Four Things We Learned At The NGA Executive Conference

September 24, 2021

For nearly 40 years, the National Grocers Association (NGA) has represented America’s independent grocery community. Zipline was a proud sponsor of the NGA Executive Conference, held last week in Las Vegas. It was the first time that many people traveled since the pandemic began and despite all the mask-wearing and hand sanitizing, it felt good to be back out (safely) rubbing shoulders again. 

Even though the event was held over a weekend, we had our notebooks out and were soaking up the grocery knowledge. Here are our four key takeaways from the event:

1. Grocery’s digital initiatives just got a 7-year power-up 🚀

A few speakers, including Jay Lovelace from SPINS and Rick from Mondelez touched on the fact that the pandemic accelerated digital innovation by at least seven years. Many grocers were able to roll out new initiatives like curbside pick up and delivery faster than they could have ever imagined. And, 75% of consumers who tried online ordering during the pandemic realized it was much easier than they expected.

Thanks to increased consumer demand, it’s clear that increasingly complex tech roll-outs are now table stakes in the grocery industry. Brands that want to keep up will need to continually push for newer, better, cutting-edge customer experiences (livestream shopping, anyone?). Implementing those types of initiatives, quickly and at scale, can be difficult without the right communications and task management platform in place.

Zipline enables organizations to quickly implement multiple initiatives accurately. And if plans change? No problem. Zipline’s streamlined approach to communication at scale keeps everybody on the same page.

2. When it comes to safety, frontline associate engagement is essential 👷🏻‍♀️

In a session about food safety, Mike Stigers, the CEO of Cub Foods talked about the importance of trust and credibility with associates. He shared how important it is to have frequent conversations with associates about the importance of food safety and ensure they are aligned with brand standards, not just when it comes to safety, but also customer service and store standards.

While many grocery stores today rely on weekly store huddles to relay information, others are learning this method of communication just won’t cut it in today’s world of higher food safety standards. After all, we know that across all retail industries, only 29% of direction sent to stores is executed correctly by store teams. When it comes to health and safety regulations, 29% won’t fly. 

Digital solutions are proven to drive higher execution because they ensure everybody gets the same message at the same time. Zipline ensures that policies and procedures from HQ are seen, understood and completed on time, with the reporting to prove it. 

3. Two’s company, three’s a crowd 👯‍♀️

A theme that came up a few times was the risk of intermediaries. During the pandemic, grocers needed to quickly spin up solutions for curbside pick-up and home delivery services. As a result, many partnered for grocery picking and delivery

Third-party online grocery shopping and delivery services like Instacart and Shipt are seeing enormous growth, while last-mile providers like DoorDash and Uber Eats are also throwing their hats in the ring for a piece of the grocery delivery pie. 

But what happens when an established grocery brand contracts with one of these third parties and risks losing a close connection with their customers? Specifically: who gets the kudos when a delivery happens, and who gets the brunt of the bad feedback when it doesn’t? Just because an online customer may never have left the grocery retailer’s site doesn’t mean the order itself didn’t. 

In order to maintain a cohesive customer experience when contracting with third-party shopping and delivery partners, grocers need to invest heavily in associate training and communications. Empowering every employee to be able to answer questions about deliveries from customers (instead of forcing them into taking a “not my problem” approach) is the difference between a great shopping experience and a terrible one.

4. To address hiring and retention issues, turn to technology 👨🏼‍💻

Every grocer today is finding it difficult to hire and retain employees. As a result, managers are not just overseeing work, they’re doing it! They’re slicing deli meat, restocking shelves, and even bagging groceries. This creates a disastrous cycle because eschewing managerial responsibilities can also put a store’s overall business at risk.

Successful grocery brands address retention by addressing employee burnout at the source: task load. Instead of relying on store managers to constantly direct employees and delegate tasks, implementing a task management system empowers employees with relevant information to make timely decisions about their own work. This type of technology not only helps store teams operate efficiently without the need for multiple in-person meetings but also tracks the work that was done so managers can catch up on what was completed (and what was missed) after returning from some well-deserved, restful time off.

Grocers that are winning with hiring and retention are also investing in stores teams and showing a commitment to their success. It’s no secret that companies who provide ample training for their employees see a return on their investment through a more engaged workforce, higher recruitment rates, and lower turnover. By giving individuals who have traditionally faced barriers to college better learning opportunities, these companies have more successful diversity, equity, and inclusion programs too. A strong communications infrastructure is essential to establishing a culture of learning and empowerment.

However, choosing a solution provider can be a daunting task. Task Management platforms drive better execution, but they feel rigid and punitive. Communications platforms are fun and engaging, but they lack accountability. What’s a grocer to do?

By bringing Messages and Tasks together, Zipline connects the stuff your stores need to know with the stuff they need to do. Your teams know how their work supports the larger picture and have context that enables them to be better store leaders. This knowledge, in turn, drives a higher rate of engagement and reduces turnover. It’s why Zipline customers have a churn rate of less than 10%.


Zipline was built to solve the unique challenges of communication and task management in grocery organizations. Reach out to learn more about how your stores can deliver on your brand promise today and in the future.

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