Murphy. “One way to keep prepared foods fresh from a perception standpoint is by using seasonal ingredients,”

The NGA research was sponsored by The Shelby Report. The consumer survey was conducted online last November within the United States.  It surveyed 1902 U.S. adults 18 and over to explore their food shopping habits. NGA is further spotlighting insights from the research throughout the year, including with key insight pieces and profiles of independent retailers that exhibit best practices. The focus is on obtaining takeaways and action steps from the insights.

For more details on the research and methodology, visit

The webinar was moderated by David Orgel, who is principal of David Orgel Consulting LLC. To download a recording of this webinar, please visit