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In the Harvard Business Review, there is a piece by author/growth strategist Eddie Yoon in which he concludes that one of the reasons that the traditional supermarket industry is facing “strong headwinds” leading to “long-term decline” has nothing to do with disruptive competition, but rather because most people hate to cook, and the evidence suggests that this group is getting larger rather than smaller.

An excerpt:

“I’ve come to think of cooking as being similar to sewing. As recently as the early 20th century, many people sewed their own clothing. Today the vast majority of Americans buy clothing made by someone else; the tiny minority who still buy fabric and raw materials do it mainly as a hobby. If that’s the kind of shift coming to the food industry, change leaders and corporate strategists will have their hands full.

“The risk to traditional grocers and Big Food is not just market share declines but category obsolescence. To prevent that, the industry needs to stop putting Band-Aids on a major bleed-out, and instead make a decision to amputate through ruthless portfolio strategy. Food manufacturers need to identify categories that are long-term losers, and exit by selling them while they can.”

This means embracing technological innovations that may seem futuristic in nature but could be game changers - for example, something called MATS technology, or microwave assisted thermal sterilization, in which food is sterilized “with minimal heat, pressure, and time so that the texture and taste of the food remains restaurant-quality, but “remains packaged at room temperature, and remains safe to eat for months on end.” This may be “a tough sell to consumers, but it represents a profound breakthrough in shelf life that could have a massive impact on inventory management, distribution, and broader supply chain benefits.”

This is just one option. The bottom line, Yoon writes, is that the food industry “must stop trying to live in the past, when most households cooked most meals from scratch.” Survival for the industry likely rests in the rediscovery of its “pioneering spirit and missionary DNA” and the willingness to “embrace new science and technology.”
KC's View:
In other words, moderate change isn’t enough. Supermarkets started out being category killers, but many have lapsed over the years into something bigger and yet somehow less dangerous. I’m not sure if this is complacency, or just the kind of inevitable sanding off of the edges that comes with age and bulk. Now, killers no longer, many supermarket companies risk being road kill. MATS technology may be a solution, or not … but it seems evident to me that Yoon is right - amputations are called for, and band-aids are not nearly enough.