Lessons From the Field

I know I’m luckier than most working folks because going on field trips is part of my job! And like an eager grade schooler relishing that end-of-the-school-year trip to the zoo, I thoroughly enjoy these experiences — and learn a lot from them too. During the weeks this issue was in the works, I had two especially valuable trips to the “field,” both of which had the added benefit of hometown connections, although to different hometowns. The first was to Pittsburgh, near where I grew up, for a visit with the candy retailing team at Giant Eagle.
Speaking at the National Confectioners Association’s State of the Industry Conference last month, financial analyst Andrew Lazar noted that some of the best examples of grocery retailing come from mid-sized, regional companies like H-E-B and Giant Eagle. I’ve been lucky enough to visit and write about both within the past year, and I’m in complete agreement with Mr. Lazar.
During the Pittsburgh visit, Giant Eagle merchandising executive Mark Stebor made a comment that really resonated. At Giant Eagle, he noted, the mantra has always been, “if it’s not broke, fix it anyway.” Too funny and so true. One of the ways Giant Eagle makes that happen is by staying in close touch with shoppers via focus groups and other modes of research. Consumer insights and savvy leadership have allowed Giant Eagle to position itself to deliver value, a strong assortment and a top-notch shopping experience.
One fine tour
My second recent field trip was right here on my current home turf of Chicago, where I toured a local candy- making institution, World’s Finest Chocolate. Like Giant Eagle, World’s Finest Chocolate has been around for a while — 56 years to be exact. This company too is committed to figuring out how to keep things fresh, fun and meaningful for consumers. In 2003, the company expanded beyond its deeply entrenched roots as a supplier of chocolate for fundraising programs with the rollout of premium chocolate for seasonal retail sale. And last year, World’s Finest acquired the venerable Queen Anne chocolate-covered cherries brand. When I toured the sprawling manufacturing facility, the production team was ironing out the kinks for the first runs of the new items — which certainly seem to be a great fit for the World’s Finest seasonal sales initiative.
I can only hope that even more retailers and vendors will keep those fresh ideas flowing.
Mary Ellen Kuhn