The president of North Carolina-based supermarket chain Lowes Foods shares his thoughts about the state of the industry for independent grocers and his outlook for the coming months.
- Challenges of the past year continue to linger into 2023, and despite a gradual easing of inflation, operators as well as consumers are still feeling the pressure. What are your expectations for the coming months?
We do expect inflation to continue to ease from the rate we have seen the last couple of years. The industry will continue to respond by tightening expenses to reinvest in growth. Unit growth is the biggest opportunity for the industry right now. Pressures continue to come from consumers having to make decisions with tighter resources, especially with those effected by reduced government assistance.
- What should policymakers understand about independent grocers as they consider legislation that will impact your business?
Continuing to ensure that consumers can get the necessities of food is paramount to those that are food insecure. Continuing to review policies that help the individual so they may be able to have balanced nutritional meals is important to so many in large and small-town communities. Also, continuing to evaluate the ability for all grocers to be able to have the same accessibility to cost of goods so there is a level playing field will be important to keeping competition healthy and allowing smaller grocers to have the same playing field in regard to price from manufacturers.
- More than three years after the pandemic began, how is your business different today?
The consumer has shifted as the pandemic led to inflation and pressures on their spending habits. Having the labor force to take care of the communities we serve continues to be a pressure point for the industry. We must continue to find ways to engage the consumer in ways that allow them to escape from the day-to-day pressures and have an “escape” through great food experiences in our stores.
- What must independent operators do to ensure growth and success?
Focus on guest experience. Do not only watch what the bigger players are doing, but pay attention to what your consumer is searching for that they cannot find and fill that space. This is not always variety, but it is often in experience and how we make them feel.
- If you weren’t in the grocery industry, what would you be doing?
Retail has always been part of my life. I have been in retail inside and outside of grocery. I believe the sector that is growing the most is built around intellectual capital. So, if not in grocery, I would likely be consulting to help other businesses grow.