Posts in Emerging brands

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4 Unique Strategies for Premium CPG Brand Growth

September 23rd, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Category Design, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Product design, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “4 Unique Strategies for Premium CPG Brand Growth”

Advantages you can plan and design for

Food culture in America has dramatically shifted during the last 10 years. People favor premium quality, higher priced products that address modern dietary needs serving health, wellness and sustainability goals. Better food experiences, fresh ingredients, more sophisticated tastes and the brand sustainability symbolism that goes along with it help complete the mission and taste adventure. This is the preference paradigm where all innovations whether from legacy brand or new player must pay homage on the road to success.

  • Here are four key strategies that hold sway over your ability to succeed, to grow and gain share for food and beverage innovations.

We highlight these four distinctive growth strategies in part because they are passed over all too frequently. Eclipsed by the allure of instant scale, every-new-retail-door-is-a-good-door and ill-advised distribution moves that undercut the very brand value proposition that premium CPG solutions embody. This helps explain the high innovation failure rate or seemingly insurmountable plateaus where new emerging brands stall out, never getting a shot at the high volume homeruns of wider adoption downstream.

Want to assure your brand innovations are successful and not a casualty on the path to pantry and fridge domination? Then read on.

  1. Your product concept is the marketing lynchpin (watch out for the Special Occasion Trap)

Food retailers care about velocity and monitor it relentlessly. Marketers care about scale because velocity and scale together are the flags of a winning concept; thus, why growth nirvana for premium CPG success always begins with strategic product and category design. Your innovation goal is a product that naturally, intuitively fits with frequent if not daily consumption occasions and feeds high repeat purchase behavior. Retailers understand this and look for it.

Products that are intended for niche, episodic occasions are much harder to score scaling victory for the very reason they don’t lend themselves to velocity, high repeat purchase business imperatives. If fancy jams are your jam, be prepared for the embedded difficulties that come with slow turn categories or segments with a narrow, special interest fan base.

2. Public ‘display’ categories add symbolism romance to marketing

Food and beverage purchases these days are largely symbolic. People ‘wear’ their brands as a statement, a flag, a visible demonstration of what they value and what they wish to signal to the world around them about who they are.

You know this so can you plan for it, use it. How can you enable consumers to fly your symbolic brand flag? Does your premium brand innovation lend itself to public display occasions such as barbecues, parties, taken to the office or gym and consumed in a social setting? Brand iconography, symbolism and telegraphing of same can be deployed here to help your users display and vote their beliefs and values. Too often this opportunity gets overlooked.

3. Pack strategies can ignite new occasions

No doubt you’ve heard of price-pack architecture. There is a bit of CPG magic in this strategic growth solution. It helps you lean into new and different occasions while creating higher average retail price points (more cash and flow) with a perceived embedded consumer discount, and more facings (brand billboard) at shelf. Pack architecture projects open the door to migrating your users to new consumption occasions.

Amplify Brands’ Skinny Pop brand rode the pack architecture idea to fame and fortune by creating both smaller bags and larger pack sizes of their pound-able guilt-free popcorn. The move lifted average price points while leveraging new use occasions from school lunches to birthday parties. When you offer new packs the input costs are manageable while adding exponential growth on the income side and serving the usage occasion/velocity rule at the same time.

4. The slightly uncomfortable but immutable rule of upscale zip code distribution

There’s an old but wise saying: fish where the fish are. For premium priced food and beverage innovations the distribution strategy decisions you make will have an enormous impact on your ability to gain traction and scale the business. Where you do business matters especially in the early going.

Premium innovations are home to higher quality ingredients, real food-based formulations.  These brands reflect the lifestyle symbolism embraced by consumer cohorts who in reality control the fortunes and failures of new product fame or flame out.

What do we know: educated, high earning households congregate in upmarket neighborhoods. Trial for premium priced CPG innovations will always be better served in retail doors that exist to serve an upscale shopper base. These folks not only won’t flinch at your higher price point, they are also hunters of new premium innovations. Early trial fuels their social currency of being a word-of mouth warrior.

There was a time when Whole Foods owned the early trial zone for premium CPG innovations, but other banners have caught up in their premium offerings. Now it’s a zip code exercise where your decisions are more about the education levels of the communities you distribute in ahead of other considerations.

The guidance: not every new door is the right retail door. Controlled expansion plus patience are better for building your business rather than taking distribution wherever you can get it. EDLP retailers have a different model and a different shopper base driven more by price point than your quality ingredient, healthy lifestyle bona fides. Walmart is better for mass legacy brands for this reason.

  • Broader distribution and wider geographic expansion make sense when innovations become mainstream and lower income households begin to take them up. Going that route too early can create problems leading to profit-eroding price drops and even delisting if you’re not careful.

There are 40 metro areas in the U.S. where greater than 30% of the adult population has a Bachelor degree or higher. That’s a cohort of more than 65 million adults. Higher income zip codes within those metros are primed for premium CPG introductions. These higher income, higher educated households are tuned-in to the evolutionary changes going on in modern dietary preferences. They are listening to your narrative.

  • In sum, you will grow in geographic areas where large numbers of people attach their lifestyle symbolism to your brand and spread it in their social circles. You should be on shelf in the banners where the shopper population is experientially primed to look for you.

Don’t forget to consider University towns for the same reason. These can be enthusiastic communities for bold, dietary alterations and innovations. Young adults especially are early adopters and influential in making new dietary shifts.

Here is the premium CPG innovation recipe for success assuming the product design fits squarely in the frequent consumption arena.

  • Build visibility, awareness and discoverability in the right stores in the right zip codes.
  • Increase local household penetration.
  • Increase consumption rates among early-in users by adding consumption occasions.

If you have these challenges and strategic questions as you plan your innovations and launch strategies, use this link to start a conversation with us. We can help you create a roadmap to success and the brand narrative well told to go with it. We are new product launch specialists.


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 innovation

Dom’s Kitchen & Market – the Future of Food Retail

June 16th, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand strategy, Category Design, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Emerging brands, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Indulgent brand strategy, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, shopper experience, storytelling, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Dom’s Kitchen & Market – the Future of Food Retail”

Food retail dream team brings shoppers some “wow!”

The world does not need another conventional grocery store. There are plenty of them offering similar, somewhat rote and unremarkable shopping experiences and product assortments. One to another they defy uniqueness and differentiation. Food retail legend Bob Mariano and his long-time partner Don Fitzgerald teamed with DOM Capital Group owner Jay Owen to reinvent the Chicago food retail landscape. Again.

The food retailing industry has long admired Bob Mariano’s penchant for innovation when his namesake Mariano’s chain emerged in 2010 as a refreshingly-elevated concept in the Chicago area grocery game. Mariano, who described his new retail banner as “the first time I’ve had the opportunity in my career to invent a retail concept from a blank sheet of paper,” deftly integrated foodservice experiences with a decided heavy lean into an improved fresh and perishable food assortment and tasting station-oriented shopping experience.

After selling the Roundy’s parent company in 2015 to Kroger, Bob Mariano departed the Chicago retail scene for a while, apparently to go think creatively about where the food retail innovation ball should roll next.

Now Dom’s Kitchen & Market arrives in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood as a 17,800 square foot, tightly edited and curated deep dive into food adventure. It is shopping as entertainment with a big helping of culinary inspiration and a side order of education for erstwhile home chefs. “For the most part grocery shopping is functional and stock-up driven,” said CEO Don Fitzgerald, “Our new concept is built around what we can do to deliver food discovery, experiences, culinary exploration and maybe learning a thing or two for people who love food.”

Dom’s is first and foremost a food destination. As you walk in, guests see a hybrid of multi-faceted food service options featuring top quality menus ranging from “The Stackup” for elevated sandwiches, “The Hearth” if you feel like outsourcing cooking chores for dinner and “Gohan” to sample Asian specialties like Yuzu Salmon and Katsu Sando. Nearby is “The Plant Butcher” station for creative salads and yes, butchering veggies to customer specs.

“We are not a replacement for traditional grocery,” Fitzgerald reports. “Our core shopper is really someone who has a passion for food, who is interested in taste experiences, wants to explore new cuisines, learn and has high standards about the quality of the ingredients they use.” He said he expects people will come to Dom’s for a quality sandwich and sip a glass of their favorite wine, all while ordering paper towels and dishwasher soap from Amazon on their phone.

“You’re coming to Dom’s for lunch or picking up dinner. You are doing your perishable shopping here for high quality produce, bakery and meat. We also expect to serve events and occasions like an anniversary, job promotion, graduation, birthday with wine and cheese or a Bonci pizza,” says Fitzgerald.

The center store is a curated assortment of higher-quality packaged foods, some of them hyper local as evidenced by plans to feature endcap displays of new and emerging food brands born at The Hatchery, Chicago’s food incubator and laboratory for aspiring entrepreneurs.

On opening day a power aisle end cap featured Dom’s specialty coffee. It was a fan of the cards toward their plans to develop a deeper offering in private label products that will build the Dom’s brand, thus helping the company more fully express its core culinary mission.

Think big

If history is any indicator, the Dom’s executive team has no small plans and will be working to add new locations around the city and eventually beyond Chicago. “Dom’s is very much a neighborhood concept, a smaller retail footprint where the decisions we make about what’s on shelf are extremely important,” said Fitzgerald. “While we have a template certainly, each Dom’s location will be a mirror of the community where it resides, and the assortment decisions will reflect what we think shoppers in the trading area will want.”

Fitzgerald says they eschew the typical food retail business model dependent on large cap CPG promotional spending. “We won’t be relying heavily on price promotions to deliver volume. That’s not our business. Our goal is to earn loyalty based on the strength of our unique shopping experience.” That shopping experience is best represented in “The Chef’s Table”, a presentation area where visiting celebrity chefs will come to conduct classes on menu ideas and food preparation techniques. “We just had a session on how to properly cook a steak and I learned I’ve been doing it wrong my entire life,” he said. “Teaching will be core to our concept.”

For that matter meat is yet another example of stepping up a notch. Dom’s is sourcing its fresh meat from the same supplier that serves Gibson’s restaurant, one of Chicago’s most respected and beloved steakhouses.

Safety first

Dom’s is the first EcoLab Science Certified food retailer in the state of Illinois. EcoLab is servicing Dom’s with training, sanitation materials and best practices guidance. Dom’s will be audited for compliance to EcoLab’s industry-leading standards of cleanliness. “We want to be the safest, healthiest place to shop and embed that commitment in our culture from day one,” said Fitzgerald.

“When our shoppers leave here, we hope they say, ‘Wow. That was special. That was fun. This was worth my time,’” he said.

If opening week crowds are any measure, people are resonating to Dom’s food shopping-as-entertainment concept, a truly unique addition to the Chicago area’s food retailing landscape.

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.

Emerging brand launch best practices

The remarkable path to emerging CPG brand fame and fortune

May 5th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, Brand Activism, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, Differentiation, Emerging brands, Strategic Planning, Sustainability 0 comments on “The remarkable path to emerging CPG brand fame and fortune”

Your early priority: what will consumers rave about?

An inconvenient truth: the vast majority (80%) of emerging CPG food and beverage brands will never surpass $1 million in annual sales. Here we examine some of the critical components that drive velocity growth and reveal the fundamental rules that must be respected to scale a new brand over time.

In case you’re wondering, this has no bearing on the scope of investment funding in development and launch phases. The business opportunities, ultimate size of the prize and inherent growth-limiting factors all begin with the product concept itself.

It’s true, the product IS the marketing. The product shouldn’t require promotional lipstick to make itself appear attractive. Instead, it should draw a following because it exudes its own obvious and valued magnetism.

No matter what the Series A, B or C funding rounds looks like:

  • You can’t buy food culture relevance
  • You can’t buy consumer enthusiasm for the product
  • You can’t mandate or enforce memorability on the consumer

The product concept must be strong, unique and valuable enough to drive interest across a larger addressable market.

It’s hard to get noticed when the product isn’t a knockout standout relative to adjacent choices.

Mediocre (not rave-able) innovations, especially in saturated categories, almost never scale because the product concept isn’t big or exceptional enough to leap ahead of current category players. If the product doesn’t incite high memorability levels and consumer passion it won’t be able to drive a sufficient baseline of routine repeat purchasers.

Throwing money at a relevance and value proposition problem won’t help.

For example, hardcore nutritional innovations are difficult to scale because they can’t attract an audience past the ‘holistic’ alternate nutrition audience segment. If sales are dependent on a narrow cult of users, it creates an automatic embedded drag on velocity.

Instead, product design must connect symbolically to highly valued, desirable dietary outcomes for the consumer who will enthusiastically seek it out – such as weight management, energy, immunity, overall health/wellness or indulgence.

Key information the exec team needs to seek through active listening with early-in users:

  • What attribute-outcome association is the early adopter holding in their mind?
  • Which associations do the heavy users embrace?
  • Which of these attribute-outcome associations is truly scalable?

This data should be used to refine and improve the product in its earlier stages of distribution so that once the gas pedal on added distribution is pushed, the product itself is accurately, optimally reflecting what consumers say is their ‘why’ for buying repeatedly.

This is also a vote for patience in expanding the retail door footprint. While some brokers may believe any increase in volume as good volume to have, if there are flaws in the product experience, added distribution will only further expose those weaknesses – risking future delisting if repeat purchase performance falls off. To succeed in steadily increasing overall case volume movement, a core base of repeat buyers (satisfied enthusiasts) must be established, with product trial users added on top of the base.

Category selection and design is vital to long-term success

Please take note, consumers shop categories first and brands second. Likewise, retailers see themselves as category managers. A category is a culturally relevant cognitive title that works to secure a specific use/space/value location in the consumer’s brain.

If you’ve followed our recent articles on radical differentiation, you know how important uniqueness is to generate sufficient category separation from other nearby brand combatants. Ideally, the new brand should occupy its own category space.

The goal of topflight category design is to mine strategic differences that are competitively scalable.

  • Here’s Emergent’s top scale principle: the innovation must be attractive to a larger audience and clearly, effectively answer a consumer dietary need or goal – such as ‘natural, better for you, plus an important bonus attribute’. What that attribute will be comprises the creative challenge of our work in category design.

Why did Beyond and Impossible scale so quickly?

The product innovation here for both brands was a significant vault ahead for plant-based meat over previous category versions that were more narrowly positioned for vegan and vegetarian users. They could have elected to position their products as an improved plant-based meat for vegans, a narrow, small cohort when compared to other segments of the meat business.

Instead, they pursued the largest addressable market opportunity, cast as ‘meat lovers’ (which is nearly everyone). This audacious, bold move was built on confidence the product eating experience and taste would live up to the litmus flavor test from beef hamburger fans. Further they created a new category in the fresh meat department – plant-based meat for meat lovers.

Because the product delivered fully on this promise, it fueled word of mouth and consumer enthusiasm/ambassadorship – further closing the loop on trust and credibility. The promise was effectively fulfilled in the candid testimonials of happy users.

Most important however: these brands also conquered the one barrier that often stands in the way of acceptance – perceived risk. How did they manage consumer skepticism about anything novel and new that includes trailing sensory baggage about taste compromises associated with plant-based burgers? The smartly played decadent, indulgent, crave-able, mouthwatering photos of luscious cheeseburgers to build desire and taste appeal said it all. Zero effort here to sell this as a health food (read: tastes bad).

They also benefited from a consumer perception that anything plant-based is better for you and thus why people are looking to add plant-based foods to their diet. The climate message was tertiary social issue icing on the value proposition cake that added ‘feels good’ to consumption. It also operated effectively as a relevant publicity angle to enhance awareness.

The role of symbolism

Consumers are loathe to tax their brains or burn mental calories trying to determine if a product addresses what they believe the purchase should signal about their values to the world around them. Package symbolism becomes a vital link in respecting this signaling behavior that a purchase confers on the user.

This isn’t an invitation to the over-use of certification logos (Whole 30, Certified Organic, etc.) that often clutter up the front panel of many new premium food brand packages. Photography and graphics that billboard the trademark and primary attribute offering from the shelf should intentionally bring visual cues that evoke the brand’s deeper meaning.

Consumer social communities are always based on shared values. Those values operate sub-consciously and are on auto pilot. The decision to pick brand A over B is really a social decision. For this reason consumers have learned to quickly scan for symbolism on product packages.

  • “Consumers do not eat kale because they watched a heartbreaking documentary about the meat industry. They eat it because, by doing so, they send social signals of being enlightened, wellness-obsessed, and socially conscious. They do not watch “Succession” because they like it; they watch it because their friends watch it and they want to participate in the shared experience.” Sociology of Business

Halo Top went to market as a high protein ice cream. An odd attribute for ice cream. After carefully listening and then iterating changes to their package, they pivoted to low calorie indulgence and off it went to fame and fortune. Why? Weight management is a highly leverage-able dietary outcome.

Repeat purchase rates are fed by an enthusiastic fan base that shows up in social channel participation. The best influencers are current repeat users who nourish the social channel proof loop about their ‘why’.

In reality, the consumer is your true business partner

In Dr. James Richardson’s wonderfully insightful and well-written book, Ramping Your Brand, he lands on the ultimate list of questions founders should be asking of their users to inform strategy.

  1. Why do they like your product line? Is the motivating outcome scalable?
  2. Who are the “wrong” consumers”? (i.e., those motivated by non-scalable outcomes or who make insincere trade-offs on taste)
  3. How do they use it in everyday life?
  4. Does it fold well into their daily routines?
  5. How often do they use it? (e.g., daily, weekly, special occasions)
  6. What, if anything, they would change? (e.g., weird after taste, pack size, etc.)

As Richardson reports, consumer packaged foods and beverages are all about “easy-to-shop, easy-to-buy, easy-to-use shortcuts to achieve desired outcomes. Find the right way to sell to consumers, not the right way to turn them into your image of what you want them to be.”

If this article sparks interest about optimizing your business on the path to marketplace fame and fortune, use this link to launch an informal get acquainted conversation with us to share your questions.

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.

Brand activism is on the rise

Trend Alert: Rapid Rise of Brand Activism

November 30th, 2020 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, Consumer insight, Differentiation, Emerging brands, engagement, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “Trend Alert: Rapid Rise of Brand Activism”

Is your brand’s higher purpose dialed in?

“Food is now so much more than food: It’s this representation of the self. We’ve managed to use it as a signifier for so many virtues, whether that’s obvious ones like health or indulgence, but also ancestry and connection to kin and family, or the fact that you’re just a unique person out in the world.” – Benjamin Lorr, The Secret Life of Groceries, Grocery Business interview.

To successfully build and grow a base of enthusiastic brand fans these days consumer relevance is everything. In the absence of a high-quality consumer connection and a valued relationship, food, beverage and lifestyle brands can be cast out of the economic Garden of Eden, forced to wander in the wilderness of commodities interchangeably bought on price.

Now a new challenge is emerging to creating relevance that must be weighed carefully if brands are to retain the attention and support of a growing an influential new base of users. Here’s what’s coming fast and hard:

The Socialization of Brands

Six years ago we tracked a cultural shift indicating consumers were leaning heavily into deeper, meaning, values and mission in assessing the merits of their preferred brands on the path to purchase. This condition is rapidly evolving and is accelerated farther and faster as a result of Pandemic induced upheaval in mindset and evolving personal priorities.

COVID-19 presents an out-of-control social and economic environment. It is enhanced by the absence of effective readily available solutions and clear public policy guidance from previously respected sources of social organization, government and educational institutions. Into this societal vacuum comes a new form of behavior we call brand activism.

  • “COVID-19 has forced communities to grapple with how individual behavior impacts collective health and social wellness, and it has elevated the mandate that companies demonstrate how their products, practices and systems positively impact the community and support the greater good.” – Hartman Group, Value in the Time of COVID 19” whitepaper

Brands are now expected to be social actors.

“My Wallet is My Vote”

Imagine the checkout aisle at your supermarket or drug store transforming into a form of voting booth. The wallet and purchase performs the role of ballot-enhanced virtue signaling as consumers cast a vote on their brand candidate’s values through the purchases they make.

  • Purchases are largely symbolic gestures now, intended to telegraph what people want others to know about their priorities and identity. That said, the nature of this beast is evolving further with emergence of pressing issues that are forming on the horizon of our food system, how it operates and what it represents beyond abundance, indulgence and health.

The cultural shift taking place is a pervasive belief among people, Gen Z especially, that they are unique and empowered to help create change. Rather than relying on the performance of others or institutions, people look at their own relationships, networks and voices as opportunities to activate their advocacy on a larger canvas.

Alignment reaches a new level

Awhile back people discovered alignment between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. The impact of this revelation was seismic. Enter the fresh food revolution, the move to perimeter shopping at grocery, the emergence of preference for locally-sourced foods, and the decline of heavily processed packaged products.

Healthy food was no longer defined as addition by subtraction (or food science at work) to remove fat, sugar, salt and calories in order to achieve a better-for-you claim. In its place came higher quality real fresh food solutions that impacted the course of emerging food brands from large cap CPG line extensions to entrepreneurial, new food brands with an ethos and higher quality, small batch formulation.

Now another revolution is in the works as alignment evolves yet again.

The relationship of food to climate change threat

The alignment emerging now is awareness of a relationship between our current food system and the over-production of greenhouse gases that sit at the foundation of the climate change crisis. The increased pace of super storms, wildfires, droughts followed by floods, topsoil erosion, and the threats to shorelines advanced by higher water levels, serves as evidence the earth has its problems.

Now comes the realization that meat and industrial agricultural practices are the largest contributor to greenhouse gas creation on earth. The revelation: food production enabled by increased consumption by an ever-growing global population could endanger the planet. The food system specifically meat production and large-scale industrial agriculture, is producing greenhouse gas at a level exceeding the contribution of all forms of global transportation combined. Current GHG levels outstrip any prevailing public policy or naturally occurring solution that would lower it sufficiently to address rising earth temperatures and their impact.

  • As this knowledge becomes more widespread it will usher in a new era of calculation on favorable brand attributes, specifically carbon footprint. Advantage will go to brands that provide evidence of their sourcing and production processes that work to mitigate contributions to greenhouse gas creation.

Many plant-based brands have already stepped into this arena by invoking climate change in their stories. Some brands have already begun including carbon footprint claims on their product packaging or menus (Panera, Chipotle and Flora plant butter).

Fast on the move is another generation of new product concepts that employ the latest techniques in fermentation and microbe use designed to step away from the agricultural production chain entirely and thus advancing a new cadre of claims and benefits associated with climate change.

Brand activism and brand voice

We have long lauded those incredibly advanced brand ethos players like Yeti who have injected new-found lifestyle associations and deeper meaning into their brand personas. These companies take consumer lifestyle very seriously and operate as mirrors of people who, in Yeti’s case, are devoted to outdoor adventure – or at least aspire to do so.

Now a new battlefield emerges for brands that take the socialization of food and food production to a new level. These informed brands work to answer both the coming tide of planet-level food scarcity and the impact of our global agricultural system on greenhouse gas creation.

Thus we envision a new phalanx of emerging brands that weigh in on such important topics, working to associate themselves with the activist mindset of consumers wishing to vote their preferences via the food purchases they make.

Supporting regenerative agriculture practices will be one area we expect to rise in importance in the year ahead. The potential exists now to help support a new view of farming practices that can help turn farmland into the world’s largest carbon sink. These kinds of stories and the behavioral moves by brands to embrace this new thinking will mark a new era and opportunity in brand communication.

  • As consumers increasingly view purchases as a flag of their beliefs, it is vital that brand communication strategy advances to lead this conversation and facilitate the dialogue in social channels.

It’s coming faster due to the cultural shift now underway that aligns food production with climate change, making activism a part of the purchase decision. Failure to recognize this coming shift could put brand relevance at risk and hand competitive advantage to those who are already moving to answer this form of brand activism.

  • If further guidance on this evolving path is of interest to optimize your brand’s higher purpose-related messaging and story creation, we can help you determine the right path and create the right story.

Use this link to start a fresh conversation around questions you have about this emerging change-in-motion.

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.

Creative agency services

Time to test drive fresh thinking?

November 5th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Emergent Column, Emerging brands, Integrated Communications, Public Relations, Retail brand building, storytelling 0 comments on “Time to test drive fresh thinking?”

So much has changed during the last few months.

Like many we talk to you might be wondering:

  • “Does my current marketing plan still hold up given everything?”
  • “Am I missing something here that could be the difference-maker?”
  • “I’d love to get some fresh eyes on this, but where?”

Every brand in the food, beverage and lifestyle space is going to encounter barriers to growth and unforeseen disconnects in brand communication.

We are focused entirely on helping you leap over these impediments and challenges. We do this by applying our unique ability to weave innovative strategic guidance together with insight driven communications.

The result is transformational acceleration of your business results.

We know it’s difficult to let someone new in the door before fully trusting the players involved. That’s why we’re happy to take on projects that serve as a commitment-free test drive of our work.

You might need fresh thinking on:

  • Transformational strategic guidance and brand refresh
  • Building a compelling messaging platform to optimize your brand storytelling
  • Creating optimal social channel content and credible earned media attention
  • Producing the ultimate video-based story to differentiate your brand and business

Let us know if you are open to a conversation about your next win. We can bring a fresh perspective to a challenging problem or address a specific new product or category creation need.

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.

People want to buy their food from other people

Pandemic launches disruption of modern supermarket model?

October 14th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, shopper behavior, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Pandemic launches disruption of modern supermarket model?”

Symphony of logistics becomes an orchestra of societal values

For the last 30 years or more, supermarkets have operated as a highly-choreographed dance of sourcing, merchandizing and value pricing all stage-managed with intricate daily replenishing management of same. It is, in many respects, a remarkable achievement that provides the lowest cost-to-quality food on earth in an assortment depth that is the envy of the rest of the planet. The grocery store has stood as an assurance of food quality and availability, yet now arrives precariously at a moment of transformation that is far beyond the mechanics of coming in-store robots, the challenges of e-commerce friction and assorted home delivery platforms.

Strategic shift underway

Food retail may also be the most visible in-your-face demonstration of traditional brand marketing strategies borne of the post-World War II consumer packaged goods explosion; focused on a more impersonal and product feature-and-benefit form of consumer communication.

A sea change started to emerge in recent years based on an evolving consumer mindset driven about what matters most to them on the path to purchase. Witness the emergence of health and wellness as a primary driver of consumer preference, the attention now paid to transparency and supply chain integrity and a growing concern over food safety practices. All of these emerging trends have eclipsed the traditional purchase motivators of taste, price and convenience.

The Great Pandemic of 2020 pushes the envelope of change faster and farther as consumers not only connect the dots between the quality of the food they eat and their quality of life, but now see retailers and brands as active participants in their social and societal concerns and growing activism.

Two fundamental impacts of COVID 19 on behaviors and attitudes

  1. The pandemic has served to reveal the inescapable, searing questions of economic inequality, exclusion, racial prejudice and its unfairness while lighting a fire to address and solve these inequities. How this plays out will require sensitivity to the issues and strategic planning to address it openly and visibly in policy, procedure and behavior.
  2. On another front, at one time consumers aspired to improvement in their lifestyle through status signaling in conspicuous consumption of brands that elicited those feelings of aspirational identity. However, today this has fallen away, shed by a pandemic that has entirely recalibrated what matters to people. Today a brand reputation is enhanced by its social, cultural and environmental values.

Brands and retailers must add responsiveness to a requirement for higher purpose, generosity in behavior and social improvement to their actions. Do you think this transformative insight has fully translated into how brands and retailers package their story and represent themselves in the marketplace? I would say no. Or not yet, while a few are in the starting blocks and getting ready to claim their competitive advantage.

Recasting the supermarket business model

Here we find ourselves in a moment of mechanization. Robots. Digital ordering platforms. Supply chain optimization. Experiments with drones. Electronic grocery carts. Wringing more efficiency in an effort to get product A into hands B more quickly, efficiently and at lower cost.

Nothing wrong with any of this, except it may inadvertently mask the cultural trend changes that argue for a different priority around how supermarkets organize their business for success and relevance to the consumer they need to keep. Technology has its place, but there is a more human need arising that should be considered strategically, as customer-centric planning becomes a top priority.

Let’s go to the ground on this together, where the food culture ‘rubber’ meets the consumer relevance road:

For over a year we’ve been reporting on the shift to home-based meal consumption and cooking. A fair question then: what does the massive pivot to home cooking mean to supermarkets? We’re not talking about the obvious of selling more products, more often for more occasions.

The intimacy people have with food and its preparation is increasing. There’s another form of ‘closeness’ that is percolating underneath as a potential component of retail strategic uniqueness and differentiation – the two components of sustainable business growth.

People buying food from people

You may recall there was an era prior to the maturing of efficient retail when people knew the sellers and makers.

A relevant story: awhile back I had the honor and privilege of meeting Glen Kohn and his business partner at a networking event staged by Chicago’s impressive food brand incubator, The Hatchery. Later during a deeper get acquainted meeting, Glen spoke in detail about his company Prevail Jerky, an emerging super-premium brand of clean, high quality jerky snacks offering an array of culinary forward flavors.

He told the story of how his wife had food allergy challenges. He wanted to make a jerky his wife and family could enjoy. You see Glen was a smoked meat mastermind who had a personal passion for barbecue, smoking proteins and making his own bespoke jerky. He set out to perfect this high protein snack with a recipe that stripped away the legacy bad-for-you allergenic ingredients and use of nitrates, excessive sodium, artificial flavoring and sugars that dogged this dried packaged meat category since inception.

More magical in my opinion is a preparation technique, and he won’t say exactly how he does it, that improves the eating experience by making the meat less tough and chewy. Ultimately what we have here is another improved, higher quality, better-for-you product in a legacy category, with a personal story behind it. In effect, the food quality is guaranteed through Glen’s personal journey.

Even before the Pandemic sent us behind closed doors and placed an even higher premium on human contact, personal relationships were making a comeback. People want to know who the makers of their food are, where they come from, what they are about and how that translates into the product they’ve created.

  • Increasingly, we see the aisles at food retail stocked with new brands built by a person, not an R&D lab or innovation department. What was once a hall of impersonal, faceless brands, is turning into a showcase of businesses that acquire their social value through consumers’ desire to support an actual, real-life maker.

Makers bring with them values, beliefs, mission and unique standards of quality that provided deeper meaning past the better recipe. Here’s the strategic twist: while local sourcing has been popularized recently, this nuance stretches the idea further to what we’re calling Local-ism.

People now look at purchases as a statement of what they believe is important rather than flags of social status and prosperity. They are voting their beliefs and values with their wallet. The checkout lane is a voting booth. They are electing product winners with a voice, face and story. The intimacy with food goes deeper. The sense of community building gains a whole new perspective. The store is an aggregation opportunity for these stories-as-brands and a place where they can be brought to life.

  • Now retailers have an opportunity to move past the old-school model of being a seller of boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity on hyper-thin margins. Food retail can disrupt itself by becoming a form of neighborhood cooking club that respects the environment and the farm while supporting people who craft new food solutions that come to market with a soul. Doesn’t sound like a distribution center for factory food, does it?

What was once impersonal, transactional and formulaic, takes on some of the pastiche of the corner market where the buyer knows the seller, meets the maker and real trusted relationships take root. This is not in conflict with technology and robotics but is rather an important reflection of consumer insight to better guide retail strategy and banner differentiation.

How to think about this: efficiency only goes so far. Becoming a more human-focused business that embraces the emotional investment people have in food, its provenance and related quality is a path to relevance that beats yesterday’s reliance on store location and lower pricing to create competitive advantage. Amazon may have a tougher time with this kind of thinking.

Recommendations on humanizing food retail

  • Optimize your aisles and product assortment to feature local and emerging brands with a maker story.
  • Use your content creation platform to provide a voice for their stories – and a real, relevant reason for your customers to feel connected to the products they buy at your store.
  • Serve this up in a context that works in people’s lives around meal and snack solutions. That’s the foundation for relevance for the food-savvy consumer.
  • Marry and merge your indulgent food strategies with better-for-you as the relationship between these two draws ever closer.
  • Look past the coupon to start creating other experiences both digital and in-store that showcase your love for food adventure and culinary creativity. Love of food is something you can immediately demonstrate to your shoppers.

When you become highly differentiated, unique and relevant to people, your need to rely on heavy advertising spend to generate traffic declines. When you become remarkable in your shoppers’ eyes, people talk about their experience. Word of mouth is still the most effective form of marketing outreach at your disposal. It is an outcome of remarkable-ness.

Changing perspective may be hard to do because retail traditions and embedded thinking are more about logistics and efficiencies than experiences and food adventures. When the name of the game for decades has been how can we deliver food most cost-effectively – somewhere, we’ve lost sight of the real people who are buying the food – and meeting their needs beyond assortment and price.

When you can see merit in bringing to life the voices and stories of food makers and create ways for buyers to meet them, it lifts your banner above competing mostly on price and product range. That’s a race to the bottom no one wins and plays right into the hands of the endless digital shelf.

A supermarket chain CEO once said to me, “if you walk our office halls on any given day you may find it hard to determine if we’re in the food or hardware business. So much of what we do is too far removed from emotional connections to food and what people use it for.”

You just need to fall in love with food and its ability to transform people’s lives.

If this conversation gets you thinking and you would like to explore it further with like-minded people, use this link to start a conversation without any expectation of a business relationship save we made new friends.

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.

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