Grocery: 6 ways that retailers and suppliers are innovating for customers

As brands compete for customer loyalty in a highly disrupted landscape, the world’s leading consumer goods manufacturers and grocers are stepping up innovation on behalf of customers. 

From automated in-store experiences, to robots and personalised nutrition solutions, Edge by Ascential looks at some of the actions forward-thinking brands and retailers are taking to meet consumer demand and grow market share in an unpredictable market where health risks from COVID-19 are still a concern for many.

Frictionless, contactless experiences

Cashierless stores, automated checkouts and scanning apps were already being widely trialled by retailers prior to the pandemic, but initiatives have stepped up a gear. A strong shift in consumer preferences towards frictionless, contactless shopping has been one of the long-lasting impacts of the health crisis. Competitors are also feeling pressure to attempt to keep pace with Amazon, which is setting the bar high for customer expectations. 

The ongoing development of Amazon’s innovative Just Walk Out technology saw the retailer launch its first contactless supermarket internationally in March, as Amazon Fresh opened its doors in London. In June the retailer began trialling the technology for the first time in large stores, with a 25,000 sq ft store in Bellvue, Washington offering customers the choice of an automated or traditional shopping experience. 

Amazon Fresh

Amazon has opened its first international Amazon Fresh stores in London and is also trialling Just Walk Out technology in a large supermarket in Washington

The next iteration of the technology is Amazon One, which makes checkout even more seamless by using customers’ unique palm prints in place of a QR code. Once registered, shoppers can pass through the barrier by simply hovering their palm over a sensor. This significantly speeds up the shopping journey for customers. Amazon is already selling its tech to airport retailers and also envisages a future use for this super-convenient technology at large events such as sports matches and music festivals.

Amazon Fresh
Amazon One technology makes contactless shopping even simpler, as it recognises customers from their unique palm prints

Unmanned stores and curated assortments

Retailers are also leveraging technology to increase shopper convenience by targeting specific shopper missions with smaller unmanned store formats that can operate 24x7. Space limitations of the format mean that retailers must have a deep understanding of customers and their missions to successfully manage and curate the limited assortment, but the format has been  shown to work well.

Albert Heijn expects to roll out unmanned ‘to go’ store formats across the Netherlands and in Belgium

Following successful trials Albert Heijn will roll out its unmanned Albert Heijn to Go concept across the Netherlands in 2021, with plans to also launch the format in neighbouring Belgium. Other retailers worldwide are experimenting with similar formats, including the iCarrefour store in Malaysia and Coop Mini in Sweden.

For suppliers it makes sense to rethink impulse merchandising for these more automated stores and to work with retailers on new product development to target these specific ‘on the go’ missions. 


Facilitating healthy, sustainable choices

Health and environmental concerns remain top of mind for consumers, with the last year really increasing our realisation of the importance of staying healthy and living well. 

Addressing these changing consumer needs, Ocado is one of several retailers to introduce a curated online aisle to highlight relevant products. Ocado’s B Corp aisles features over 1,100 items from more than 35 certified suppliers including Innocent, Method and Ben & Jerry’s. By displaying products together in a single aisle, the retailer increases convenience and discoverability. The initiative also links to Ocado’s wider commitment to being carbon net zero by 2040. 

Ocado Eco shop
Ocado has introduced an Eco Shop, curating certified organic products in a single aisle for shopper convenience

In a similar consumer-centric initiative, Intermarché began promoting an online nutrition service to customers seeking healthier lifestyles.The free service, called “ConsoMieux” (“Eat Better”), gives shoppers access to nutritional information for over 20,000 products and the ability to personalise scores based on individual needs and preferences.  

In the UK, as part of wide-reaching health and sustainability commitments, Tesco has pledged to develop more plant-based foods, with the aim of growing sales of its Wicked Kitchen range by 300% in the five years to 2025. 

For suppliers, all of these initiatives present an opportunity to partner with retailers to showcase healthy, sustainable products and grow visibility both in-store and online.


Providing shoppable meal inspiration 

The influence of digital channels in informing and inspiring shoppers has accelerated in recent months and retailers are increasingly engaging customers with new initiatives.

Food and recipe inspiration is a growing trend and one that Walmart has tapped into with its Cook Shop shoppable video hub. New content continues to be added to inspire shoppers, including custom content from celebrity chefs and hosts, including Jamie Oliver and Sofia Vergara. The videos not only provide recipes and inspiration, but also include shoppable moments along the user journey. 


Whisk uses AI to match recipe ingredients to items on the retailer’s website, allowing shoppers to add these to their online basket

Similarly, shoppable recipe app Whisk, acquired by Samsung Next in 2019, provides inspiration to customers and uses artificial intelligence to match ingredients to items listed on retailer websites. Whisk has now partnered with several UK and US grocers to integrate the technology into their online ecosystems, including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Walmart and Kroger. This provides a convenient way for customers to select a recipe they like and add the ingredients to their online basket. Of course, for suppliers this is another opportunity to engage with the platform and provide relevant recipes.

Partnering on exclusives and bundles

Brands should consider partnering with retailers to launch new products and exclusives online. In the US Cadbury and Hershey’s partnered with Walmart at Easter to launch exclusive confectionery products on The products featured in an Easter confectionery banner on Walmart’s home page and were also clearly labelled with the tag ‘Only at Walmart’. These type of initiatives are popular with customers and retailers alike, driving additional sales. 

In the UK Coca-Cola partnered with Kellogg’s brand Pringles to offer a snacking bundle on its D2C website. Shoppers can select their favourite 24-pack of Coca-Cola together with two flavours of Pringles for GPB20 and have these delivered to home. This initiative demonstrates how complementary brands can work together to create appealing offers for customers, both on their own D2C sites and in partnership with retailers.

Entertaining and engaging customers 

The creative use of technology can inspire and engage shoppers. As part of its Launchpad innovation programme, Mars Wrigley worked with robotics company Savioke to develop Smiley, a new candy robot that moves through the aisles of a Shoprite store in Monroe, New York bringing customers confectionery as they shop. In addition to displaying and delivering products to customers, the robot also features music and dancing to entertain them. Smiley’s actions can be modified to optimize engagement, support store promotions and deploy new behaviours. 



Smiley the candy robot assists and entertains shoppers at Shoprite

PepsiCo brand Gatorade launched a wearable smart patch to support athletes with personalised hydration. The  single-use Gx Sweat Patch measures sweat levels and sodium loss to help maximise sporting performance and optimise hydration strategies. Athletes can use Gatorade’s Gx mobile app to analyse their individual data and performance and patches can be bought online from Gatorade or in-store at Dick’s Sporting Goods. This initiative is valuable in allowing PepsiCo to tap into emerging growth areas and new technology whilst at the same time building its ecosystem as it reaches new customers.



PepsiCo’s Gatorade smart patches support customers with personalised fitness plans, whilst at the same time enabling Gatorade to build new touchpoints and widen its reach

All these initiatives present grocery retailers and suppliers with new and innovative ways to engage customers and personalise the shopping experience, leading to increased reach, brand awareness, loyalty and market share. 


Edge can help brands grow online

As retail consolidates, Edge anticipates that just five leading platforms will account for two thirds of global ecommerce sales by 2025. 

We can help you to :

  • Understand which platforms will be the most significant for your business
  • Decipher the algorithms that power each sale
  • Track and optimise your products to power performance in these key retailers
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