When a customer enters a grocery store or shops for their groceries online, their mind is focused on what they want to purchase — they are mentally (or literally) checking items off a list. What they do not consider is all the work that goes on behind the scenes: the process that goes into getting the food from production onto physical or virtual shelves.
While grocery supply chain has always been a more-than-realized complex endeavor, the pandemic has caused the retail industry to see a tremendous surge in consumer demand for grocery products, resulting in retailers and suppliers pivoting strategies and leveraging digital technologies to meet customer demand.
As grocery retailers continue to navigate operations amid the pandemic, here are three tips that will help them succeed:
1. Be open to change and ready to pivot
To meet the increasing demand brought on by the pandemic, supply chain teams will have to work in new ways to deliver products and maximize network capacity. At the same time, they’ll be challenged to quickly onboard new associates, build rapid response teams and instate temperature checking at all facilities.
In order to see success amid such rapid change, they’ll need to be open to evolving the ways they work. This includes implementing emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to help improve efficiencies across the supply chain.
2. People and technology are the key to success
While technology can help speed up processes and automate tasks, it’s also important to think about who is on your team. The supply chain requires the right blend of hardworking people who can quickly learn to work with advanced tools that will help them make smarter forecasting decisions, replenish products and transport everything to the stores and delivery points.
By having the right people in place, teams will be able to maximize productivity and deliver sales and products that are fresher for customers.
3. Leaning into the rise of omnichannel
For major grocers and other retailers, many are operating extensive supply chain systems that are decades old. At the same time, the way customers are buying groceries is changing faster than ever. To meet customer expectations, grocers must adapt their supply chain strategy to support an omnichannel approach that encompasses multiple shop styles, delivery speeds and more.
Consumer preferences for e-commerce and online were already growing rapidly and COVID-19 accelerated this trend. The surge in grocery e-commerce is here to stay, so it will be important to create a supply chain that is nimble enough to support a common experience in stores, online, and everywhere in between.
For any retailer, the customer experience is top of mind. As we look to the future, we cannot predict what other challenges will be thrown our way, so the best way to prepare is by being open and ready for change.
When it comes to the supply chain specifically, grocers will need to prioritize omnichannel, be nimble and leverage emerging technologies such as automation and AI to stay competitive and realize success. In doing this, they’ll be better equipped to ensure a seamless process — from distribution facilities to the store shelves — that enables them to meet consumer demand.
Chris Lewis is executive VP of supply chain for Retail Business Services, the services company of Ahold Delhaize USA, currently providing services to five East Coast grocery brands, including Food Lion, The GIANT Company, Giant Food, Hannaford and Stop & Shop.