Whilst Asia may be seen as the leader in innovative grocery store trends, I’m sure some of these supermarket trends will be already visible in retailers in your part of the world.

I’ll divide them into technological innovations, product developments and consumer insights. Of course, just because they are a trend in one part of the world doesn’t automatically mean they will catch on elsewhere, but let’s take a closer look at what many retailers are considering.

Technological Retail Trends in Supermarkets

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Shopping from the comfort of home is certainly here to stay, although the experience lacks some of the key attributes of offline stores. This is where VR and AR can come in by providing additional information about products, such as ingredients and offering a more immersive experience. So that could be for example information about ingredients, followed up by a cooking demonstration and then tailored ads for specific impulse purchases.

This type of technology is already being used in the clothing and make up industry to try on products, however the increasingly online to offline nature of supermarket shopping could also mean that it becomes one of the supermarket trends of the coming years.

Deliveries

Deliveries have to be one of the most complex parts of the online supermarket shopping experience. In many parts of mainland Europe online supermarket shopping only became a “thing” during the pandemic and in the German speaking world, it still isn’t really that mainstream outside of big cities. It’s available but not widely used.

However with aging populations around the world and anti-congestion measures in place in many major cities, deliveries need to be rethought. Customer expectations around the speed of delivery are also changing and deliveries in Europe at least haven’t caught up.

If Coupang in Korea can offer deliver within urban areas within an hour or so, and Hema can do this in China, then this could be a blueprint for European markets. Are autonomous delivery vehicles or drone deliveries going to be the hot grocery store trends for the coming years?

Any European supermarkets thinking about international expansion also need to consider what the market expectations are for online deliveries too. It’s no longer as “simple” (????) as having a few brick & mortar stores.

Robots as Staff

This is probably a controversial one in Europe, but could be a business saver in rural areas. Of course, there are concerns about people being replaced, but equally, there are rural areas where local minimarkets are closing down due to a lack of people willing to run them. Robots could offer a solution for this, again against the backdrop of an aging population who may be looking for local solutions to shop without needing a car.

Having robots who are able to support with restocking shelves, packing shopping for customers, carrying heavy shopping out of the store to the carpark or delivery vehicle through to offering product information or advice on new items….there are lots of possibilities.

The Supermarket itself as an energy Source

In mainland Europe the topic of concreting large patches of land is increasingly under scrutiny, meaning that pressure to be as energy efficient or sustainable as possible is growing. We may start to see more markets with solar panels on the walls or roof, or parts of the car park roofed with solar panels. Especially as global warming effects start to be felt more, having a roofed over car park where clients can park in the shade may become more important.

Facial Recognition

Controversial in Europe for sure, but facial recognition in supermarkets is already reality in parts of Asia. Your face is scanned on entry and also used for payment when exiting the market.

It’s a short stretch of the imagination to think that you could be directed to your regular shopping list or offers for similar items via this recognition technology. Targeted ads, improved customer service and tailored product recommendations – all relatively simple to implement.

Facial recognition could include recognising dissatisfaction or annoyance and proactively addressing potential customer service issues earlier, as well as being used to prevent shoplifting.

Just that small question of data privacy…

Autonomous Unmanned stores

This is often linked together with the question of facial recognition but doesn’t have to be. Amazon Go, Hema, Rewe Pick & Go, Teo or Tante M are all examples of autonomous stores. Often a combination of sensors and cameras register each time that a customer takes something from the shelf and puts it in their trolley.

Once you’ve finished shopping, you just need to leave the store, knowing that you’ll be charged via the supermarket’s app.

The Teo markets (unmanned) have recently been forced by German courts to close on Sundays (for being unfair competition to regular manned supermarkets which are not allowed to be open). These are mostly in rural areas & apparently did 25-30% of their turnover on yes, Sundays. So the road forward for unmanned stores is really not straightforward even if consumers like the concept!

Smart Shopper Features

This is the customer facing aspect of unmanned stores in many ways, however it can also be combined with partially manned supermarkets. It includes such technology as digital displays on the shelf or on shopping trolleys, barcode scanners for shoppers to scan their own items or self check out tills. Generally though, it means that consumers place items in their trolley and they will be charged automatically.

Why am I not including self checkouts in this list of potential supermarket trends? Well, although they are already well established in some regions (eg UK) their popularity is not undisputed. On the one hand, many shoppers object to doing the work of the supermarket staff for them (especially as often you actually have to show your shopping together with the receipt to a member of staff before you can exit). The other aspect is that many store managers are greatly concerned about shoplifting, so whilst self service tills are becoming more popular in Germany, there are also markets who are removing theirs…

Transparent Blockchain

No, this isn’t to do with cryptocurrency!

The blockchain is basically a way of creating a database across many different decentralised locations, and each time a new datapoint (or block) is added to the chain it cannot be altered, making the blockchain a secure and tamper-proof record of transactions.

This has a huge number of potential uses within supermarket supply chains. On the stock side, you have stock management systems such as those used for ordering, managing pricing and making reporting easier. These also could include a combination of AI and machine learning making that “dark art” of forecasting more transparent and improving efficiency.

Blockchain technology can also be used to demonstrate the traceability of products, back to the farmer for example so that consumers can find the origin and additional information about products. It can also be used to track distribution chains (think about situations where a brand has distributors who have geographical limitations on their contracts or are restricted to certain sales channels).

On the consumer side, blockchain technology can be used for customer loyalty schemes. Just think, it can allow you to collect data about each stage of the product’s journey from producer to consumer – how long it stayed in each warehouse, or on the shelf. This information can help to streamline supply chains and prevent wastage. If consumers know that the information they are seeing about dates, origin etc is genuine then increased trust can be built.

Product Developments that could become Supermarket Trends

Protein

OK, this is pretty much a given, as the protein trend has already been with us for a while ever since it started to become general knowledge that eating higher protein amounts when dieting helps to prevent muscle loss. Also there’s the advantage that eating protein helps you to stay full which has lead to a whole host of high protein products.

Yoghurts, mueslis, bars, puddings, powders…these are all products that offer improved margins for retailers vs their lower protein equivalents so combined with the associated health benefits there’s little chance that supermarkets will let us forget about these any time soon.

Of course there are also a whole host of alternative protein sources for meat substitutes and plant based diets which are also usually great for supermarkets’ margins. Protein is going to be with us for the foreseeable future I believe as a trend.

Lab Grown Meat

Grown from cells so that no animal needs to die, but humans can go on enjoying their meat with less worry about the consequences for the planet. After all, lab grown meat needs a lot less water, land and creates less greenhouse gases – naturally grown meat is extremely resource heavy in the production.

These kinds of products are already on the market in Singapore and the US, with brands such as Upside Foods or Good Meat. Whilst this kind of process isn’t without it’s controversy, there are many companies worldwide who are engaged in researching how they can develop such products cost effectively at scale.

In Europe, companies such as Rügenwalder Mühle or The Cultivated B are reportedly working on lab grown meat, but as yet it’s an extremely expensive product to produce.

High Tech Protein

Growing cells in a lab is not the only form of high tech protein that could become one of the future retail trends in supermarkets. There are also many experiments taking place with such ideas as:

  • fermentation of proteins to create taste meat substitutes eg microalgae
  • 3D printing for meat substitutes
  • bacteria that like plants create organic matter out of anorganic substances
  • using what would otherwise be waste products of the food and beverage industry to produce high quality ingredients.

Sounds like a scene from a futuristic apocalyptic film? Solar Foods are already synthesising proteins out of thin air! And Somatech ferment spent brewers grain using mycelium technology to produce a kind of meal/flour or Circular Fiber’s artichoke flour, made from what would be otherwise waste with a patented process to help food producers reduce vegetable waste.

Insects

Whilst we’re talking about protein, we shouldn’t forget the bugs… 4 different kinds of insect are registered for use in food in the EU, and whilst they haven’t exactly hit the mainstream yet, their breakthrough could be just around the corner.

In many parts of the world, insects form a traditional part of the nutrition, whereas in Europe there’s a certain “ick factor” associated with the idea of eating them. I’m not sure what the difference is between eating a cricket or a piece of lamb, especially if it’s in the form of mince or even further processed into products such as burgers.

The internet abounds with conspiracy theories though, stating that the idea of eating insects is a way of “the elite”, whoever “they” may be, to force the rest of us to eat 2nd quality products whilst retaining the steaks etc for themselves.

In reality, insects offer a high protein, low fat meat source, which requires considerably less resources to produce than other forms of meat.

“Magic” Mushrooms

Obviously I don’t mean to talk about the ones that alter your perception of your own consciousness, but perhaps the best plant based “meat substitute” out there.

The fibrous texture of mushrooms is close to that of meat (in some kinds of funghi) and they contain protein, fibre, and minerals as well as having an umami flavour profile.

For example Esencia Foods describe their product as mycelium powered seafood, and as you can see in the photo below the texture and appearance at least is pretty close to fish.

If you scroll Instagram, you can find many influencers telling you about the power of a mushroom steak, so it’s not surprising (except maybe to those of you who think that all mushrooms are slimy) that companies are investing resources into creating a commercially viable meat alternative on this basis.

Vertical Farming & hydroponics

Supermarkets in urban areas are likely to move towards greening their space be that car parks, roofs etc for increased energy efficiency. This could include vertical farming solutions so that fresh salads and herbs are always available, fish farming or even bee keeping. There are plenty of urban farming examples which could be used as a model.

Packaging Deposits

Old school, but still effective IF the infrastructure for a circular economy is available. Many countries in mainland Europe are reintroducing deposits on glass containers and even plastic soft drinks bottles (eg Germany).

Here in Austria, it’s normal on beer, mineral water, yoghurt jars and newer milk bottles, and Estonia also has a deposit system on bottles.

It does require the infrastructure to be in place to deal with the packaging on a market level though and then to get the packaging back to producers, clean it and either reuse or recycle it.

Biodegradable packaging

I can feel you rolling your eyes at this one as being obvious, but take a look at your weekly shop and think about how every single piece of packaging can (or can’t) be recycled…

Whilst plastic is great for protecting products during transport and helping to prolong shelf life, most brands are looking to reduce the amount of plastic they use. This ranges from initiatives such as Coca Cola switching to 100% recyclable PET bottles, or replacing the shrink wrap on 6 packs with paper through to replacing the glass in wine bottles with a biodegradable paper option.

New types of shrink wrap products based on algae or mushrooms (so 100% compostable) could also be around the corner, helping to also support the zero waste movement.

Trend Products

What do I mean with this? Well, I’m referring to cult-status like products which seem to pop up out of nowhere driven by social media. They have massive sales for a short while after which they practically disappear. Examples could be Prime in the UK or Takis chips in Germany.

Whilst retail chains are not known for fast listings or turnarounds on new products, the ability to do this occasionally will become even more important in the future if they want to take advantage of such trends.

Nootropics

Nootropics, colloquially brain supplementssmart drugs and cognitive enhancers, are natural, semisynthetic or synthetic compounds which purportedly improve cognitive functions, such as executive functions, attention or memory.
While commonly in the form of dietary supplements, nutraceuticals or energy drinks, some nootropic compounds are prescription and non-prescription drugs in various countries.

Wikipedia

The most well known example here is caffeine, but recently there are a lot of projects with other nootropic ingredients, and whilst the question of proof of efficacy and local claims laws are complex, then they are gaining popularity.

The functional beverages category is forecast to reach USD260.2bn in the UK by 2027 so you can see there’s huge potential. However the point I want to make here is more that people don’t just want to have a kind of vile tasting liquid supplement, but rather a fun drink that will also be good for them.

Human Learnings and Consumer Insights around Grocery Store Trends

Media Competency

It’s no longer enough for market managers to know how to manage the fresh produce, wrangle the ordering system and deal with the preferences of their local customers. Increasingly, they also need to have a certain level of digital media competency as well as running a supermarket, especially a franchised one, becomes ever more complex.

As more shoppers move towards a hybrid experience then it’s necessary to understand how to do digital marketing by mastering online ads, as well as storytelling for social media and SEO. On top of all that, any store manager should probably also have at least a grounding in the basics of crisis management, for the event that a consumer decides to take to the internet with a complaint.

Better Informed Consumers

It’s never been so easy for consumers to find information about products, the companies who produce them and the possible alternatives. This is changing customer’s expectations of their local supermarket and younger consumers are less likely to rely on the store’s staff for advice about their products and more on what they can find online. (Hence one of the reasons for the increased importance of digital media knowledge in stores).

Personalised Nutrition

I’m seeing more and more people investing in DNA testing and blood analysis to gain deeper understanding of their health issues. The results of those tests and the subsequent food tracking are leading to personalised food recommendations.

This means that families are endeavouring to improve their health and longevity by careful selection of their nutrition and that is going to have an impact on supermarkets, especially as it becomes more common.

Experiential Shopping

2 divergent trends for the future? Increasingly unmanned supermarkets whilst at the same time, human connection and engagement becomes ever more valuable and consumers are looking for experiences. Does that mean that stores will have to become more flexible in their business models?

Could supermarkets increasingly become venues for other types of events such as wine tasting or cooking classes?

To what extent should store planners be considering flexible concepts for shelving and store design for future projects?

It’s clear that hybrid is here to stay so it will be important to find solutions to maximise use of the supermarket space.

Which of These Trends Do You See Already?

How many of these potential grocery store trends are you seeing already in your region? Protein for sure…

It’s unlikely that the pressure to reduce costs is going to go away and this will continue to force supermarkets to evolve and consider alternative operating models in the coming years.

That’s going to mean a lot of automatised technologies and a further integration of robots and AI into many aspects of the business, probably first of all into the logistics and storage, but also of course data analysis.

Sustainability is not going to be something that brands or chains can continue to shout about to differentiate themselves for much longer, because it has to become standard.

Post pandemic it’s not just Asia putting an increased focus on health and wellness – populations have realised that you can’t buy health and therefore need to take care of both your physical and mental wellbeing, which also has consequences for supermarkets, their business models and the products they will be selling. Especially when you consider the aspects of personalised experiences becoming increasingly important.

And it’s my firm belief that the online to offline (O2O) integration will be increased wherever in the world you’re working. For international supermarket chains, that will mean continuing to learn how the markets work in the various markets (& not just assuming that everything will work in the same way as at home). Yes, digital shopping experiences are going to be a key to the future but it’s clear for now that tangible physical experiences still matter so the brick and mortar space still has a reason to exist.

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Kathryn

1 Comment

  1. I learn something new every time I visit your blog. Thank you for consistently delivering high-quality content that keeps me coming back!

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