I lost count of the times I was asked what I thought of the IGD Convention this week. Perhaps because I was so rude about it last year. Or it may have been because, at an event such as this, the greatest value is in consensus: being able to regurgitate other people’s views, and say, ‘I was there’.
Anyway, here’s my answer: a lot better. As usual, Michael Buerk stole the show with his summation. There was the expected grandstanding and no shortage of cheap point-scoring, particularly between Asda and Sainsbury’s. And talking of cheap, the sausages at the luncheon were surely an austerity measure too far.
But as three of the big four committed their CEOs, the contrasting styles and equally contrasting content again gave the lie to suggestions that supermarkets are all the same: for example, Philip Clarke is relying on technology and talent to break through, while Dalton Philips at Morrisons is putting his faith in aubergines, cucumbers and concrete floors.
Mercifully, it wasn’t all the big four, either. Richard Cousins gave the session a much-needed international and foodservice emphasis. It’s good to hear a British export success story, too.
And the ‘breakthrough’ theme really helped to accentuate the differences. I wasn’t particularly sure about the objects some of the speakers brought along, which mostly seemed only to demonstrate how old-fashioned they were. But the idea of breakthrough is an important message as a sense of realism, of the depth and endurance of this economic downturn, permeated all the speeches. No-one would disagree with Unilever’s Amanda Sourry when she argued that “less money is a long-term fact of life”.
And, as Peter Marks said, in the face of the worst conditions in his 40 years in the industry, there’s no point waiting for conditions to improve. You grit your teeth and get on with it, knowing it’s up to you to make the difference.