The Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA) Red Oval Partnership program is a key component of the organization, offering strategic support for manufacturers in marketing to independent retailers and their shoppers and delivering valuable shopper offers and category insights to grocers that help them compete against national chains.
Vice President of Brand Development Michael La Kier recently joined the Alliance to lead Red Oval Partner relationships, bringing his experience in marketing, branding, and strategy with brands including The Coca-Cola Company, where he spent over 15 years, Gannett/USA Today Network, General Mills, Walmart, Meat & Livestock Australia, and more.
We spoke to La Kier about his plans for the Red Oval partnership and what retailers can expect for the remainder of 2023.
IGA: You have been in this role for two months. Now that you have met with the Red Oval Partners and learned more about our retailers and wholesalers, what are your key learnings?
La Kier: First and foremost, I’ve been overwhelmed with the support and enthusiasm within the independent grocery industry, and with IGA retailers. There is an optimism for the future and a push for continuous improvement that you don’t often see from an organization that has been around almost 100 years.
Second, there is a high-level of dedication — and desire — from our existing Red Oval partners to help independents succeed. Importantly, as we share the positive momentum of IGA with potential partners there is great interest and excitement to be a part of our growth.
IGA: What’s an opportunity for improvement you definitely want to tackle in the next three months?
La Kier: Having worked in the industry — and having sat where our CPG Red Oval partners sit — I understand ‘what brands want’ first hand. We're working with the entire IGA team to put together a more structured process for planning and reporting to help our CPG partners grow in the independent grocery retail channel and to help our retailers increase sales. There is power in partnerships, and I envision a future where we can unleash the power of independent grocery retail by working together.
IGA: What is the first big bet you’re placing?
La Kier: There’s been turmoil in the retail world over the past three years with the pandemic, economy, and supply chain. It has been a struggle, to say the least, for manufacturers and retailers to keep the shelves full. Shoppers have, unfortunately, become accustomed to disappointment. When products are constantly out of stock, it means an immediate loss of sales. It’s especially damaging if there is no indication on when items will be back in stock and available for purchase. Longer term, even a single out-of-stock may take the retailer out of the consideration set for the next shopping trip.
NielsenIQ estimated that 7.4% of sales are not realized due to out-of-stock/out-of-shelf items, costing retailers $82 billion in 2021 alone. So, it’s in everyone’s best interest to greet shoppers with fully stocked shelves. We’re in the final phases of kicking off a year-long program working with wholesalers, retailers, and our Red Oval Partners on a campaign to “Restore the Shelf” and recapture growth.
My team – and IGA as a whole —are working with our Red Oval partners to ensure our retailers get the products they need to stay competitive and can cater to shopper needs. When shoppers come into IGA-affiliated stores, they should not leave disappointed because they can’t find the brands they want.
IGA: Can you give us an example of what a “Restore the Shelf” effort may look like?
La Kier: May is National Pet Month and the pet category is a key basket builder and driver of retail loyalty. However, the category was negatively impacted by supply issues during the pandemic for many reasons, including the surge in pet adoptions. As supply is recovering, it’s time to dive in and grow together. To get things started, next week we will feature a Q&A with Nestlé Purina to highlight the best opportunities in the pet category for independent retailers.
IGA: That sounds great. What else can retailers expect from this "Restore the Shelf" campaign?
La Kier: We know shopper behavior has changed since the height of the pandemic, which means some pre-pandemic advice for optimal assortments and best merchandising practices have also changed. At its core, the campaign will give actionable advice to help our retailers set their shelves with the optimal assortment. The campaign will include digital and in-store content that conveys to shoppers that we’re on their side and working to ensure the best assortment of brands gets back on shelf. Together, CPG brands, wholesalers, and retailers can increase sales just by having shelves stocked as they should be.
IGA: Anything else you’d like to share?
La Kier: I believe in the power of collaboration and teamwork. As such, my door is always open (we need a better metaphor for the 21st century) and I welcome any ideas for improvement for how IGA can partner for growth in the independent grocery retail industry.
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