What do celebrity chefs know about food retailing?

Discussion
Robert Irvine, Mario Batali - Photos: Robert Irvine; USDA/Lance Cheung
Jun 28, 2016
Al McClain

A lot, actually. It turns out that celebrity chefs/restaurateurs/TV stars Mario Batali and Robert Irvine know a lot about food retailing and how to make food shopping more exciting, which they showcased in a discussion with FMI CEO and president Leslie Sarasin at last week’s FMI Connect.

On leadership, Mr. Batali suggested top management allow other employees to lead and not feel the need to be the “smartest person in the room.” Mr. Irvine, with a military background, said you need to lead from the front, but it is critical to give employees the tools to do their jobs and get buy-in from everyone.

Mr. Batali came of age when chefs were not celebrities and said his family got into cooking because they could do it better than restaurants. Nowadays, he says, consumers are fascinated by food and ingredients and no longer view food as just fuel. Mr. Irvine got into the British military at 15-1/2 due to poor schoolwork. He became a Navy cook. His father so disapproved that he didn’t talk to him for two years.

For both chefs, it’s all about retailers educating consumers. Mr. Batali says cooking can be less effort than imagined and food retailers need to do such things as provide more samples, show consumers how to cook, educate them on tastes and trim vegetables for free. According to Mr. Irvine, retailers also need to educate as well as provide more fresh, tasty, fun and quick options. Stores need to have more color, be brighter and better organized. He says shopping should not be a mundane chore, but an outing to see what’s new.

Mr. Batali came back several times to the idea of simplicity, suggesting retailers put short, easy, “how-to” videos on social media channels. He always walks the perimeter of the store first and tries to limit processed carbs. He feels retailers have an obligation to steer consumers away from processed foods and provide better food choices, but shouldn’t decide what consumers can have.

For Mr. Irvine, a lot of it is about fitness, as he works with the military and helps to keep them fit and feeling well. He says food changes one’s physical being and mental state and advises “eating smart” with smaller, more frequent meals, a small sweet treat at the end of each meal and occasional indulgences.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What can supermarkets and food retailers do to make food shopping exciting and less of a chore? Do operators have an obligation to help their customers eat healthier by steering them towards fresh options and away from processed foods?

Braintrust
"Stores should be providing healthy alternatives if those alternatives will sell, otherwise not."
"With the trend of healthy foods and eating it would, however, seem obligatory to have these healthy food choices available..."
"Healthy alternatives are obviously draws for consumers these days. However, “healthy” isn’t easily defined."

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9 Comments on "What do celebrity chefs know about food retailing?"

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Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Not sure whether shoppers view food shopping as a chore or not — probably some do and some don’t — and that conflicts with the notion that consumers are fascinated by food and ingredients.

No — stores don’t have an obligation to push people to eat healthier. They should be providing healthy alternatives if those alternatives will sell, otherwise not.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

I am not the food shopper in our family but I can tell you that my husband does not consider food shopping a chore. If I am with him I usually wait in the car, otherwise he will roam around the store for hours.

I won’t go to the international market with him!

For people who love food and love to cook, they tend to explore for anything new and/or interesting.

And that’s my 2 cents.

Naomi K. Shapiro
BrainTrust

They don’t have an obligation, but it’s a nice idea. With the trend of healthy foods and eating it would, however, seem obligatory to have these healthy food choices available if you want to stay in business. Pushing this special category at the expense of processed foods might also alienate the processed food providers who still wield a huge influence on a large portion of sales in a “general” (as opposed to health-food) store.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Food retailers can promote gastronomy with digital displays showing how-to throughout the store, or promoting new and interesting products and providing recipes by known chefs who are willing to give them away. However, it has always been my view that the consumer has to decide, once they have been exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly, whether or not they want to eat healthfully or consume a pound of sugar per month. Given the options, I, not the supermarket, am responsible for my life. If I want healthful and fresh, I will patronize the establishment that offers them.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

It would be great if supermarkets felt obliged to help their customers eat healthy but the bottom line is they exist to make money and they stock what their customers will buy. With that said, I do like the idea of food retailers and supermarkets sharing short how-to videos on their social media sites. That could be a great way to grow their product and would help the retailers’ image and branding.

Larry Negrich
BrainTrust
Variety, scents, original offerings, easy navigation and efficient checkout all make for a better grocery shopping experience. Like any other type of retail, grocers need to create an environment for the type of shopper they want to attract. Shoppers look for a variety of pre-packaged, fresh and processed offerings allowing them to grab what they need for their lifestyle and tastes. It’s just good business to have a variety of offerings to meet the needs of the shopper. Healthy alternatives are obviously draws for consumers these days. However, “healthy” isn’t easily defined. Is homemade-from-scratch macaroni and cheese any healthier than… Read more »
Dan Raftery
BrainTrust

The celebrity chef endorsement and involvement with a grocer is a timely way to address some of the more important segments of the fragmented, no-longer-mass market. Housewares companies proved long ago that these engagements work on several fronts, including design, marketing and sales. Glad to see similar arrangements catching on in food retail. A natural.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

There are plenty of great examples of food stores that make shopping exciting. Just take a walk around Manhattan. Those stores that people are finding less exciting to shop need to take some hints from these innovators … quickly! As for the other question of if these operators have an obligation to basically make us eat healthier, I say a definitive “No!” I want snacks every once in a while, so please continue to provide them! They don’t have to be my nanny.

Al McClain
Staff
Hey, Ralph, I’m as anti-nanny state as the next guy, for the most part. But, with 68.8% of U.S. adults now overweight or obese, where does it end? Without a concerted campaign by the government, we’d have a much bigger smoking problem than we currently have. Many overweight and obese consumers develop diabetes and other diseases caused by weight gain, so I’m not sure why public sentiment is so much in favor of personal freedom at the expense of illness/dying. But, since it is, I think retailers and food producers have a moral responsibility to educate us on what’s good… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Stores should be providing healthy alternatives if those alternatives will sell, otherwise not."
"With the trend of healthy foods and eating it would, however, seem obligatory to have these healthy food choices available..."
"Healthy alternatives are obviously draws for consumers these days. However, “healthy” isn’t easily defined."

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