Providing value and understanding your customers are the main objectives of any organization in the grocery store industry. But how can grocers continue to do this while facing inflation and customer loyalty challenges? Our guest today has more than 25 years of industry experience and explains how he and his team are combating these issues.

Ron Bonacci was the Vice President of Marketing, Advertising and PR at Weis Markets, a large regional grocery chain headquartered in Sunbury, PA with more than 200 stores located in 7 states across the country. Since this episode recorded, he has become the Vice President of Advertising and Marketing for Rouses Markets, a large independent grocer in the Southeast with over 60 stores in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

In a recent interview with Ron, I asked him about:

  • How Weis handled the pandemic fallout from a marketing and supply-chain perspective
  • What Weis and other grocers are doing to combat inflation
  • How to distinguish between loyalty as a consumer concept and a loyalty program
  • Advice to marketers who are competing for sales in today’s economic uncertainty
  • What’s missing from the classic marketing toolkit for today’s modern marketer

How Weis Markets handled the pandemic fallout from a marketing and supply-chain perspective

When the pandemic first hit, Weis made sure to take the proper next steps to ensure the security and safety of their customers and associates alike.

But from the perspective of a marketing team, figuring out those next steps wasn’t as easy. The marketing team at Weis Markets was forced to face an abrupt new reality.

Grocery stores faced many challenges getting supplies for their facilities — the need for associates to produce and secure products, logistical issues and competitors gaining access to products first. This had a surprising impact on the marketing efforts at Weis.

“The grocery industry has traditionally used a newspaper print advertising strategy and that had to dynamically change because we could no longer secure the products or be assured that the products that we were advertising would be in our stores,” explains Ronald.

The solution? Weis Markets switched from print marketing to digital marketing. Since they were now making advertising decisions at lightning speed — sometimes with just one day’s notice — going digital gave them the extra time needed to ensure they could provide what they were advertising.

Loyalty vs. inflation

Just as customers were adjusting to the new normal of the pandemic, yet another disruption to normalcy arose — record inflation.

Inflation was outpacing wage increases at the time, so Weis Markets introduced “inflation-buster” deals to their customers — which offered the best quality products for the most reasonable prices possible.

“We would do digital ads to the consumers saying, ‘We have the products for you. It may not have been that national brand that you were accustomed to, but we’re going to give you great value to make sure that your family has a great meal,’” explains Ronald.

Through both the pandemic and subsequent inflation, consumers were forced to test their loyalty to stores and brands. When their brand wasn’t available, or the grocery store they frequented was closed, customers took the chance to test out other options for their families.

Weis’ Markets’ loyalty program played a pivotal role in gaining and retaining loyalty. The company is committed to personalizing the customer experience, so rewarding customers for their unique purchases was one way to offer value and keep them coming back.

Advice for marketers in the grocery industry today

From Ronald’s experience, success in the grocery industry today requires myriad moving parts working together: It’s customer service and quality in the store, marketing and advertising efforts, and rewarding customers for everything they do to keep your store in business.

And during tough economic times, Ronald offers the following advice:

“Retail is retail. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling groceries or selling clothes, goods, or durable goods. If it’s an in-store experience, you’ve got to make sure that when that customer leaves, they leave satisfied.”

He adds that making sure a customer’s e-commerce experience is as seamless as their time in-store is just as important.

For marketers today, Ronald urges you to know your customer and listen to your data. Make sure your associates are committed to making sure customers love your company.

And finally, he urges marketers to keep their eyes open to new and exciting opportunities that can touch your customers in a very positive way.

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