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Born to Be 'Not Wild

Getting in front of the trends "elephant" is today's biggest retail challenge
LAS VEGAS -- To the thump of "Born To Be Wild", the cartoon-generated Baby Boomer couple have found the fountain of youth with turn-back-the-clock remedies Viagra, tummy tucks, fitness clubs and a plethora of pick-me-ups to heal all of life's ills.

This is not your grandparents' generation, and this song is certainly not the Steppenwolf version made famous in the '60s epic Easy Rider. No, this is the 2007 MySpace uproarious cult classic"Born...Tubby...Mild"[image-nocss] by Ambrosia LeAnne.

And the point? "Consumer trends constantly change and evolve.... Your challenge is to be ahead of the trend." This was Phil Lempert's message before a largely Baby Boomer crowd at the annual American Wholesale Marketers Association (AWMA) Show in Las Vegas.

Food trends correspondent for NBC's Today show and known as The Supermarket Guru, Lempert encouraged a packed room of distributors and suppliers that it is not enough to focus on todayObama's "urgency of now"but to prepare for tomorrow.

Trends are big and lumbering like an elephant," he said. "What we need to do when we see these trends is to get in front of the elephant."

With that, Lempert raced through what he sees as the trends of 2010: economic uncertainty, "green," value and a consumer push to know where the origin of today's consumer packaged products.

While each of these trends contains a certain degree of ambiguity, one thing is painfully clear: tomorrow's food will carry stricter standards and higher expectations than today. And the first evidence is soon to happen. "The new food safety bill will happen," he said emphatically, referring to the U.S. Food Safety Enhancement Act (click here for details).

"Some of the [bill] is good, some of it is not good," he said. "The point I want to make is the reason Washington is doing it is because we have failed." The proposed legislation grants the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) new authority and resources to better oversee the safety of more of the nation's food supply.

Moreover, he said, the "Let's Move" campaign by Michelle Obama (click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage) and the president's efforts to reverse growing obesity will affect ongoing food-supply policies. "The impact of Michael Pollan and Alice Waters on this administration is huge," said Lempert.

While Lempert does not support some of the claims by the Obama administration, he does support many of the overriding goals and also notes that even without federal intervention, consumer demand is causing a stir for food makers to post "origin" labels, to list ingredients, and to embrace a consumer-centric focus.

Indeed, on this last point, the stealth-like rise of social networking has resulted in multi-million dollar losses for some airlines and hotels who failed to properly redress consumer complaints, only to see their misconduct ridiculed on YouTube and MySpace.

But beyond the egregious mistakes are the daily activities that simply disrespect the consumer. One example that drew many approving nods was how supermarkets seek to facilitate transactions.

"The person who [created] the express lane is the most stupid person." Why? Because, Lempert said, the one who is being rewarded is the least-profitable customer in the storethe one buying the fewest items. "Let's have express lanes for full shoppers!"

Lempert also touched on a trend toward a more holistic approach to retailing, one that captures a customer's physical, mental, emotional and spiritual touch-buttons. One important quality is absent, he said. "We need enjoyment."

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