Posts in Culinary lifestyle

Raley's food retail innovation in Truckee, CA

Imagine a Grocery Store Built on Higher Purpose

August 13th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, food experiences, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Imagine a Grocery Store Built on Higher Purpose”

Food Retail Innovation Now in Truckee, CA

Raley’s, the family-owned Sacramento-based supermarket company, recently launched a new grocery store concept they envision as a model of how food retail should evolve to build consumer relevance. Located in picturesque Truckee, California, just outside Lake Tahoe, the trading area is populated with families devoted to an active, outdoor lifestyle.

Raley’s designed the store concept with Truckee’s active families in mind – visualizing a supermarket focused entirely on healthy living. The Raley’s O-N-E Market banner (Organics, Nutrition, Education) is a four-walled, 36,000 square foot better-for-you food discovery zone. Designed for people who understand there may be a direct link between what you eat and the quality of your life, the concept mirrors their desire to seek out better choices, explore a more mindful selection of products, and learn about improved nutrition. Remarkably, it is a food store that embodies owner Michael Teel’s higher purpose mantra to “change the way the world eats one plate at a time.”

“We have been on a journey for health and wellness, and Raley’s O-N-E Market is the next step in our company’s transformation,” said Chelsea Minor, Raley’s Corporate Director of Public Affairs. “Raley’s O-N-E Market offers a highly-curated assortment of products that are organic where possible, wholesome, minimally processed, sustainably sourced and offers a stage for nutrition education. We want consumers to understand why these products were selected for our shelves and why they are better options for them and the community,” she said.

Who is really in charge, merchant or customer?

For the most part grocery stores operate in reverse from consumer lifestyle insight.  The shopping design and experience is most often built from the merchant’s business model intended to move boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity. Thus, in many ways, grocery stores are entirely recognize-able banner to banner with merchandise schemes and traffic flow patterns that follow a commoditized approach to assortment and shopping experience.

Which begs the question: what if a store format is re-imagined as a reflection of the lifestyle interests of its core customers, instead of the other way around? “The biggest differentiator is our product mix. We emphasize foods ‘free from’ artificial ingredients, colors, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats and oils and more. We source organic where possible – in produce over 60% of the department is organic to meet consistently high standards for health, nutrition and sustainability,” reports Minor.

As evidence of that commitment Minor says shoppers will not find any conventional soft drink products inside the store. Indeed, sugar awareness is a priority at Raley’s O-N-E Market. Any cereal containing more than 25% of its total calories from added sugar per serving is identified with a ‘Higher in Added Sugar’ shelf tag. Other categories getting the sugar evaluation include Ready-to-Drink (RTD) beverages, pasta sauces, baby food, protein bars and condiments like BBQ sauce and ketchup.

To help consumers make better decisions while shopping, digital screens in the front of the store rotate messages by department providing information on healthier choices. Foodservice areas use window clings and the menu board to help convey this useful information. Better-for-you guidance is also provided in price rails at the shelf to help shoppers make informed purchase decisions.

Retailer as life partner on journey to healthier lifestyle

Raley’s believes the consumer should be equipped to shop with better information and guidance. In an effort to help them realize their healthy living ambitions, the product options they’ll encounter already lean heavily in that direction. In the high traffic meat department, attributes such as organic or anti-biotic free are flagged within an assortment that’s already curated with healthier and higher quality choices in mind.

To help fulfill the Education mission, the Truckee Raley’s O-N-E Market is their first store to have a registered dietitian on-site to interact and coach consumers. Scott Brown, Raley’s first in-store registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), is there to conduct nutrition tours, provide one-on-one healthy living consults and answer customer questions. Raley’s customer loyalty platform also gets a twist in Truckee: the “Something Extra Health” program offers biometric screenings, classes and in the future will feature vendor presentations.

“Shoppers these days want to know more and are faced with an increasingly confusing environment around navigating claims like ’natural‘ and ’plant based,’” said Minor. “We feel we have a responsibility to help explain and clarify what best practices look like in making food choices. Our role as retailer is to help them on their healthy living journey by operating as guide and coach.”

The future of food retail?

Most satisfying in our conversations with Minor and others at Raley’s was their sense of commitment and passion about what ”changing the way the world eats one plate at a time” truly means and how that plays out when you’re inside the front door. The position Raley’s O-N-E Market takes is active not passive, expressing leadership rather than go figure it out for yourself.

No one is going to beat Amazon on friction-free e-commerce, or Walmart on lower price. We have ample evidence that the middle market in grocery retail is a tough place to do business when the value proposition is based on location (getting weaker to defend) or all-things-to-all-people assortment (not a real strength anymore).

We believe the platform of highly differentiated and focused concept – especially in the Health & Wellness space – gives consumers an experience and another reason to shop brick and mortar. This is critical to food retail success and means leaning in fully to a commitment that places the customer at the center of strategic planning.

This insight must be informed by a crystal-clear higher purpose that translates into on-the-ground strategic decisions which defines and manifests in every aspect of store operation.

Human beings are emotional creatures. People are not fact-based analytical decision-making machines. We know the human sub-conscious plays a far more important role in helping guide actions and decisions than the cognitive side, yet most retailers operate on the “rational” channel.

When it’s heart-over-head, the grocery store shopping experience is enhanced by strategies that acknowledge our deep love affair with food, interesting culinary experiences and the prevailing desire for a healthy lifestyle.

  • Disney knows how to create the magic in their kingdom. Imagine a food store with the same heart and passion for food experience and how that could play out in a store setting.

Raley’s recognizes the growing importance of grocery foodservice experiences especially at a time when going to restaurants is less desirable. Yet the magic of environment and ambiance are no less important here than at the corner bistro. “Raley’s O-N-E Market includes McKinney Loft – a tribute to Steve McKinney, skier, mountaineer and local icon. The loft features plenty of seating, a beer and wine bar, bar bites, and an outdoor fireplace and large TV screens,” explains Minor.

At the crux of Raley’s likely success with Raley’s O-N-E Market is its higher purpose. This is harder to define correctly and to optimize fully. For that reason, Emergent has built a four-step plan to guide higher purpose development. You can download a copy here.

If would like to discuss this in the context of your business and its future, please use this link to start a conversation.

For more food trends, consumer insight and communications strategy follow us on Twitter @EmergentLiving.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Previously Bob was Founder and CEO of Wheatley & Timmons; Founder and President of Wheatley Blair; President Ogilvy & Mather PR Chicago; President and COO Ogilvy & Mather West. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Cooking burnout is upon families right now

Your Greatest Branded Content Creation Opportunity Has Arrived

August 2nd, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, engagement, food experiences, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, storytelling 0 comments on “Your Greatest Branded Content Creation Opportunity Has Arrived”

Food and beverage brands can take the lead as coach and guide

Your brand’s best opportunity for real engagement occurs when consumer need and your expertise overlap at precisely the right moment. And that moment is now.  It’s here, we’re in it. You have an opportunity to become a trusted partner, a useful resource, at a time when families are running out of menu ideas and kitchen fatigue is setting in.

  • We’ll provide guidance on what to do, but first let’s take a look at what’s happening right now that creates this important opening for brands to build a more meaningful relationship with their users.

Consumer research continues to reinforce a significant shift, and likely permanent change, to an increase in at-home meal preparation occasions. The pandemic has prompted millions of families to get back into the kitchen full time. Working and schooling from home makes this a three meal a day duty. Some are new to this culinary endeavor and the learning curve is upon them. Cooking veterans consistently have to devote more time and attention to laboring over the stove.

According to a recent “COVID-19 Impact on Eating” report from The Hartman Group, 93% of dinner eating occasions are prepared and consumed at home.

  • Even more amazing is the surge in lunch; 81% of occasions are occurring at home.
  • Dinner menus involving ‘heavy’ preparation are at 31% of occasions, up 9 points from a year ago, while lunch occasions requiring moderate preparation have jumped to 33%, up 14 points from 2019.

In sum, despite the dramatic falloff of restaurant eating events, Americans are choosing to cook rather than outsource their meals. The research also reveals that 33% of all eating and drinking occasions are in service of health and wellbeing objectives – no surprise given the elevated importance of health and wellness. People are purposefully making an effort to protect their immune systems while the pandemic continues to ravage the nation.

Kitchen burnout is a reality and it has arrived

Food, beverage and food retail brands are afforded an extraordinary opportunity to become a useful coach and resource for home cooks. This comes at a time when they not only need inspiration and instruction but personal encouragement and emotional support as well.

Considering people are spending more time at home, menu creation has taken on a new significance and importance for families. Previous studies of home cook behaviors determined that most have a repertoire of roughly 10 dishes they know well and will continue to keep in rotation. However, after months and months of repeat visits, menu weariness sets in as home chefs run out of ways to freshen their tried and true dishes.

Reinforcing the permanent home cooking shift is health and wellness aspirations

Alongside this cooking-from-necessity condition is a growing appreciation that home cooked meals are generally:

  • Healthier, more nutritious
  • Portion controlled
  • Completely customized
  • Convenient to scheduling
  • Safer
  • And can be functionally curated to support health and wellness objectives

Being relevant to consumers is the precursor to creating authentic engagement opportunities with them. What consumers are experiencing now puts your brand in an enviable position to be useful and helpful at a moment of real need.

“During this worrisome time many have re-discovered latent cooking expertise and more than a few have developed newfound culinary skills, but also most are feeling a bit weary and are reporting varying degrees of family meal fatigue. Our meal preparation muscles are tired, tested and stretched. Still we know the nutritional and family functioning benefits are out there awaiting us,” wrote David Fikes in a recent The Food Industry Association report ahead of their annual National Family Meals Month promotion in September.

In other words, now, when we’re tired, we most need the encouraging words of an inspiring trainer urging us to push beyond the fatigue, work through the discomfort and get reenergized about family meals, if we wish to reap the solid benefits they hold for us in terms of health, happiness and well-being,” he said.

Perfect moment for the most effective brand content strategy

Storytelling is best served when proper roles are recognized and respected. Consumers want and need to be the heroes of their own life journeys. The brand’s optimal function in this scenario is as coach and guide. That’s precisely what is required here. Your ability to step in with emotional support, inspirational culinary ideas and guidance on preparation skills and innovative cooking techniques will help consumers save time and avoid mistakes.

  • Your goal is to make the home chef more successful and comfortable in their kitchen-centric calling.

How to optimize this moment for connection and relationship building

Empathetic voice

Now is the time to put the brand ‘in league’ with the consumer by acknowledging the frustrations and burnout they may be feeling after months of constant meal preparation. It gets tough after the entire family is around the dining room table nearly seven days a week for months with no end in sight.

Food is an emotional category

Food consumption is enjoyable, social, indulgent, and can be transformational. This isn’t just about skills and cooking temperatures, it’s also about the table, experimentation, creativity and taste experiences.

Keep it simple

People literally run away from complexity and communication that taxes their brains. People are hardwired to avoid burning mental calories, so ideas and menus need to be presented simply, clearly with an eye towards simplifying what people must tackle in the kitchen.

Video and webinar are the right mediums

Harness the incredible capability of video to marry instructional or emotive words with pictures to amp the entertainment value. This will help people better understand through visual demonstration what they should be doing to bring great food to life.

Credible experts can help

Chef voices can elevate the conversation and add viewer interest to what you produce. As we said earlier, people now see food as a direct channel to improving their own health and wellbeing. Outside experts in nutrition and wellness add more authority to what your presenting. People are more likely to respect credentialed third-parties than in-house voices.

Social proof and trust creation

Consumers love to hear from other consumers. Employ your social channels to engage the community in sharing their own culinary content, recipes and ideas. People are far more likely to engage their peers before they’ll accept the assertions and claims brands make.

Transparency

Consider virtual farm visits with your suppliers and an opportunity to hear the personal stories of the families who create the ingredients you use. This serves as a transparency mechanism where customers get to see first-hand how your ingredients are sourced and then how your recipes are created.

Don’t wait

Now is the time to create a content calendar and begin operating in service of your customers during their time of need. With work-at-home looking like an ongoing condition and schooling- from-home likely to occur for many young people in the fall, kitchen and menu burnout isn’t going away any time soon.

This is a time for experimentation and openness to trying new flavors and cuisines. With the tried and true dishes most home cooks repeat losing their luster, people are gravitating to new experiences. In light of this condition, they need the guidance and expertise you can provide to bring new food ideas to the table.

Need help creating and building a strong culinary content calendar and fresh creative assets optimally messaged to engage home cooks in the right way? We can help! Let’s discuss your needs in greater detail.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Food Retail and CPG Alert: Coronavirus Spawns Opportunity

March 5th, 2020 Posted by consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, e-commerce, food retail strategy, grocery e-commerce, retail brand relevance, shopper behavior, Supermarket strategy, Uncategorized 0 comments on “Food Retail and CPG Alert: Coronavirus Spawns Opportunity”

Being relevant and valued in the moment of need

The New Yorker published a story chronicling China’s historic crackdown on the movement of people in public places in an effort to control spread of the virus. An interesting outcome is that home (quarantine) cooking is on a rapid rise especially among younger Chinese consumers who previously were much more likely to outsource their meals.

As massive numbers of people must stay home, turn on the stove and make their own food, popular Chinese social channels such as Douyin and Weibo are turning into online quarantine-driven cookbooks with recipes, journals and menu suggestions. Home grocery delivery is equally impacted. People are ordering the ingredients used that will help hone their cooking skills while they also discover the benefits of greater control over flavors, ingredients and preparations.

This event has disrupted normal food consumption habits and required many with limited cooking skills to seek support, inspiration, comradery and cooking tips to weather this lifestyle altering storm. This may have long-lasting impacts on food making and buying behaviors.

Home and hearth offer stability in an uncertain world

We’ve written before about the skyrocketing growth in online ordering through delivery apps like GrubHub and Doordash. This growth is connected to the consumer’s desire for convenience but driven in part by a sense of greater safety and control at home in a world that appears to grow less friendly and out of control by the day. Online everything allows the consumer to shop and also to eat easily without having to venture outside the household sanctuary. This is a powerful motivator that may only accelerate in the face of COVID-19.

The need for help – an opportunity in the making

Food retailers and brands are facing an extraordinary moment when behaviors and offers could coalesce to help consumers realize new home-based food consumption habits and even culinary ambitions. Of course, there will be a need to prepare for a potential onslaught of online ordering that could tax delivery services.

However, and importantly, there is an enormous opportunity here for retail, food brands and meal kit providers to be of help to consumers in gearing up for home cooking realities and adventures. Conditions like the potential of a pandemic are unusual and may create behavior shifts that will continue beyond the end of the crisis.

  • Here it is simply stated: how can you help the consumer with a rapid rise in home cooking occasions and a parallel need to know more about creating menus, meal preparation techniques, ingredients, food storage and safe handling, and sharing their experiences and ideas with others in your brand communities?

Now is the time to step up with tools and resources designed to enable these at-home eating experiences while positioning your banner and brand as a go-to, empathetic voice and valued resource.

Home cooking tool time

Some recommendations on the path forward:

  • Publish download-able menus tied to special offers and connected to shopping lists.
  • Serve as guide by providing instruction via online video on cooking skills and techniques – especially for vegetable dish preparations that aren’t as well understood.
  • Inspire the home cook by bringing chef techniques and voices to the table on cooking hacks and layering flavors.
  • Enable social sharing of meal ideas and preparations among your shopper community.
  • If ever there was an Instagram moment, this is it. Your social pages can be a helpful, informative and inspiration resource for novice home cooks.
  • Answer common food preparation and storage questions like, should you refrigerate berries or should you avoid storing apples near bananas. Shelf life questions will likely be common.
  • Communicate early and often on food delivery conditions, wait times and manage those expectations.
  • Get creative: food retailers can offer online meet ups and interactive webinars that will help families manage at-home events and dinner parties (social channel broadcast opportunity).
  • In short, become a resource and not just a product source.

Emergent believes this return to the kitchen is likely to have a lasting impact on the growth of e-commerce grocery ordering, and a long term upswing in home cooking.

If you’re wondering how to navigate this rapidly changing environment, we can help.

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

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Emerging Trend: The Personalization of Food

February 27th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Culinary lifestyle, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, Transformation 0 comments on “Emerging Trend: The Personalization of Food”

Creating hyper-relevant products for the marketplace of one

Have you noticed over the last 20 years palates have become more sophisticated? Quality expectations around menus, ingredients and preparations have grown alongside the rising popularity of celebrity chefs. Elevated cooking is everywhere. A genuinely satisfying culinary experience can now be had at the neighborhood gastro-pub. Great food experience is just an arm’s reach away. This is evidence of a food culture shift.

Equally so, food literacy has jumped with the treasure trove of content available online that satisfies the consumer’s thirst to know more about the food they put in their bodies. This concern got traction when people generally connected the dots between the quality of the food they consume and the quality of their lives. People now understand that diet influences the foundation of health and wellness, and sub-optimal nutrition may contribute to the onset of disease. More culture driven transformation.

An outcome of being in constant control is the marketplace of one

While the importance of food-to-lifestyle goals climb, the consumer’s ability to control every aspect of brand engagement, curation of the information and media they ingest has changed their expectations and their worldview. Culturally, people no longer buy the idea of one size fits all, and this applies equally to dietary sensibilities and food regimens.

The North American CPG food business is evolving towards a market of one. It hasn’t fully arrived yet, but the signs are emerging around a desire for more personalized and customized food and beverage solutions. A recent report on this topic by The Hartman Group cites the growing interest in individualized and hyper-relevant products and food experiences.

This step into personalized nutrition is already being reflected in dietary preferences, shopping behaviors, food preparation skills and techniques and most of all, consumption. What’s coming soon is the marriage of personalization and customization with health and wellness to redefine the future of the food and beverage business.

Factors influencing the personalization trend can be seen in the consumer’s growing interest in biomarkers. When people start to pay attention to DNA kits and reports, blood glucose levels and microbiomes, it is an outgrowth of the desire to truly understand how to optimally fuel oneself. We are all unique and our lives impacted by how we are assembled from the moment we arrive on earth.

  • By the way, this emerging trend in human food will crossover to pet food at some point because the same rules apply.

Be-spoke menus and meals

People want to tailor the food they eat to their needs and preferences. I like the ordering line at Chipotle for that very reason. I can get the burrito exactly how I want it. What’s going on there is a sense of control that sits at the foundation of its appeal. We ask the question: how can food and beverage businesses answer the desire for greater dietary control?

One way to look at this is to follow the thread of dietary concerns that are gaining momentum.

Here are some leading-edge areas ripe for innovation and fresh perspective:

  • Stress, anxiety and sleeplessness
  • Neuro health
  • Aging and beauty
  • Microbiome (gut health and inflammation)
  • Independence and mobility
  • Food as medicine

These emerging concerns sit alongside the long-standing stalwarts of weight management, energy boost and clean eating, and are now demanding more attention in the aisles at your local supermarket.

Note that all of these emerging nutrition considerations bear witness to the intersection of food as a primary driver of health and wellness. Nutrient density sits at the front door of defining, for the consumer, what is indeed healthy food or drink. From a marketing viewpoint, it’s important to mention here that relevant health & wellness markers such as fresher, less processed, locally and sustainably sourced, simple recipes/labels, real food ingredients and higher quality, matter because of what they represent to a novice or less trusting base of potential purchasers.

Not far away is the growing list of avoidances that accompany the consumer’s food literacy advances. Essential especially for legacy CPG brands to be aware of these concerns and to optimize their formulations to steer clear of problem areas like GMOs, hormones, antibiotics and preservatives.

What can be emphasized here is a prevailing consumer desire to accumulate positive nutrients, in an effort to improve and better manage health and wellbeing. When beef jerky becomes a positive contributor to wellbeing with cleaner labels and vastly improved recipes, you know goodness can be created just about anywhere. Check out Prevail Jerky.

Emergence of new food and beverage is symptomatic of cultural shift

With the barriers to entry for new food and beverage concepts near zero, the marketplace is awash in improved ideas touting higher quality ingredients and simple labels to legacy categories . It is a reflection of consumer interest in better-for-you.

So, too, will the desire for more customized solutions gain momentum as it mirrors the consumer’s view that who they are, what they want and their perceived unique needs and preferences.

  • Answering this call will be the next great revolution in food as businesses work to create more options that answer the desire for hyper relevance.

Functional shopping at the store

Increasingly people are shopping for attributes – looking for solutions to the dietary challenges they face. Food retail today doesn’t offer much help in this context. Online searches for energy solutions doesn’t necessarily serve up a relevant menu of alternatives.

Personalization and customization reflect a growing interest in finding answers. Label Insight has landed on this and is working to provide digital platform solutions that enable food retail shoppers to search by attribute, especially important when faced with a store environment of thousands of SKUs. What’s in the health and wellness aisle when options in this area become more pervasive across the entire store?

The consumer’s move towards hyper relevant food is a huge consideration for brands related to what’s in the wings for product improvements and formulations. You can’t make these assessments from a distance. Consumer insight research, more than ever, is required to best determine the pace of this evolution and how the consumer considers this from a product attribute and shopping perspective.

Consumer-centricity is the path to your success

  • The consumer has to be at the center of strategic planning
  • Assessments of how consumers see personalization requires getting close-in on their needs
  • Retailers should then support how consumers want to shop for foods with various health & wellness attributes
  • Retail shopping experience matters more than ever, and these insights can help create that roadmap

Insight and Emergent

Your goal is to build relevancy in an era of constant and rapid change, where cultural shifts are redefining the business based on the consumer’s desire for personalized food solutions.

We help clients with this form of discovery research, and then help build strategic plans to translate insight into an innovation and marketing communications game plan.

Want to know more? Let’s talk.

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

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Serving a Narrower Audience of Devoted Fans is a Recipe for Success

February 6th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, Emotional relevance, Insight, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “Serving a Narrower Audience of Devoted Fans is a Recipe for Success”

One brand’s story of transformational growth.

Awhile back we represented Sargento Foods, today the leading brand in dairy case cheese. When we started, Sargento was looking for a new chapter in its legacy as a packaged cheese-specialist, family-owned company. However, the Sargento business was challenged with rampant category commoditization – cheese is cheese is cheese. The segment share leader was store brand, providing ample evidence that consumers primarily bought on price.

  • Our goal was to transform the business by reinventing the dairy case cheese category. In doing so, devise a competitive advantage for Sargento that would change the landscape against historic branded segment leader, Kraft Foods.

Working in collaboration with Brad Flatoff, Sargento Chief Marketing Officer, insight research was commissioned to dig into consumer segmentation and behaviors in cheese use. The effort unearthed an evolving consumer relationship with food. A new and important audience was emerging, roughly 26% of the category overall, who were heavy cheese users and had a budding love affair with food.

  • This food-savvy audience formed the foundation of the Food TV Network’s expanding fan base.
  • They love being in the kitchen, or on the culinary receiving end, appreciated higher quality cooking and ingredients.
  • They could tell you about the functional differences of knives and pans they used in the kitchen.
  • They bought cookbooks for inspiration and subscribed to culinary magazines.
  • They were, as characterized in the study, Food Adventurers.

As is often the case in high volume, high velocity businesses, Sargento had cast themselves for years as the choice for everyone and anyone. This thinking ironically contributed to a form of water-treading stasis that held the brand locked in a third-place share position.

Then, a remarkable thing happened. Executive leadership agreed to let the marketing team redefine the target user, narrowing in on Food Adventurers and working backwards from that profile. We built a plan that redefined the category, the product composition, the packaging, pricing strategy and communications.

In short, Sargento elected to become the premium brand in the dairy aisle and play to food quality cues the Food Adventurer would recognize and embrace. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, Sargento wisely decided to pursue an audience that was invested in food experience and paid attention to the ingredients they used.

A new product line was created called Artisan Blends that combined artisan style cheeses with Sargento classic flavors. The step-up line was priced at a premium to other products and the packaging got a make-over to accentuate the tone and visuals of a European more premium esthetic. But most importantly, the messaging was changed, and the communications tactics moved to align with Food Adventurer ambitions in the kitchen.

  • Our strategy put the brand in league with a specific set of consumers as they participated in culinary discovery and pursued elevated taste experiences. Sargento became a sponsor and participant at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, among other events. Celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello was retained as a spokesperson and cooking videos were created with him.

Bottom line: the gears were put in motion to carve a new future based on relevance and resonance specific to a food fan consumer.  Becoming important to a segment of the marketplace rather than defaulting to the all-things-to-all-people approach. Since then the retail channel business has transformed and the future, with help from the company’s enormously successful Balanced Breaks snack product line, is on a different trajectory.

Bold moves make for big results

To a large degree the success of this shift was in the hands of Lou Gentine and his son Louie, now CEO. Their willingness to swing for the fence and re-position the business led to the outcomes that have paid lasting dividends.

The lessons here come directly from the consumer and insight into their food needs and interests. Asking, how can we be of greater value to them and make a difference in their lives? When we brought the insight research to life, all aspects of the marketing mix were refocused on how we could build relevance and value with this audience and help them on their culinary journey.

Brand strategy guru Bernadette Jiwa summarized the approach in a recent post:

“Like most of us with something to say, serve or sell, they [marketers] have to do a better job of speaking to only their right customers. They don’t depend on the footfall of mass awareness—they thrive on the loyalty of minority affinity, built one customer at a time, over time. They understand what their customers want, they make promises, then show up consistently, week in week out, without fail to keep them.

There is no one-size-fits-all marketing strategy. The tactics we use must align with our goals and the goals of the people we want to serve. How are you creating affinity with the minority of people who enable you to do your best work?”

The Sargento case study is a great example of the benefits of narrowcasting and marketing bravery.

  • When you decide to go all in with an audience that cares, and then cater to their wants, needs and aspirations, the results can be very satisfying – even transformative to the business.

This would not have happened without the insight research investment up front that, with trained eyes, unearthed the Food Adventurer target and their culinary aspirations. Armed with this understanding, the marketing plan became a lesson in ‘mattering’ to an audience of food fans. The impact on message and media was a powerful testament to why smaller engaged audience segments can have a significant impact on the balance sheet.

Can we bring this kind of fresh perspective to your business? Let’s talk.

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.

The Impact of Higher Quality Experiences on the Future of Food

September 24th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Healthy lifestyle, shopper behavior 0 comments on “The Impact of Higher Quality Experiences on the Future of Food”

Once you’ve tasted an heirloom tomato you can’t go back…

For most of my adult life I have experienced a love/not love relationship with fresh tomato. The routine, ubiquitous beefsteak variety a frequent guest star that decorates the roof of a hamburger with some color. The pink flesh offers a hard, mealy somewhat bland flavor. In a salad the standard tomato as hero can be even more pronounced in its meh-ness. We hear it travels well through distribution channels and offers some shelf life. Yay.

Along comes the heirloom tomato with its erratic colors, crags, lumps and fissures to completely upend everything you think you understand about a tomato, punching your taste buds with luxurious flavor, acidity and tenderness that elevates anything it swims with. More expensive to be sure and worth every penny. Once you know this you can’t retreat to the beefsteak.

  • So it is with the continued culinary-ization of America: as higher quality food experiences forever elevate the palate and expectation of nearly everyone who eats, the baseline standard of what people want is changing with it.

Thus why strategic planning needs to address this development because as the old but very real saying goes, “times are changing and if you don’t change with them, you’re in trouble.”

What happens when the consumer is at the center of strategic planning?

If it is vital for the collective futures of food retail and food CPG companies to put the consumer at the epicenter of planning and work backwards from there, then we’re going to pay attention to cultural and behavioral shifts. The goal to sync strategies and capitalize on those insights. It is definitely not business as usual these days because the pace of change has accelerated so significantly in the last five years.

Seven observations on the changes now upon us.

The quality bar keeps rising. The impact of chefs-as-media-heroes, cooking shows, elevated corner bar food, transformation of legacy food categories with reimagined higher quality versions, and the advancement of culinary experiences at restaurants – all blend together in a perfect recipe for moving taste and quality expectations upward.

  1. Once you’ve experienced the added value of a pan reduction sauce to transform a flavor- challenged piece of chicken, you want the sauce every time.
  2. Home delivered meal kits operate as boxed culinary academies, teaching consumers about roasting techniques for vegetables, layering flavors and saucing.
  3. Higher quality ingredients and preparations now reflect the new intersection of indulgent taste and healthier. Healthy now redefined not as calorie math but the use of better quality fresh, real food ingredients, less processed and with a clean label as evidence of same.
  4. Weekends are now calendared opportunities for scratch home-cooking exploration, experiments and food adventure. Which grocery stores observe this phenomenon and move to inspire ideas, ingredient solutions, menus and culinary guidance? …More meatloaf?
  5. Maybe we’re still selling boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity and so there’s no time to match merchandising to the elevation of food experiences in America? Can you afford not to when disintermediating options are emerging all over the food business landscape?
  6. Restaurants are trial generators for new global flavors, cuisine exploration and realization of unique cooking techniques. Outsourced meals aren’t just about convenience on a busy night, it’s also part of the food culture milieu that’s stoking the fire of culinary excitement.
  7. Where’s the Chef de Cuisine now? He or she is a home chef operating in the kitchen looking to create, innovate and experiment with standard menus and dishes now getting an elevated makeover with layered flavors, sauces and artisanal quality ingredients.

The headline: could it be that the American home kitchen is not that far behind the restaurant kitchen, save a few thousand BTUs from the stove burner, as a place to produce distinctive flavor experiences? The answer to this query is yes. How are retailers and CPG innovators working to recognize and service this consumer? Small niche you say!? Not so fast…

In a recent report from the Hartman Group we find evidence in Compass data:

  • 39% of restaurant sourced eating occasions are efforts to lean in on the culinary skill and experience going on in the professional kitchen. Remember the quality of restaurant food keeps going up, and while doing so challenges some chain foodservice operators who are trapped in cost structures and business models that make it difficult to profitably move up.
  • 29% of at home eating occasions use cooking sauces, flavor aids, Deli prepared items, alongside higher quality produce, meat and seafood intended to replicate the restaurant experience at home.

Food culture changes are an undeniable juggernaut impacting where the ball is moving and challenging everyone to determine if they’re keeping pace with it or languishing behind.

Emergent’s guidance:

  1. Consumers want the unique, higher quality flavor experiences they find at restaurants, repurposed for them in food retail available products. Hence the emerging brand phenomena now roiling legacy CPG market shares. Consumers yearn for the surprise and delight of more innovative packaged and prepared foods.
  2. On the other side, food retail is ideally situated to sponsor artisanal exploration in cheese, baked goods, alternate proteins and cooking ingredients. Yet many find it difficult to get beyond the traditional infrastructure to position themselves in the culinary chair alongside shoppers who want more relevance and food experience in their shopping trip…and their shopping cart.

While so much preoccupation now exists with installing e-commerce platforms and digitizing the management and flow of inventory, we should not lose sight of what the consumer longs for and how we can enhance food relevance and adventure for them.

Your products and store could be a culinary Field of Dreams!

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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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