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Food retailers continue to focus on consumers’ changing demands
There are about 7,000 grocery stores in Ohio, ranging from corner carryouts to modern supermarkets, and like farmers, those businesses are responding to consumer demand.
Leo Braido, chairman of the Ohio Grocers Association, said in his 29 years working for Riesbeck’s Food Markets, consumer expectations have changed significantly.
Braido said consumers are more health and wellness oriented as well as more finicky than they used to be. The old grocery store motto of “Pile it high and watch it fly” no longer applies, he said.
“You have to do your level best to listen attentively each and every day to what the customer is telling you they want as opposed to you giving them what you think they want,” he said during a recent edition of Ohio Farm Bureau's radio show Town Hall Ohio.
Retailers' response to consumers ultimately trickles down to farmers, according to Janet Cassidy, OFBF senior director of marketing communications.
“That really impacts food production these days,” she said.
Braido acknowleged that food retailers sometimes get too caught up in issues of price and value.
“I ask our managers all the time, ‘Was the best meal you’ve ever eaten the least expensive one you’ve ever bought,’” he said. “And the answer is certainly ‘no.’”
He added that Ohio farmers produce some of the highest quality food products in the nation.
“We are very much in tune with balancing the quality piece with the value piece for the consumer,” he said.
Tom Jackson, CEO of the Ohio Grocers Association, said balance is important because 71 percent of consumers rate prices as a very important decision maker when they buy food. Jackson said grocers are in the right business in a down economy because people still have to eat. However, consumers may become more conservative in their shopping habits.
“Quite frankly, they’re making the list at home, bringing it to the store and following it,” Jackson said.
Another major trend that could affect farmers is consumers demand for locally grown foods.
“We tell our folks that work for us, ‘Decisions best for consumers are those made closest to consumers.’ And certainly food that’s best for consumers is that which is grown as close to the consumer as possible,” Braido said. “Each and every season that we can engage local farmers and buy their product, we want to do that.”