shopper supermarket pasta

After a period in which our industry has been dominated by the acceleration of Aldi and Lidl, we are coming to a time when more minds will turn to winning on quality.

There are two main dynamics in food retail. How good is our food and how much does it cost? So, if you’re not only concerned with price, what can you do to ensure you are delivering the best food to shoppers? Here are four methods.

First, remember it’s not about what it is, it’s about what it’s for. We care about the technical details of our food products, but for most consumers, the most important thing is how the product contributes to their meal occasions.

Meat, fish or produce companies, for example, have to understand the different kinds of meals, and especially main meals, to which their product can contribute. I mean really understand it: how the consumer plans, shops, prepares, eats and even clears up. There is an army of people thinking about this in the industry.

Second, cast the net wide for inspiration. We are blessed with great data, which helps us identify even the smallest gaps versus competitors. But don’t think all the answers lie in the numbers.

Look where other people aren’t looking. Look at Wagamama, massively popular amongst the young – retail hasn’t got anywhere near its success in Japanese food. Look at Costco’s fresh food, and its far more generous portion sizing of meat, fish and prepared food such as Mexican. It’s obvious these are selling well just by watching shoppers. Look abroad, for instance at Mercadona in Spain. It brings excitement to chicken and pork, reminding us these are not and should not be thought of as commodity categories. None of these examples are evident in the standard UK industry data.

Third, don’t compromise on quality. It is always tempting to take some cost savings – thin out the chocolate, take out one prawn, shave the portion size. We might even find research to tell us there is “no statistical significance”. But common sense tells us this is an illusion. Less chocolate is bad, end of. Stick with what consumers have grown to love. You might make savings, but you will reap a bitter harvest in the future.

Finally, present with panache. The product alone is not enough. It needs the packaging (think Gü, Charlie Bigham’s, San Pellegrino). It needs the display (see M&S’s new foodhalls). A big part of quality food is this context – if the pack and display shows pride, shoppers expect the product to match.

So it’s either about what the shopper pays, or it’s about the quality of food and meals they get. To win on quality, understand the occasion intimately, look beyond the usual data, refuse to compromise quality, and display with panache.