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Food Lion: Saying One Thing and Doing Another

Something strange is going on, something's wrong at my local grocer store, a Food Lion. The deli and bakery are missing. Rumors are flying around town as to what's happening. Did the snow storm crush the roof? Is it water damage or is there something more mysterious? As it happens, it's nothing more than continued renovations of the store... but no one told the customers.

In a world of communications where transparency is often the only thing holding your reputation together, not telling the customers anything seems like a little bit of deception. More importantly, why not tell the customers of your super cool improvements coming their way? Before the local townspeople crack completely at their inability to purchase their sliced bologna, I have to wonder if this is poor public relations or something more.

Food Lion is selling it to the media in larger markets (where curious journalists have reached out to the company's media relations) as:
The remodels are part of Food Lion’s “Easy, Fresh and Affordable. You Can Count on Food Lion Every Day” strategy, launched in 2014.
The Salisbury Post interviewed Joey Williams, Director of Operations (is there no communications director?) and he stated:
“We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for the customer,” 
Apparently, this is after the renovations. Don't get me wrong, I like what I'm hearing, but these new Strategy Stores, as Food Lion calls them, are mostly a series of eco-renovations to the stores infrastructure to reduce overhead. Let's make some assumptions. Walk in produce coolers? Sounds cool, right? Yes, it's a benefit to both customer and company by keeping produce fresher longer, preventing loss from over ripened goods. A new deli-bakery? Let's replace independent refrigerators and coolers that use multiple independent compressors with modern computerized centralized refrigeration systems. Again, none of this is a bad thing except, not one single press-release or article has mentioned any of this and one of the core lessons of communications, is never assume your audience is stupid.

Let's make some other assumptions as well based on their SEC filings.. This stores layouts will likely be shifted to reduce loss prevention of goods by thefts. High value products will be well within view of employees (no more stealing Budweiser in the back, Cleatus) and despite research that suggests that what consumers really want is to get in and out quick, the things you actually need will be found through a meandering maze of satellite tables and promotional end-caps. However, once you have your cart full of everything you never knew you wanted, an improved customer service experience will be in place to check you out faster than ever with (newly created) customer navigators guiding you into lanes like cattle at auction so you can swipe your debit card before you regret buying the four boxes of Twinkies. What I really wanted was a self-checkout so I can hoard Doritos and cheap wine without talking to my neighbour.

I think, far too often, public relations is saying one thing and doing another when it shouldn't be. I think American grocers need to be very careful with how they present the facts, especially in light of the fact their customer base believes their grocery experience is only slightly more pleasant than paying their sewer bills. We all have to eat and eventually we're all going to end up buying food at a grocer store. Am I really getting something new or is being simply sold something that's repackaged as fresh? New competitors to the market like Germany's Lidl are ramping up in the South East to provide a no-nonsense approach to shopping that legitimately are different to the current industry status-quo, where there is a general lack of innovation (short of Amazon's new cashier-less shopping experience called Amazon Go). Ask U.K.'s former heavy-weight grocer, Tesco, how Lidl affected their bottom line in their home market (it wasn't good). While Food Lion seems to have borrowed it's new tagline directly from Coca-Cola case studies, "How Refreshing!" - I can't help but question my sanity when antiquated communications methods are used to market a supposed revolutionary change, only to find it's nothing but that. There's no quantifiable argument for how any of these changes will drastically improve the customer experience and increase market share (unless they're keeping it super secret). The only data listed is that customers are perceiving the changes positively. Which leads me to believe that the ROI is linked more to the logistics of infrastructure and organization operation than actual user experience.  If Food Lion would only sell their communications plan (linked prior), I think they'd find a warmer response in the interim. Though not ideal, any communication to your stakeholder is better than none and the truth is always better than a facade (e.g. get your message out first and fast, own your own story). Food Lion's plan calls for a culture change and in my opinion, that begins with how you communicate to the customer before you change their expectations. Food Lion claims you can count on them, but I can't have a salami sandwich right now because my deli is closed, so I'm a bit hungry for something more.

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