Denney-Finch revealed that less than a third (31%) of 13 to 40-year-olds in a poll of 1,000 people expected to use a supermarket for all their grocery shopping in ten years' time.
The research, carried out by IGD for IT services company EDS and unveiled at the conference, found that 13% expected to use only the internet for their grocery needs by 2016, while 28% said they would combine online with supermarket shopping. The remaining 28% said they intended to use specialist shops as part of their mix. "I expect to see more formats that tightly focus on a key target audience," said Denney-Finch.
"We might see ethnic and ethical, and stores for the elderly. For suppliers, the battle for shelf space will grow ever more intense."
She warned that while smaller brands might thrive in this vision for the future, big brands could struggle.
"Big brands are designed for the mass market. They're inclusive, with a model based on scale. But if retail formats fragment then exclusivity will become more valuable. This will suit small suppliers with a big reputation and help own-brand suppliers, as they're key to retail differentiation. Companies built on mass production and 'me too' products will find these conditions testing."
Although online shopping was yet to drive any real growth for the industry as a whole - accounting for just 1% of the market - it was only a matter of time, said Denney-Finch. "We'll soon get TV-quality graphics online. You'll be able to touch an image of the product and turn it around."
A virtual supermarket in people's own living rooms could be the future of shopping, she said, but there was much to be done first - making the service more intuitive, interactive and fun; personalising the offer to create tailored stores; and providing premium delivery services, such as pinpoint timing.