Posts in Culinary inspiration

Mainlining Umami Deliciousness to Secretly Drive Growth

June 24th, 2018 Posted by Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Food and wine, food experiences, Food Trend 0 comments on “Mainlining Umami Deliciousness to Secretly Drive Growth”

Yes, the Secret Sauce IS the Sauce

To our friends in the food and restaurant business: want to know how to get people to, in effect, eat out of your hands morning, noon and night? Turns out delicious and umami are littermates and keys to the culinary kingdom of eating satisfaction, smiles and happiness. These attributes sit knocking at the front door of repeat purchase and visits.

Yes, the path to great taste is regularly paved with umami, the fifth taste sense (friend to sour, sweet, salty, bitter) discovered and minted in Japan around 1908 by chemist Kikunae Ikeda. His work determined glutamic acid lies at the foundation of great taste experiences. Ikeda then set about commercializing this epiphany by designing it in crystalline form as a flavor enhancer ̶ commonly known as MSG.

The so-called Glutamate was a shot across the bow in refining and defining what it is that humans experience and love about deeper, crave-able flavor. This discovery helps explain why there are more burger and pizza chains than any other form of foodservice business. A cheeseburger with tomato and ketchup is an umami flavor bomb. Thus, perhaps, explaining its lasting popularity across both geography and generations. Ditto pizza.

How Umami found me

It was in a Galaxy Far, Far Away – the Pacific Northwest’s city of Seattle, where my journey begins as a junior home chef on a mission to apprentice the culinary arts. I discovered a cookbook titled The Sixty Minute Gourmet, published by the food editor team at the New York Times. It famously promised to impart basic French technique to the Yankee reader in short order.

I made every dish in the book. Perhaps the chief skill gleaned in the process was saucing and caramelizing. And thus I witnessed how reduction sauces, for instance, could be created to take a plain hamburger patty to an absurdly elevated and refined taste experience. It quickly became clear that any protein or vegetable could climb the deliciousness ladder if a compatible savory sauce pooled above or below.

The sheer act of reducing stocks – vegetable, beef, fish or veal – with butter, wine and in some cases (a little bit of) cream was literally a set-up for injecting umami flavor formally described as concentrated savory, brothy and meaty-ness. Relatively neutral tasting chicken could become a culinary tour de force with a proper sauce.

On commoner ground

Umami isn’t just a highbrow culinary concept. The ubiquitous bottle of ketchup also sits high on the umami ladder, and also probably explains why $8.6 billion of the common red condiment is sold every year in America, a per capita spend of $17.85 per person per year, according to Statista. No surprise Heinz owns about $1.4 billion of that lucre. What’s at work here, in addition to the brothy meaty-ness, is flavor intensity, mouth feel and a redolent savory-ness. When savory is combined with a creamy-like carrier that takes up residence on the tongue, magic happens.

  • The intense salty, nutty richness of correctly aged Parmesan cheese provides another umami-bite example; hence why cheese is, in many ways, king of the umami empire. Translating this understanding into business opportunity can be summed in an innovation cornucopia of opportunity.

Condiments, sauces, toppings and marinades can be employed as umami revitalizers, providing transformative power to reinvent otherwise bland and less interesting foods and menu items. Flavor enhancers impart what the senses want in appetizing taste experiences. It can alter the perception of value in the consumer’s passion for food adventures. Such as:

  1. Bone broth instead of stocks due to its inherent richness, mouth-feel and flavor depth.
  2. Soy, Teriyaki, sesame oil and other Asian sauces that drive the experience of a noodle way past its hereditary plain and maybe boring self.
  3. Sauces and proteins are a marriage made in heaven and allow not only for amping the delicious quotient but also bringing global flavors for an adventurous twist.

In short – bowls, pasta dishes, proteins, salads, vegetables and sandwiches can all be elevated by cranking up the umami index.

Quick innovations

Sauces and toppings can be a faster path to reinvention and reengineering packaged foods and dishes. Think of umami as flavor paint that accompanies anything it sits on or near, to bring the glutamic acid punch that sends ordinary to extraordinary.

The novel use of fresh real-food ingredients to form the basis of umami richness adds to the alchemy of creating flavor without resorting to the chemistry set. In the end, it is deliciousness that wins. Umami is the envelope that enrobes common foods in something special. The outcome is business growth because of the surprise and delight it imparts.

I know because here at the Wheatley house, Hamburger Soopreez as we call it is one of the most popular dishes on the family menu due to its umami bath. Thanks for getting us on the road Ikeda-san.

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

Nation’s Restaurant Chains Stumble Onto Goldmine

May 15th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Culinary inspiration, Digital ordering, Food service, Healthier habits, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Navigation, Restaurant trends, Retail brand building 0 comments on “Nation’s Restaurant Chains Stumble Onto Goldmine”

Can regulation make it rain?

On Monday, May 7 Federal regulations went into effect requiring any foodservice retail business with 20 or more locations to begin posting nutritional details for food and beverage items on their menus. For most foodservice operators this means a revamp of menu descriptions and the addition of nutrition data sections at their web site and point of order. Typically this features spreadsheet-type lists spraying a blurry, eye chart-worthy inventory of calorie, fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium stats.

But hidden within the clarion call for more what-you’re-eating disclosure is a potential restaurant business goldmine. At stake is an important regulatory-inspired opportunity for change. Important given foodservice businesses already face increased dining dollar competition from the significant resurgence of home cooked meal popularity. Yes, a home kitchen renaissance is underway, spurred by pervasive consumer interest in healthier foods and a desire to exercise more control over meal preparations, portions, costs and ingredients choices.

  • Studies show consumers believe dining out means agreement to compromise on their healthy eating interests while they navigate a trip down the boulevard of indulgence. A recent report by food industry trends watcher The Hartman Group, revealed consumers increasingly blame restaurants for a stunningly short list of healthier choices and absence of transparency around food – thus why they feel obligated to stow their healthy lifestyle interests at the vestibule of their favorite restaurant.

According to Hartman’s work, when the majority of consumers who already claim eating out is less healthy answer why this is true for them, the top scoring reason ̶ at 41 percent of those surveyed ̶ was a focus on ‘other things’ rather than health and wellness. But maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.

If prevailing food culture shifts point to home-cooked meals as the best and healthiest option for the vast majority of consumers, where does that leave restaurants on the better-for-you lifestyle bandwagon?

Could regulation make it rain?

The regulatory requirements may have issued a super-sized opportunity to reframe the restaurant menu story around a greater variety of healthier menu options. Then advanced with new technology that allows patrons to configure their own more informed, personalized menu choices ahead of arrival or on site with mobile friendly apps.

Reformulation through culinary innovation

But first, is the product itself. Restaurant meals can be made healthier without sacrificing taste by applying some of the more enlightened thinking now fueling the growth of new, emerging packaged food brands that are mounting a supermarket shelf takedown. Novel ingredients, cooking techniques, new forms of sweetening using natural sugars or sauces made with vegetable broths; meat alternatives formulated from nuts or pea protein – a cornucopia of new innovation is circling the food industry with an offer of improved nutritionals while delivering the indulgent flavors and textures of chef-inspired food.

There’s simply no longer any reason why menu items can’t be made healthier while retaining taste. It may add cost per serving but then we’ve also have seen repeatedly seen that consumers are willing to pay more for healthier fare if it can be verified as such – assuming taste is not sacrificed on the alter of improved nutrition numbers.

California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) and MyMenu Tech

San Diego-based digital foodservice player HealthyDiningFinder.com, originally stepped into the restaurant marketplace to curate a search-able database of restaurants offering healthy menu items. More recently, they’ve rolled out their new MyMenu platform at CPK and Mexican cuisine specialist Rubio’s Coastal Grill, an algorithm driven business that offers restaurants a plug-and-play solution to their regulatory obligations, but served in a more user-friendly experience. It also brings a compelling add-on benefit: personal menu customization.

California Pizza Kitchen’s MyMenu pages open the door to new reasons to visit: With a few short clicks using a sliding bar selection tool on desired nutritional limits, the platform automatically sorts menu choices according to these preferences while calling up attractive photos and detailed descriptions of each dish or beverage. It reveals what’s in them and what they impart in terms of nutrition impact (calories, fat, sugar, etc.).

The Rubio’s MyMenu page also offers a pre-set list of menu alternatives created by Healthy Dining’s dietitian experts around lifestyle preferences such as Energy, Fit Lifestyle and Weight Control. Each choice rolls up special menus based on these specific interests.

The tool’s flexibility creates the option to customize a dish with ingredient swap-outs or to build a full meal while each dish and drink selection repopulates the overall impact on nutrition outcomes, so you know immediately how many calories and fat grams are involved.

  • In a soon-to-arrive platform enhancement, Healthy Dining says guests will be able to save selections for future use, and there will be options for purchase on-site, for pick-up or delivery. Then patrons will be able to build and retain their own personal menu for a variety of their favorite eateries using the tool  ̶  all based on individual dietary preferences and healthy dining interests.

Of course, the key here is to actually have healthier choices available, and in doing so, solve the dilemma of perceived nutritional sacrifice that restaurant eating might entail. The goldmine is simple: remove the friction from healthier choice at out-of-home eating by offering more healthy choices.

Then look to software platforms like MyMenu to allow patrons to examine, sort and retain their healthy meal preferences ̶ and with it creating an opportunity to forge foodservice brand preference.

For those restaurants that get this right, it could be an equally compelling do-it-for-me dining offer that rivals the siren song of home cooked healthier meals.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

Home cooked meals

Kitchen Commanders Hold Reign

April 20th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, grocery e-commerce, shopper behavior 0 comments on “Kitchen Commanders Hold Reign”

Mining the resurgence of scratch cooking

The kitchen is mounting a serious popularity comeback as consumers increasingly opt for meals at home over meals cooked somewhere else. While digital grocery buying is on the rise, the net outcome of what’s purchased, regardless of shopping channel, ends up sooner or later in a sauté pan on a cooktop.

Yes, it’s true in our online, connected world – in five to seven years, and maybe sooner – 70 percent of consumers will be purchasing food and beverage products online. That ladders up to more than $100 billion in transactions by 2022, according to Nielsen Digital Imperatives report.

  • Of note: we’ve already arrived at the end of borders, boundaries and lanes in channel shopping behaviors. Omni-channel shopping is simply a reflection of the increased comfort level with buying fresh and perishable foods online – the last remaining barrier to crumble in favor of e-commerce growth. What lies ahead is the demand for fluid, seamless shopping experiences as needs and preferences move from mobile ordering to in-store exploration, from delivery to squeezing your own tomatoes – all inter-changeably.

Whether brick and mortar food retail is optimally positioned for this reality is unclear. What is crystal clear, however, is a shift in supermarket business models from selling e-commerce friendly boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity, to answering preferences for navigating the perimeter fresh grocery departments. This is where consumers increasingly labor to solve real-time meal and menu needs using ingredients they expect to cook. Shop at 5 pm and eat acquired food at 7pm.

Adventures in culinary experience – at home

According to The Hartman Group’s “Transformation of the American Meal” report, seven out of 10 consumers currently eat scratch prepared meals at home. “Americans tend to agree that the best meal – the healthiest, tastiest and most emotionally satisfying is a freshly cooked homemade meal,” reports Hartman.

This makes absolute sense:

  1. Fresh, real foods are seen as healthier and higher quality. These items involve cooking.
  2. People want more control over ingredient quality, preparations and portion sizes; this includes seasoning and sweetening decisions.
  3. The emergence of meal kits also helps simplify the menu decision and the cooking process with partially prepped ingredients.
  4. Popularity of cooking shows and food websites/blogs, reveals the growing fascination with creativity and learning in food preparation and skills development.

Cooking is back with a vengeance. Scratch cooking behaviors will vary in intensity and commitment from heat-to-eat prepared meals to creating an entire menu from whole foods. Somewhere in the popular middle are meal recipes that combine fresh food ingredients with some packaged or pre-made items such as pasta, stocks and baked goods.

However you slice it or dice it, this is a bona-fied banquet of opportunities for food and beverage companies wanting to forge deeper relationships with consumers. How? By helping enable their passions in the kitchen.

While food choices and possibilities are more abundant than ever before, time and energy continue to grow scarce. With time scarcity is the increased need for guidance, ideas and support in various forms that help consumers achieve their culinary passions (if not their day-to-day meal preparation needs) with minimal frustration.

The friction for consumers grows in tandem with increased shopping trip frequency for smaller, meal-focused baskets. People don’t really know what they’re having for dinner, the most considered and mentally taxing meal of the day, before it’s just about time to sit down at the dinner table. What’s emerged is just-in-time food shopping aimed at creating a menu. Food retailers need to solve the meal trip phenomenon with more convenient in-store experiences (grab and go kits). Navigating a 60,000 square foot store for five to seven items will increasingly drive food shoppers online for easier click and collect or shortened delivery windows.

We know that brand building in the consumer-control era begins first with empathy for shopper needs and interests. If a food or beverage brand wants to forge a deeper relationship, it will be founded on becoming more meaningful and valuable. It’s clear the opportunity here is to help solve these recurring ‘what’s for dinner’ challenges.

The cornucopia of food brand marketing solutions:

  • Meal ideas, menus and shopping lists
  • Assistance with recipes, preparation steps and enhancing cooking skills
  • Creating or enabling in-store culinary events and tasting experiences
  • Building social channel communities of like-minded home cooks sharing ideas, experiences, hacks and recipes
  • Creating culinary clubs and educational experiences to inspire new food adventures and experimentation
  • Marrying kitchen tools with the food to enhance reliable, optimal outcomes –especially in baking where precision is essential
  • Considering culinary lifestyle marketing strategies that surround the consumer in their areas of interest and passion from health and wellness to global taste exploration

Message and content creation opportunities here are virtually boundless. The opportunity to be relevant and valuable is compelling. But to be sure, this is one of those moments when brand voice and authenticity will ultimately separate the winners from the posers.

If your organization lacks a fundamental passion for food and culinary experience, it’s doubly hard to bring relevance and proper context to marketing communication. Consumers are amply able to identify the genuine from the artificial.

If your organization breathes the love of food and food experience, it will manifest in the quality of communication that drives brand value and engagement levels. Consumers will reward food brands that align with their needs by opting in to user communities.

It is, indeed, the Golden Era of food marketing.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Millennials and Meal Kits: Will Dynamic Duo Shine in Supermarkets?

March 15th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, CMO, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Food Trend, shopper behavior, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Millennials and Meal Kits: Will Dynamic Duo Shine in Supermarkets?”

Retail kit growth could impact restaurant business…

Recently we learned that Walmart is planning to introduce prepared foods and meal kits to their stores nationally. This action is in response to an increased interest among Millennial shoppers for more convenient and higher quality, fresh ingredient meal solutions.

Given Walmart’s massive size, the impact of this move could create more challenges for an already stressed restaurant marketplace and help trigger other supermarket companies to upgrade their own meal kit strategies, compounding the impact. Technomic reports business has slowed for the last two years at the nation’s top 500 restaurants. At casual chains like Olive Garden and Chili’s, growth went from an average 4.7 percent in 2015 to flat in 2017.

Millennial preference for home cooked meals

According to Port Washington, NY-based NPD Group, 83 percent of Millennial consumers report more cooking at home and fewer restaurant visits, while 63 percent of Millennials say they want to cook more.

Concurrently the supermarket business is in the midst of transformation as Millennial shoppers flipped the script, causing a move away from traditional center store packaged foods, to shopping the perimeter departments for fresh, real food options. The fresh trend is seen as evidence of their preference for home prepared meals. Thus, also helping explain why legacy “big food” brands have seen their market shares decline in key packaged food categories over the last 10 years.

  • At the core of this behavior is a central theme: virtually all generation cohorts – from Boomers to Gen Z – have connected the dots between higher quality, real food experiences and desire for a healthier lifestyle.

The interest in cooking at home is an outgrowth of efforts to assert greater control over ingredient quality, preparations and portion sizes along with the ability to better manage household food spending. At Emergent we see another explanation: the consumer’s love affair with food and culinary inspiration continues. The desire to exercise that creative calling in the kitchen is strong as it fulfills the number one driver for food purchase and consumption: healthy lifestyle. Consumers tacitly believe that home cooked food is healthier.

Boxed food adventures

Perhaps one of the most important, embedded features of meal kits is the ability to experiment with new cuisines and flavors at low risk and with ingredients already portioned and in some cases prepped.

When dinner is now often decided at 5 pm the day of consumption, kits are an enticing just-in–time option to solve the meal need, without having to shop a 50,000 square foot store for five to seven items. It’s a form of high quality culinary convenience that meal kit companies like Albertson’s Plated brand often deliver with a backstory and ethos sitting underneath.

Millennials passed Boomers in 2016 to become the largest domestic audience of shoppers, numbering some 75.4 million topping the Boomer generation’s previous lead of 74.9 million mouths. This generation has grown up with global cuisine; the rise of specialty food markets, locally-sourced ingredients, unique restaurant concepts, and even chef-driven bar food.

It’s telling to note that fully 24 percent of the entire Millennial cohort shopped Whole Foods last year even though the chain has only 430 stores – a remarkable statement about their interest in higher quality food options.

As e-commerce gobbles up more transactions for pantry stock-ups, the food retail business will depend increasingly on its ability to curate unique food experiences and fresh ingredient solutions – and that plays right into the hands of grab-and-go kits. What’s not to like, as kits deliver:

  • Curated don’t-have-to-think-about-it menus
  • More convenient scratch cooking solutions
  • Wholesome, higher quality ingredients
  • Easier and quicker prep time
  • Experimentation vehicle for new cuisines, new techniques and personal customization

Food-enthusiastic supermarket?

The meal kit business is symptomatic of larger changes looming ahead in food retail as e-commerce disintermediates the packaged foods category. As a result, supermarkets will be forced to redefine their models once built around selling those packaged products at volume to fuel the balance sheet.

Emergent believes the future of food retail lies in mining culinary inspiration and food experience. Creating the Disneyland effect of “magic” around food adventure and the consumer’s interests in more innovative and interesting food solutions.

Can the food enthusiastic grocery be far behind? The growth of groceraunt concepts will continue to gain ground as food retailers look to leverage their expanding commissary investments for meals to be consumed on site – yet another customer relationship building opportunity! We anticipate more supermarket jobs for classically-trained chefs as a result.

What’s next for foodservice?

Restaurants are entering a new era of innovation competition to more rapidly evolve menu boards and offerings that reflect the cutting edge shifts in tastes, new ingredients and food culture. Restaurants have always been the tip of the spear in new food trends that then trickle down into other channels in the food industry.

Now more than ever the call to action gains momentum for restaurant companies to explore tastes, preparations and ideas to stay ahead as supermarkets improve their fresh food quality, ingredient standards and Deli menus.

It seems to us that restaurant companies also need to explore further the equity in their own brands to potentially create new signature food products that compete in other channels – much as Dunkin Donuts has done with their superb coffee line and Panera with their soups.

  • Millennials’ enthusiasm for food and healthy lifestyle will continue to push grocers to earn their business by providing the quality, selection, and preparation options they want. Restaurants, while innovating on flavor and cuisine, may need to consider expanded channels as enhanced, food-enthusiastic food retailers vie for share of meal occasions.

This may be the most exciting time ever to be in the food business!

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

 

 

 

2018: Time for Real-vertising in the Go-to-Market Plan

January 10th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Culinary inspiration, Food Trend, Healthy Living 0 comments on “2018: Time for Real-vertising in the Go-to-Market Plan”

The Four Conditions and Traps Impacting Food, Beverage and Lifestyle Brands

Last year was, if anything, another period of transformation for the food, beverage and lifestyle business as new and emerging brands took the spotlight for innovation and growth. In 2018 the impact of these conditions will require a shift in thinking and planning, as brands, both new and legacy, navigate in a business environment controlled and managed entirely by consumers.

At Emergent we are obligated to stay at the forefront of these cultural changes; providing guidance and strategic leadership to our clients and business community on how best to traverse the unprecedented pace of evolution in consumer preferences and behaviors.

  • In this article we will unpack four conditions impacting the future of food, beverage and lifestyle brands in the year ahead.
  • And flag four traps that, if left unattended, could dilute desired marketing outcomes.
  1. Product narrative IS the marketing

The single most important insight we can provide on marketing and communication is the requirement of story behind the product. Consumers want to know everything – to peer behind the curtain and go back stage to see how things work. That means we’ve entered the era of real-vertising: honest, open communication around ingredients, sourcing, sustainability, quality standards, craftsmanship markers, and product creation providing the litmus test of what should be at the center of brand and business communication strategies.

How does this play out in the plan?

  • All messaging and content must work in aligned fashion with social channel integration and community building.
  • Consumers believe the opinions of other people – especially those of friends and family members – as they are more relevant to them and operate in their best interests, ahead of a brand’s own published material.
  • Thus, aggregation and repurposing of User Generated Content (UGC) will be critical in the brand communication eco-system.
  • Video is by far and away the most preferred and shared type of content. No surprise as it is one of the most engaging and entertaining forms of communication in the toolkit.
  • The role of influencers and earned media continues to grow because of the trusted source factor that defines what works vs. what doesn’t.
  • Digital channels allow for amplification (some of it paid distribution) and repurposing of earned and influencer content, so earned media becomes a more measurable asset in the arsenal.
  1. Higher quality is the new healthy

We’ve been saying this for some time as a forecast of further evolution in food culture. It’s now a verified reality borne out in the marketplace. Examples keep piling up of higher quality fresh products and more innovative versions of legacy brands, displacing the latter while the former gains more shelf space. The premium, artisanal treasure hunt marches on!

What’s driving this? Consumers are demanding higher quality food experiences. Cleaner labels, real food ingredients, fresh products, less-processed options secure greater share position for the very reason people believe they are healthier and thus will contribute to their well-being and happiness.

  • Indulgent and healthy are no longer polar opposites, and often coalesce together as accepted experiences in a healthy lifestyle. That said, there is a trailing requirement for real food over anything that appears to be overly processed.

For legacy businesses this condition recommends a wholesale rethinking of product platforms, formulations and supply chain in an effort to upgrade and bring greater premiumization to the innovation table.

Related to the previous point about importance of product narrative, if there isn’t a compelling story to tell about ingredients, sources and quality, then there’s risk now to brand relevance. Saying, “but we’ve always done it this way,” or “it’s difficult to change our supply chain commitments” is simply going to put the business in conflict with consumer preference. New upstart, high quality businesses are advancing across a broad swath of categories from staples like mac and cheese to the meat case.

  1. Meal kit is the instrument of food adventure

We predict the meal kit business will continue to consolidate and evolve – and that it’s likely food retail will get invested in the business. The fundamental premise of a food kit is consistent with consumer preferences. Consumers are looking for fresher, higher quality meal experiences featuring ingredients with a backstory, and menus that deliver low risk experimentation with new flavors and cuisines.

We also forecast continued improvements to food kit business models making them less onerous on expensive subscriptions, providing greater ordering flexibility and ease of preparation for those who want less challenging menus.

It is food-adventure-in-a-box that gives consumers an attractive meal option and step-by-step instructions on how to execute. That said, as food retailers move into this space with fully prepared, semi prepared or scratch cook alternatives, the advantage of being able to decide a menu at a moment’s notice, we believe, will be extremely attractive to a significant segment of the consuming public.

Simply said, many households don’t plan ahead for dinner and are making preference decisions at 5 pm. It’s a form of impulse meal buying that, if available at an attractive price, will help food retail gain additional shopper traction.

Could this presage more mergers of food retail with food kit operators? Perhaps, so.

  1. Snacking is the universal meal occasion

Call it what you will – mini-meal, fuel up or reward – snacking is a predominant behavior across all day parts and is influential in the foodservice channel as well. Snacking starts early and goes late as consumers both young and old graze their way through the day.

Some of this behavior is functional and related to recognition that the human body will periodically experience lagging energy levels requiring replenishment. People now recognize the connection between food and performance, thus a compelling reason to look for hand-held options that deliver energy-enhancing protein in meat, veg and dairy forms.

  • Snacking crisscrosses indulgent and good-for-you needs with portions that seem manageable in a healthy living view. (I’m snacking on almonds as I write this).

With added pressure for performance in work, school and outside pursuits, functional snacking is likely to be a major opportunity in the year ahead for innovation. We expect retailers will devote more in-store real estate to brands in this space.

Avoiding traps that take wind out of the sales…

Trap #1 – the inauthentic mission

There’s no question that consumers look for brands with similar beliefs and values. Operating with a mission that transcends commerce itself is now a marker of a brand’s cultural relevance.

In many instances new and emerging brands are built alongside a mission designed to benefit others and contribute to making the world a better place. Authenticity couldn’t be more important.

Consumers are able to sniff out posers in relatively short order. Mission is not philanthropy. It is not something that’s bolted on to the marketing plan as a campaign theme because it’s popular now.

A real, human-relevant, and unselfish purpose is a purpose – and in the long run devotion to it will indeed maximize financial performance. Absence of real beliefs here is a trap.

Trap #2 – marketing over meaning

Want to build a closer connection with core customers? Then imbue the brand with greater meaning based on relevance to their lifestyle passions and interests. Consumers can’t be viewed as walking wallets nor should the marketing plan stray towards looking at the customer relationship as purely transactional.

The brand’s voice gets added value when its connected to the consumer’s interests, be that their love and relationship with a pet, passion for outdoor lifestyle adventures, or desire for creativity in the kitchen.

When the conversation with consumers begins with what’s relevant to them, then marketing no longer looks like traditional marketing. Instead it becomes valued and useful. Conversely overt selling is a trap and path to disconnection.

Trap #3 – trust is at the center, or not

Lack of consumer trust is perhaps the most significant destroyer of businesses over time. Instead, brands built on earning trust gain competitive advantage in the marketplace.

If trust creation is not a core component (active not passive) of the marketing plan it’s time to step back and reassess. Brand relationships today are taking on the give and take characteristics of human relationships. No lying or deception allowed.

To earn trust means putting the consumer’s welfare and wellbeing at the forefront of strategy. Not doing so it a trap.

Trap #4 – do you really know me?

It’s easy to think that as long as the business is devoted to making a quality product and standing behind it, then all is well. Yes, high quality is required. However, there’s more complexity now in building sustainable relationships with consumers.

This goes beyond knowing what flavors they prefer or their patterns of shopping behavior. It’s vital to understand the whole human, their desires, wants, needs, interests and concerns.

Today there are more tools than ever before that permit a closer look at customer lifestyle interests. Making the investment here to get close and gain greater understanding of wants and needs beyond product use, is the link to more engaging brand communication.

Too many emerging brands sidestep this important insight research requirement because the demand for building basic go-to-market infrastructure gets first priority. Yet the very thing that sits at the core of long-term success is neglected: consumer insight and relevance.

Brands are built on the back of mattering. Basing communications on hunches and assumptions about what’s meaningful and valued puts the marketing plan into a blind spot. Avoid the irrelevance trap by mining insight.

The year ahead will be a tug of war between competing channels and sources of higher quality, unique and differentiated food and lifestyle experiences. The winners in this battle for share of spend will fall to those who put the consumer first – and by virtue of doing so reap the benefits of deeper connection.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheese is cheese is cheese

Cheese is cheese is cheese, or is it?

October 24th, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Culinary inspiration, food experiences, food retail strategy, Insight, shopper behavior, storytelling 0 comments on “Cheese is cheese is cheese, or is it?”

Inspiring craft of the world’s longest standing savory solution

For whatever reason, the powers that be decided years ago that a portion of Emergent’s client pedigree would include helping grow and develop cheese brands. Our culinary roots and passions have surfaced time and again to help guide products that – on one level, look to be a commodity and on another, is anything but.

Today, cheese sits in the same refrigerated dairy foods segment alongside yogurt and butter, as the second most frequently purchased category at food retail.

  • Yet when planning in commodity food categories, how do you find the path to uniqueness, separation and own-able distinctions? Brands are doing business today in an environment where direct assertions of “better than brand B or C” or self-declarations of superior quality simply won’t work.

Meanwhile, cheese consumption has increased; and people love the rich, savory and varied flavor profiles cheese delivers more than ever. In fact, it is this creation complexity and nuance that makes cheese making such an inspiring process to observe – where seeing and tasting is believing – and differentiation is borne, in part, through experiencing the ingredient and craftsmanship stories.

Consumers care more than ever about the backstory on products and brands they’re interested in. The tale surrounding cheese making and the influence of terroir, dairy management, milk quality, craftsmanship and creativity exercised by experienced cheese makers. The cheese making backstory offers a rich tapestry of narratives on product creation and authenticity.

We created a “cheese immersion experience” for a topflight group of food writers on behalf of Schuman Cheese at their creamery in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin. The mostly New York-based media visited cows at the dairy and saw up close time-honored cheese making practices and innovation steps. The look of astonishment on the faces of these writers was only equaled by the consistent comments of “I never knew how complex it is to produce higher quality cheese,” and “people just don’t understand what goes into that wheel of Parmesan.”

That consensus among the writers and their inspired stories were an outcome of quality time with, and passionate storytelling by, Schuman’s lead cheese maker, Christophe Megevand and fourth generation family member, Allison Schuman. A story, which if left untold, could have easily relegated a great brand into a commodity position.

Commodity category? Not if you’re willing to challenge conventions.

For a very long time, the leading market share in dairy aisle cheese has been held by price driven store brands, implying by definition that cheese is cheese is cheese. We worked with a leading brand in this ‘high velocity’ part of the store, Sargento Cheese, to help them overcome the impact of commoditization on their business prospects.

Working in partnership with the Sargento executive team, we started to disrupt category conventions; first, through redefining the category typical ‘all-things-to-all-people’ consumer audience. We collaborated on segmentation research that narrowed the focus to a food savvy shopper we called Food Adventurers. This is a heavy user persona passionately involved with food experience, cooking, and concern about the quality of the ingredients they use. Further, we built a premiumization platform that engaged highly respected artisan cheese makers for new product innovation. This new strategic approach informed a full reset covering brand positioning, packaging, unique products and communications.

Our new, reenergized strategy for marketing focused on a consumer who is naturally interested in cheese quality and responded positively to the brand’s close alignment with their passions and priorities around the kitchen and table. We built new digital channels of communication, created content with celebrity chef influencers; sponsored culinary events that further restaged perceptions of the brand; and constructed a significant new profit story told to the trade.

The outcome was a dramatic performance lift and led to share gains over rival Kraft.

New era for cheese is now developing

Things have changed lately as consumers flock to the perimeter of the grocery store in search of higher quality, more authentic food experiences. The supermarket Deli is home to solutions for culinary inspiration (recipes), entertaining experiences and higher-quality snacking.

As retailers respond to consumer interest in better and more varied flavor experiences, the Deli cheese case, like the wine department, increasingly offers a treasure of variety. But as you survey the cheese case, the blur of similar looking wedges and blocks suggests commodity conditions reign even here.

  • So, the strategic push for differentiation and own-able distinctions are a challenge we relish as marketing thinkers and creators.

In the previous mass media era, food brands could be established and built with a good, memorable jingle or tagline flourish. The world has indeed changed as people step further towards demonstrable evidence of quality commitments and know-how that transcend the conventions of hype-over-help communication.

Now, truth and validation become the precursors to building consumer trust, the essential ingredient in any brand/consumer relationship. Fortunately, new media such as social channels and digital video help facilitate the transition to help-over-hype.

Commodity is a real thing for any agricultural product category but only becomes calcifying if you let sameness invade the context in how brands are presented. The stories of family involvement, craftsmanship, mission and ingredient integrity can create emotional moments of belief.

Emergent has a track record of creatively and strategically mining differentiation and value in commodity businesses. Building a narrative that sits underneath product creation and the team leaders who help inspire differences and bring them to life is part of an eco-system of solutions that offer a sense of true distinction.

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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