Earth Fare made its name as a pioneer in the natural grocery space, focusing on organic and natural products that don’t contain artificial ingredients. Throughout its history, Earth Fare has grown from a single store to a regional chain, and like all retailers it’s had to navigate a competitive market along the way. Today they’ve established themselves as a retailer with a steadfast commitment to bringing innovative, natural products to their loyal customers.
Recently, Gavin Konkel, Earth Fare’s Director of Grocery, shared his thoughts on using data effectively when he spoke with Dawn Valandingham, SPINS’ Senior VP of Retail. Konkel explained how data helps him and his team understand the current state of their business and find a successful path to long-term growth.
The Importance of Data
Because Earth Fare has 18 stores in several states throughout the country with more on the way, Konkel and team need to treat each location uniquely while still growing, adapting to trends, and connecting with shoppers. And as any good retailer knows, goes on the shelves needs to meet the standards shoppers have come to expect from Earth Fare.
“We have limited space in our stores, so we have to sell the best of the best. And we have to use data to back that up,” Konkel said. “We’re able to take risks, but they have to be calculated risks. If we see a brand that is trending—maybe not in the Southeast but in the Midwest or out in California—it’s helpful to see that data and to see what the potential impact could be if we bring a new brand into the warehouse.”
With COVID hopefully fading in the coming year, Konkel plans to rely more on category management as the market returns to a more predictable shopping behavior. Then he and the Earth Fare team can use that data to explore growth opportunities.
How Does Innovation Affect Growth
Innovation is essential to growth, and this last year has required retailers to rethink their innovation strategy. Without the usual round of in-person trade shows, retailers like Earth Fare haven’t had the same opportunity to discover innovative products and brands haven’t had the chance to display their latest offerings. Because Earth Fare has a lean team, they can remain agile and move quickly even under these unusual circumstances.
“If a broker has a really good relationship with us, and it’s a hot new item—or they perceive it to be a hot new item—we can activate that really fast,” Konkel explained. “If it’s a new item, we get on it right away.”
Bringing in new items to stores, especially new locations, lets shoppers know that Earth Fare is a go-to spot for the latest items. Last fall, Earth Fare launched 600 new items and then another 300 new items in December. Innovation goes a long way with in-person customers because there is more opportunity for incidental discovery. A shopper can physically come across a new product in a way that is not always easy to replicate online. For Earth Fare, getting new products in front of their audience proves their inventory is current or even ahead of trends no matter how unusual the circumstances are.
How Vendors Can Be a Good Partner
Getting to that growth and making innovation happen comes from data, and retailers need relevant that they can actually put into action. As Konkel relies more on category management in the coming year, he wants his team to have a specific set of data in a useful format.
“I want specific data to be almost handed to us. I don’t want there to be a 30-page document. There’s no need for any of that,” Konkel said. He’d rather have an email and save on paper than receive a phone book-sized report that supplies the data he cares about:
- Brand sales trends
- Category sales trends
- Year over year performance
- Competitive insights
- Promotional insights
Providing this information in a convenient, easy-to-digest format not only saves time but improves the vendor relationship and lets Earth Fare act quickly and strategically.
Konkel is looking forward to expanding his team as Earth Fare grows in the coming year as the industry returns to some normalcy. Although the retail landscape can be unpredictable (as everyone learned in 2020), having the right data partner will help the Earth Fare team retain their commitment to bringing innovative, natural products to their shoppers.