One of the big questions retailers explored at our recent Convenience Foodservice Exchange (CFX), held late last year in Charlotte, N.C., was the role of innovation and new ideas at a time when so much attention needs to be focused on everyday challenges.
The twin dilemmas of the acute shortage of store workers and the extreme difficulties of getting products due to the massive supply chain backlog have many retailers scrambling just to keep their stores open for normal operating hours and to stock their shelves with the products their customers want to buy.
"Who has time for innovation?" one retailer recently asked me, noting that the past year has been a greater strain on him and his company than even the worst months of the pandemic. I know several convenience channel executives, particularly those in store operations, who have exited the industry or retired early due to burnout.
Nevertheless, it is critical for retailers to pursue innovation despite the labor shortage and supply chain disruptions. There's always going to be immediate challenges that need to be addressed, but innovation is what differentiates the great retailers from the good ones.
Speaking at CFX, Joe Chiovera, principal at XS Foodservice Solutions, recommended that c-store operators take a "strategic and proactive" approach to innovation. He explained that setting a pro-innovation culture from the top down is key, and that companies need to be planning for months and even years ahead.
Rutter's, based in York, Pa., has a history of being one of the most innovative chains in the industry. When asked how the pandemic and recent labor and supply chain issues affected the company’s innovation process, Foodservice Category Manager Chad White told the CFX audience that it is about focusing on the important things. "Through menu rationalization and focusing on the most important aspects of the menu, we were able to continue to innovate in small ways, while also maintaining in-stock positions and service levels," he said.
So, if the pandemic slowed your pace of new idea generation, now is the time to get back on the innovation train. In fact, if you haven’t made out your list of New Year's resolutions yet, here are two items that definitely should be on it:
- Resolve to continue taking care of your frontline store employees and field operations staff. They’ve borne the brunt of the pandemic-related risks and challenges. They are all heroes.
- Resolve to always maintain a structured and strategic approach to continued innovation.
I hope all our readers have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.