Interactive merchandising on the rise

Philip Gilbert is national sales and marketing manager for Creative Displayworks, a Concord, Ont.-based designer and manufacturer of custom store fixtures and merchandising concepts. Earlier this spring, he attended GlobalShop 2000 in Chicago, a leading North American showcase for the latest...

Philip Gilbert is national sales and marketing manager for Creative Displayworks, a Concord, Ont.-based designer and manufacturer of custom store fixtures and merchandising concepts. Earlier this spring, he attended GlobalShop 2000 in Chicago, a leading North American showcase for the latest in retail display innovations. For this report, Strategy asked him to discuss some of the trends and developments he noted while walking the show floor.

The size and scope of GlobalShop 2000 were nothing if not spectacular. In all, the event boasted 1,200-plus exhibitors, occupying more than a million square feet. Retailers and brand marketers from around the world spent hours wandering through the five exhibition halls, all seeking that one concept that would put them on the leading edge of merchandise presentation.

So why was it just a little underwhelming? Maybe because GlobalShop is held annually – which means that a lot of what was on display had also been there the previous year. (For this reason, many may prefer Germany’s EuroShop. That show only takes place every three years, and the long hiatus gives exhibitors more incubating time to hatch new store fixture and merchandising ideas. The next EuroShop is scheduled for February 2002.)

Nevertheless, some noteworthy trends did make themselves evident in Chicago.

The most exciting of these is interactive merchandising – essentially, the use of technology to give consumers access to more product information at the point of purchase. Benjamin Moore & Co. in the U.S., for example, has recently introduced a system called Color Preview to their network of dealers. The system allows consumers to choose from a palette of more than 1,400 colours, and "insert" computer-generated colour samples into a three-dimensional simulated room, so that they can better gauge whether the shade is to their liking. It will even show how the paint is likely to appear under different lighting conditions.

Jenn-Air, meanwhile, has introduced an interactive kiosk to help promote its refrigerators at the retail level. The kiosk features 15 different backlit photo panels, each of which displays a different model in a different kitchen environment. By pressing a button located beneath each picture, consumers can listen to an audio presentation on the product’s features. A lot of thought has clearly gone into the physical design of this display, too: With its curved, natural birch veneer columns and black melamine panels, the kiosk’s look is in keeping with Jenn-Air’s reputation for high-quality products.

Interactive displays like these work to everyone’s benefit. They offer customers a wealth of product information, without demanding a great deal of the retailer’s valuable floor space.

The use of giant-sized and multi-screen television monitors is also on the upswing – particularly in areas such as fashion merchandising. What better way, after all, to give the couturier’s runway a presence at retail, where the actual buying decision is made? Those retailers who can’t justify an investment in this technology may opt instead for large, backlit lifestyle image posters – another increasingly popular means of shaping mood and mind-set.

From the evidence at GlobalShop, store planners have begun to place increasing emphasis on the use of specialized lighting and bright colours. The use of acrylics is also making a resurgence in fixture design, along with new applications and finishes, such as fluorescent edge treatments in exotic colours.

Electronic retail is expected to continue its rapid expansion in the months ahead – and as it does so, it will present an increasing challenge to conventional bricks-and-mortar retail stores. Retail merchants and mall developers must give consumers good reasons to leave the comfort of their homes (and the glare of their monitors) in order to fight for parking space at the local shopping centre. The store, once simply a place to shop, must become an "entertainment" destination. The shopping experience must become fun.

In short, there’s a battle going on for customers now. And to win it, retail executives and product merchandisers will need to tap the latest in innovative presentation concepts.

Also in this report:

- Harry gets hip with casual campaign: Upscale retailer makes a play for younger, "new economy" business executives p.24

- POP progress slow but sure: With the promise of credible data, point-of-purchase is poised to prove its worth as a medium p.25

- North West Co. nurtures roots: Retailer supports local activities in remote communities throughout the north p.27

- Traditional retailers can thrive in online world p.27

Meat and plant-based sales are both strong at Maple Leaf

Both priority areas performed well in the company's full-year results, helped by a boost in marketing for new products.
Maples Leaf All Natural 4

Maple Leaf Foods reported higher Q4 and full-year 2020 sales, driven by its sustainable meats and plant-based proteins. 

The CPG co. reported quarterly sales of $1.13 billion, up from $1.02 billion for Q4 2019, as well as net earnings of $25.4 million, compared to $17.5 million for the same period the year prior (an increase of 45.2%).

For full fiscal 2020, the company reported a total increase of 9.2% in sales, driven by what it says is “strong growth in both the meat and plant protein groups.”

“We have repositioned our portfolio towards two high-growth categories now representing 20% of our annual sales generating a compounded growth rate in excess of 25% over the last three years,” says Michael McCain, the company’s president and CEO.

Meat protein group sales  comprised of prepared meats, ready-to-cook and ready-to-serve meals, snack kits, value-added fresh pork and poultry products that are sold to retail, foodservice and industrial channels, and agricultural operations  grew 11.3% for the quarter. 

Meanwhile, sales of plant protein products  refrigerated plant protein brands such as Lightlife and Field Roast, premium grain-based protein, and vegan cheese products sold to retail, foodservice and industrial channels  was up 5.5% over the same period. 

Sales growth for its meat portfolio was driven by “a favourable mix-shift towards sustainable meats and branded products,” but also growth in exports to Asian markets, and pricing actions implemented to mitigate inflation and other structural cost increases, according to the company. Strong demand in the retail channel was offset by lower volume in foodservice as a result of COVID-19.

For its plant-based offerings, sales for 2020 were $210.8 million compared to $176.4 million last year, representing a growth of 19.5%, or 18.1% after excluding the impacts of foreign exchange. The segment was driven by expanded distribution of new products, continued volume increases in its existing portfolio, and pricing actions implemented to mitigate inflation and other structural cost increases.

SG&A expenses totalled $144 million for the plant group alone in 2020, with investments focused on advertising, promotion and marketing to build awareness, as well as supporting brand renovation and new product innovation. SG&A for meat proteins were $346.6 million for the full year, and the company says it expects SG&A levels and marketing investment in 2021 to be largely in line with where they were in 2020.

The company, which in 2019 announced it had gone carbon neutral, says it’s amplifying this commitment while “focusing on eliminating waste in any resources it consumes, including food, energy, water, packaging, and time.”