OAK BROOK, Ill. — A new and occasional feature in Fare Digest, Channel Surfing offers a peek at what’s on the mind of retailer/operators, consultants and other experts in the foodservice-at-retail industry.
This week, we’re featuring Joseph Bona, president of retail for New York-based full-service branding firm CBX. Bona is responsible for directing the retail practice at CBX. His work on six continents has given him a unique perspective on global trends and a practical knowledge of how to adapt and respond to local markets. Bona has directed a wide range of initiatives for companies such as Stop & Shop Supermarkets, Pathmark Supermarkets, Chevron, PetroChina, Frito-Lay, Nestle and Petro-Canada.
Fare Digest spoke with Bona about creating an atmosphere as a point of difference, understanding the millennial shopper and the biggest mistake a retailer can make.
Fare Digest (FD): You travel all over, experiencing different retail and foodservice concepts. What has caught your eye recently?
Joseph Bona: Sometimes I think some of the best c-stores are found beyond U.S. borders. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of great stores in the U.S.; there are. Pronto highway sites at Copec stations in Chile have great full-serve restaurants, and Applegreen and Topaz in Ireland have both developed world-class motorway sites as well, to name a few.
FD: What segment of foodservice or retail is most intriguing to you today? What are you paying attention to?
Bona: I think it’s the attention to environment that has really captured my attention, Starting with Starbucks, who defined the retail experience that many are now trying to emulate. Others like Panera Bread and Pret A Manger have led McDonald’s to really reinvent the fast-food dining experience with more of a lounge-like atmosphere, Wi-Fi accessibility and warmer and richer surroundings. With all the attention being focused these days on technology innovations, people still buy with their eyes and the environment is a big motivator of purchase behavior.
FD: At the recent NACS Show, in your presentation, you said that “fresh” is table stakes—a nonnegotiable price of entry in the c-store foodservice game. What are a few key ways operators can deliver freshness cues?
Bona: I believe fresh is no longer a point of difference. Consumers today have too many options for finding the fresh-food products they seek, so if you’re not thinking of fresh, you’re not even in the game. How you communicate your offer can be an important way to have a fresh dialogue with your customer. Pret A Manger is a great example of prepackaged food; they tell a compelling “fresh” story throughout the store. And if you are preparing made-to-order offers, show it off. This is where layout and design can help to create a bit of theater around the service area.
FD: What common mistakes do you see in the field for delivering “fresh”?
Bona: The biggest mistake is overpromising and underdelivering. Stay within what you know and what you do best. Perhaps you can’t be fresh across all areas of your offer, but where you can–like coffee, for example–commit to delivering it as fresh as possible.
FD: We talk a lot today about understanding the millennial shopper. What to you is the biggest takeaway about how millennials interact with brands?
Bona: I think they want the same thing as any group. We are all consumers who have the same or similar needs and desires, but the terms of engagement are radically different–and that is the challenge. How do brands communicate and reach this group in ways that drive loyalty and path to purchase? Technology becomes more of an enabler for these tech-savvy consumers more than any other group, but they still need to eat, they still want convenience and they also want it now.