Disclosure up front: I once worked in marketing at Whole Foods Market, and before that spent part of my journalism career in food journalism. So I usually pay attention to stories about food marketing and food retail. Today's Wall Street Journal (sub reqd) has a fascinating story about the emerging trends that are changing the look of grocery stores.
The particular item that caught my eye was this: "Packaged-food makers, which traditionally stocked the center of the store, are moving to the periphery [of the store] as well to make sure they don't miss the sales shift. H.J. Heinz Co. of Pittsburgh, for one, is creating new refrigerated potato and macaroni dishes. 'This peripheral area of the store is growing'" says William Johnson, chief executive of Heinz. 'Consumers have spoken about the need for fresh food.' "
This is a fascinating story about an unusual innovation driver. In the broad sense, consumer/customer need is the driver -- "consumers have spoken about the need for fresh food." But in a much more specific sense, these new refrigerated potato and macaroni dishes have been created in response to changes in the way people move around in the grocery store.
Food shoppers no longer spend as much time traversing up and down the central aisles of supermarkets. Instead they shop the more interesting peripheral areas -- dairy, bakery, deli, etc. -- which are also, perhaps not so coincidentally, where much grocery-store innovation has taken place. This is where the funnest stuff in the store is, where the Starbucks kiosk is, where the free demo food usually is. One grocery executive in the WSJ article was quoted as saying, "The center aisles haven't changed for 30 years."
So, some new food products are being created solely because companies want to get their products in front of shoppers where they actually are.
Source: "New Food, New Look," by Janet Adamy, Wall Street Journal, 11/21/05