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I PREDICT…

Listen, this wasn’t my idea. But here are eight things I see coming down the pike in the next year or two. (Or three.)

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
But this month’s cover story is full of predictions, and Warren asked me to come up with some of my own. I tried telling him that those who have knowledge don’t predict, and those who predict don’t have knowledge. But he insisted anyway. So here goes.
1. Retailers and vendors will all try to differentiate by being more “healthy,” and as that continues, there will be a nice niche business for delicious, unhealthy junk food. Count on it. Yes, the biggest gains will come from organic, natural, gluten-free and crap-free. But there’s still a market out there for the other stuff.
2. More “healthy food” will actually taste good. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I’d have preferred eating egg cartons soaked in crankcase oil than chowing down on a veggie burger. But today, there’s really delicious healthy food available. And as more consumers find out about it, we may get back some traffic that we’ve lost in our departments.
3. Frozen food companies will get back into promoting and innovating, or in a few short years they’ll lose the farm. Brands aren’t spending nearly as much on promotion as they used to do, and the whole department has suffered. Promoting smarter and more efficiently should help, but you never know. I’ve seen “sales” where an item sells better at two for $5 than at $2.49 apiece. And innovation doesn’t mean just adding a new flavor.
4. Private label will get stronger in areas where brands are cutting back on promotion and innovation. As for innovation, private label is doing a helluva job. Been in a Trader Joe’s lately? I doubt those MBAs from the big food companies have. They really need to stop rearranging those deck chairs on the Titanic and try something besides tired line extensions.
5. Consolidation/big weddings will continue. People keep telling me that there’s nothing left to consolidate, and that all the big companies have married up. Well, I keep hearing of new potential weddings all the time, on both the retailer and vendor side.
6. Divorces will accelerate and stepchildren will be kicked out of the household. All those big vendors marrying up don’t always find wedded bliss. They’re going to find things they don’t like about each other, and soon there will be fights in the boardroom. (Or is that “the bored room?”) Next thing you know, they’ll be splitting themselves up, or saying that the other’s children aren’t “part of the core mission.” Companies like Pinnacle should have a fine old time.
7. For new products over the next few years, we’ll see more upscale items than downscale or even middle-class items. If you’ve been reading the papers or just plain living in the United States, you know why. The only wild card here is that Walmart occasionally tries to latch onto an upscale item, and then the truly upscale stores drop it like a hot potato. But most mainstream stores want to carry everything Walmart has, and then some. God forbid one of their shoppers ever says, “I guess I’ll have to go to Walmart for that.”
8. Some companies will innovate by giving their workers enough time and resources to get things done and actually “exceed the expectations” of their trading partners. Imagine that! Oh, the early ones trying this will probably fail. Pioneers get arrows in their backs. But pioneers also get the gold.

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