Three Universal Truths for Basic Supermarketing

March 20, 2012

Huston Smith, one of the world's foremost scholars and authors on religions throughout the world, simply explains the three basic inescapable human problems.

Huston Smith, one of the world’s foremost scholars and authors on religions throughout the world, simply explains the three basic inescapable human problems. He says that everywhere humans have lived on this planet we have been faced with how to earn our livelihood from the soil, how to get along with fellow human beings and how to get along with ourselves.

It seems to me that these could also be guidelines for supermarkets to heed.

Shoppers have more interest in food — where it comes from, who supplies it, how to prepare it — then ever before. We have hundreds of food apps at our fingertips that can identify which foods to buy or avoid, distinctive recipes with lineage that would make a royal envious and the tools to compare prices and save money in countless ways. There is even a free app (Shopping Lane Picker) that helps us decide which grocery checkout will be the fastest.

Some retailers do a terrific job educating their customers about these basics of food — but we need to do more. These days it seems that most of our efforts at retail are directed towards teaching our shoppers how to eat healthier, which is critical, but more about where our foods come from and how they are made needs to be done.

This month, for example, is Frozen Food Month. Clarence Birdseye first patented the process for freezing fish in 1925 and to this day shoppers are confused about the quality and nutritional values of frozen foods. Perhaps as we approach the 100th year anniversary of his patent we can clear up the confusion?

Getting along with others is also a basic human condition. Customer-service training is a must have for any retailer. What about co-worker employee training? Without exception, when I visit stores (of all kinds, not just food stores) I witness tension, and sometimes even unpleasantries between co-workers. Perhaps it is the stress of being overworked (and underpaid?) but it creates an unpleasant atmosphere in the store that can easily turn away shoppers.

Smith’s last point, how to get along with ourselves, I might suggest is the most difficult of the problems. Without being too philosophical, being happy with one’s self in today’s world — with the pressures from the economy, our jobs, our families and world politics — adds everyday stresses to already complicated lives where we continue to question our future or role in life.

If we pay attention to these three issues, I have little doubt that our stores, employees, customers and ourselves will prosper.

This column also appears in the March 19th issue of Supermarket News.