Retailers talk bridging the trust gap with consumers at GroceryConnex

Executives discuss the importance of relationships with shoppers, suppliers.
11/24/2023
GroceryConnex 2023
Photography by Goldmedia.ca

It’s no secret that the high cost of living in Canada has fractured the goodwill between consumers and food retailers that grew out of the pandemic. But it’s not just the relationship between grocers and their customers that requires nurturing in these turbulent economic times. 

At GroceryConnex, executives at Longo’sWalmart Canada and Pattison Food Group discussed the importance of showing up for shoppers and suppliers as the industry grapples with a new set of challenges. 

“We’re showing up for our customers to do the best that we can [to help them meet] their basic needs at the lowest prices and best convenience,” Gonzalo Gebara, CEO of Walmart Canada, said. “We’re not going to be able to fix inflation on our own… But in the meantime, I’ve seen retailers across the country stepping up [and] doubling down on showing value to customers.”

READ: Walmart Canada's new CEO talks tech, data and delivering value

One of those retailers is Longo’s. The Ontario grocer’s Experience Magazine offers shopping lists and meal ideas to fit families’ budgets. 

“Our guests have a lot going on right now and a lot on their minds, in addition to the cost of food. So we're making it as easy as possible for them to eat healthily on a budget and reduce the food waste that they have,” Deb Craven, president of Longo’s, said.

Craven said grocers can also help bridge the trust gap through understanding.

READ: How Longo's leads with local

“For our industry, [it’s important to educate] the public more on what we do in terms of investment in Canada – the building that we’re doing, the capital investment, the jobs that we’re creating,” she said. “We’re all investing a lot in those areas.”

For Darrell Jones, president of Pattison Food Group, it all goes back to customer service. 

“Everyday, when your customers come in, do your very best to take care of them. Make sure their experience is the best possible experience you can give them. And always be clear and honest with your customers,” he said.

Echoing Craven, Jones said supporting local suppliers – and teaching customers about the importance of shopping local – will create positive change in the industry.

"The relationships overall with the vendors, I believe, are excellent and have been excellent. The grocery business has some of the best suppliers and vendors anywhere, in any industry. Do we have our challenges from time to time? Absolutely. But it wouldn’t be business without some opportunity to have debate on certain topics,” Jones said. 

Craven noted that the pandemic gave Longo’s insight into how its relationships with vendors operate in stressful situations. 

READ: Pattison Food Group gets into the restaurant biz

“That relationship under stress served us all very, very well. It wasn’t easy for anyone, it was incredibly difficult for all of us to do our jobs every day,” she said, adding that Longo’s has built its relationships with suppliers for more than 65 years. “Seeing those relationships under stress and how well the vendors partnered with us was really impressive.”

Gebara echoed his fellow panelists. As Walmart Canada readies to celebrate its 30 year anniversary next year, the chief executive reflected on the retailer’s relationships with global, local and regional suppliers.

“The grocery industry is built on very robust relationships with suppliers,” he said. “I think [Canada is] a very sophisticated market.”

The Retail Leadership Panel was moderated by Michael LeBlanc, producer and host of The Voice of Retail

GroceryConnex 2023 took place Nov. 20 at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. 

More retail panel highlights:

  • Darrel Jones on retail theft and violence: “It really is the number one thing that I see that’s the most disturbing in my 47 years [in the business]… As we focus on our customers, as we focus on our team members, this issue should really be front and centre.” 
  • Deb Craven on new technologies: “We’re getting towards the end of a significant expansion in our distribution centre. We’re putting in automation for the first time. Besides the team members working in the store, the people working in the distribution centre have tough, tough jobs… So finding tools that help those team members do the job they want to do, and making sure that we have goods on shelf that are the best quality that we’re happy to put our name on, and making sure that team has a fair shot at leading that every day – that’s going to be a big step for us. [The centre] is going to be opening up June 2024.” 
  • Gonzalo Gebara on innovation: “Canada, over the years, has been for Walmart a very interesting developer of ideas in many areas – not only technology but diversity and inclusion and development processes… Everything is tied together. Of course, we have the benefit of gaining access to all the great things happening in other parts of the world but we have the responsibility of tailoring that for Walmart Canada."

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer on November 22, 2023

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