Supermarkets have always had their share of bargain hunters, coupon clippers and shoppers in search of serious discounts, but digital technology is making it ever-easier for penny pinchers to leave the paper coupons and Sunday circulars behind while still finding the best deals. And, as the technology makes it easier for consumers to seek out the lowest prices, it also provides retailers with new opportunities to curry customer loyalty with price-matching programs that do the work and ensure that shoppers spend their savings in the stores.

U.S. food prices rose 3.4% from December 2013 to December 2014, according to the Consumer Price Index, and prices for food consumed at home jumped 3.7%. Prices are forecast to increase another 2% to 3% this year, and certain crops may see even bigger increases as a result of the ongoing drought in California. In Britain, food inflation has been falling and it’s on track to tumble further this year as oil prices fall and supermarket chains continue to slug it out for market share. (read more…)

Denver-based Mad Greens turned 10 late last year, with 12 restaurants and plans to open another dozen in 2015. The fast-casual salad chain will make its first forays outside Colorado this year, expanding into two as-yet unnamed states.

As the company doubles in size it will also double its employee base, which has grown to 250 since founders Marley Hodgson and Dan Long opened the first Mad Greens restaurant in December 2004.

We talked to Hodgson earlier this month, to hear about what’s changed in the past 10 years and look ahead to what’s next.

On what’s changed

I would say competition in fast casual, especially in our segment, has heated up immensely.

I think what’s interesting to me in terms of the cuisine we serve, it has become much more mainstream. When we started, it was a little bit more niche, people ate salad for lunch, maybe, but it was not top of mind for dinner. (read more…)

Whether you’re working in the food retail, restaurant or consumer packaged goods industry, customization and personalization are likely terms you’ve heard before. In fact, personalization has become a hot topic across many industries, and to achieve personalization, companies must first think about targeting different consumer segments.

For retailers, restaurants and manufacturers to really achieve consumer segmentation, it’s all about building data into “segments of one,” according to Jed Alpert, vice president of marketing for 1010data. To do this, companies need to collect as much data as possible, which is becoming easier thanks to today’s technology. Once that data is captured, it can be used to define customers as individual segments.

“Build an individual model, an individual forecast for every single one of your customers,” Alpert said. “All of that data can be used to build a complete profile of that person, and ultimately get down to that segment of one.”

Defining consumers in this way and delivering one-to-one marketing not only gives companies insights into how consumers are going to interact with their own businesses, but it can also help them understand how consumers interact with competitors and businesses outside their industry, according to Alpert. (read more…)

This post is sponsored by TraceGains.

Karen Klansek has an expression she likes to use when it comes to manpower versus automation in her role as manager of supply chain quality assurance at Pinnacle Foods: “For so long as we require humans to do the work, we will manage humanity.”

Despite the efficiencies that automation and technology bring, Klansek says she never loses sight of the fact that human nature plays an important role in her behind-the-scenes world. Strong relationships with others, both inside and outside the company, create constructive business solutions, she says.

Klansek works in the dynamic, multifaceted world of food safety and quality assurance, where brand reputations, corporate success — and sometimes human health — hang in the balance. Specifically, she focuses on the food safety and quality of the ingredients Pinnacle sources from its suppliers.

Parsippany, N.J.-based Pinnacle Foods is the manufacturer of a growing array of brands, including Duncan Hines, Aunt Jemima and Birds Eye. (read more…)

On one of too-many-to-count recent cross country flights, I had the pleasure of reading entrepreneur/venture capitalist Peter Thiel’s great new book “Zero to One“. Among many topics of interest, I found his discussion of “path dependence” interesting and important for the restaurant industry to consider. Path dependence refers to the economic concept that our set of decisions in current time may be constrained by the decisions that we’ve made in the past. In other words, we’re following a pre-determined path that makes it impossible or at least difficult to take the proverbial less-beaten path. In reading Thiel’s discussion of path dependence, I thought about the problem of path dependence in the restaurant industry.

The decisions facing restaurant executives today are limited by decisions of the past. Take the area in which my company Olo.com works the most: technology. I’ve yet to meet a restaurant IT executive who is thrilled with the technology landscape that he/she has inherited from his/her predecessor. (read more…)