Category Management and Shopper Insights Highlights from RDBA Conference

May 2, 2023
By Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, ARC (CMA | SIMA)

The Retail Dietitians Business Alliance (RDBA) is the newest association under the Association of Retail & Consumer Professionals (ARC) umbrella, which is also the parent of CMA and SIMA. ARC is at the forefront of advocating for our unique roles as category managers, shopper insights, and now retail dietitians and space planning professionals, in the ever-changing retail industry.

The RDBA held its annual ‘Virtual Experience’ event at the end of April for its members. The CMA/SIMA content team attended the three-day event and came away with many learnings applicable to category management and shopper insights professionals.

1. Inflation’s Decline Is Not Obvious to Consumers

For U.S. consumers, perception is reality when it comes to inflation. That was one of the key messages shared by SupermarketGURU and consumer trend expert Phil Lempert in his keynote address opening the virtual experience. Inflation, while persistently high, has been declining, as Lempert noted. In fact, food-at-home inflation fell 0.3% in March, its first decline in 2 1/2 years. Nevertheless, consumers continue to face higher prices for goods and services, with the average household spending $276 more per month in expenses, per Moody’s data cited by Lempert.

That is likely why consumers feel inflation is worse than it is. As Lempert pointed out, consumers recently surveyed by dunnhumby indicated they believed food-at-home inflation to be 24.3%, more than double the federal rate. (That same survey also found consumers believing that grocer profit margins were 35%, 14 times as high as industry averages.)

There is also this: 76% of consumers surveyed recently by FMI said they were worried about prices for their preferred brands. This opens the door for private-label goods to make inroads as inflation continues to be the elephant in the room for consumers, as Lempert noted. While inflation is trending the right way, the consumers paying the bills are not feeling it just yet, leaving suppliers and retailers to adjust to keep sales volume high.
Another compelling element of Lempert’s presentation centered on winning over Generation Z, which will represent 27% of consumers by 2025. Lempert urged retail dieticians to utilize TikTok, suggesting the efforts would be appreciated as authentic. The takeaway for shopper insights and category management professionals should be obvious: to engage members of Generation Z, meet them where they are.

2. Dietitians Can Be Excellent Partners for Retailers

According to an FMI study late last year, 81% percent of surveyed food retailers employ dietitians, with almost two-thirds (65%) at the corporate level, nearly a third (31%) at stores or virtually and 12% regionally. Nearly half (48%) said their dietitians hold strategic leadership roles.

During a session on Food as Medicine — broadly defined as the intersection of food and nutrition with health and wellness — panelists cited 10 ways retail dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) can add value to food retailers, including:

  • Elevate basket size, nutrition profile and sales through direct and indirect customer interactions.
  • Identify new engagement, revenue, education, and loyalty-building services.
  • Define cross-category product selection.

For category managers and shopper insights professionals, it’s proof that credible recommendations made by RDNs can have an impact on sales and category dynamics.

3. Tips for Storytelling

The best category managers are ultimately the best storytellers (with data). Brand storytelling expert Park Howell urged RDBA members to connect with audiences through emotion, then logic. Attendees learned about “The ABTs of Agile Communications,” a three-step process:

  • And (the setup to your audience’s problem)
  • But (the audience’s problem, and why they do not have what they want)
  • Therefore (how you will solve their problem)

In the ABT method, storytellers start from a place of agreement, move to a point of contradiction, and finish with the consequence of a particular action. It is in this final stage where compelling data can be very effective, Howell suggested. But winning the heart of the consumer is a key step on that path.

4. Consumers Willing to Use Their Shrinking Dollars to Eat Healthy

The RDBA Virtual Experience closed as it began: with caution around inflation, but optimism on the opportunities available for suppliers and retailers. Make no mistake, inflation is still a big issue for consumers. Most troubling, it has become a health issue for some. In a recent survey, 39% of those polled said inflation had the biggest current impact on their mental health, said presenter Shelley Balanko of food-and-beverage consulting firm The Hartman Group.

In addition, the same survey found most consumers making less than $100,000 were buying fewer healthier foods due to inflation. On the other hand, 55% of respondents indicated they were willing to spend more for healthier foods, with organic, grass-fed and plant-based categories tops in terms of getting consumers to pay a premium. The survey also found a majority of respondents trying a specific eating approach over the previous year, with Generation Z the most adventurous.

Those are silver linings. Now, if only that inflation cloud would go away.