(May 16) CHICAGO — The worst thing a supermarket can do in this changing retail culture is lose its relevance.

Kevin Coupe, of retail trend Web site morningnewsbeat.com, said retailers have a great challenge to figure out who are their customers. He spoke at the May 6 workshop “Speaking the Language of the Consumer” at United 2006.

As marketers, he said, “We have to understand what consumers really want.”

And they don’t always say they want what they really want.

For instance, Coupe said, health is a big issue, and produce certainly plays a part in people’s diet. But there’s a big difference between promoting a product’s health versus promoting something that’s healthy.

He said health denotes a clinical tone, one of avoiding illness and disease. Whereas, healthy deals with a lifestyle of feeling good, and that’s what really resonates with consumers.

Studies have indicated that in regard to organic food, consumers respond more favorably to the attributes of organic food rather than the food itself, which is something on which retailers should put more emphasis, he said.

Retailers need to be in better touch with their day-to-day customers, Coupe said.

“Who’s your best customer?” he asked retailers in the audience. “I maintain each department manager should know who that is” by name.

He said the generation of teenagers growing up is different from any generation before. They grew up on multitasking, using technology to get what they want and nonlinear thinking.

But a grocery store is about the most linear buying experience there is, Coupe said.

“In 10 years, these people are going to be shopping in stores and will want to be met on their terms,” he said.

The retailers that meet this demand are going to be the ones that survive.

Retailers should never say a competitor is stealing their customers because consumers make their buying decisions every day, and if they choose a competitor, it’s because they made a better argument for their business.