Posts in shopper behavior

Pet Industry Experts Forecast Future

May 14th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Digital marketing, e-commerce, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, shopper behavior 0 comments on “Pet Industry Experts Forecast Future”

Recession-proof category, but winners and losers

You probably sat down this morning at your kitchen-table-home-office, like every morning nowadays, looking at the screen in front of you like it’s a crystal ball. You’re hoping to conjure certainty in the face of little and gaze at a future with well-defined outcomes and assurances. This can be hard to come by. On occasion it helps to have some of the most experienced minds in your industry offer perspective.

Emergent asked four leading voices in the pet care business to weigh in on current conditions and provide their observations on where the business is headed for the balance of 2020. Helpful news ahead – we summarize the key takeaways at the end of this article.

Despite the economic chaos and roller-coaster conditions at retail, one thing remains steadfast and true – people assign a higher pocketbook priority to furry family members.

The headline: despite the pandemic impact on businesses generally, pet food remains on a trajectory to finish the year ahead of 2019. That said, there will be winners and losers in the battle to come. Retailers and pet parents will remember those brands which were there for them, that communicated to build trust, supported them and remained present – and those which didn’t.

Out of sight is out of mind and some brands have gone underground in the last two months, creating an open invitation for more progressive players to step in and take share. As you plan for what lies ahead, here are assessments and recommendations from experts the industry relies on for guidance.

Participating in this report are:

Mark Kalaygian, Editor-in-Chief, Pet Business

Lindsay Beaton, Editor, Petfood Industry

Glenn Polyn, Editor-in-Chief, Pet Age

Jennifer Semple, Editor, Pet Food Processing

It’s a time of uncertainty and contradictions

  1. Pet brands are trying to navigate uncertainty in the supply chain (meat packing plant closures) on one side and retail sell-through on the other. What’s your best take on the state of the industry’s health and what do you foresee happening in the next six months?

Mark Kalaygian: “Based on what I’m seeing, the industry is quite healthy. All reports are that the supply chain is holding up nicely, with minimal, isolated disruptions caused by logistical issues, as opposed to production problems.” While e-commerce has picked up momentum, “I believe when stay-at-home orders relax, traditional shopping patterns will return,” he reports. “That said emphasis on omni-channel strategies are important when people have a more limited number of shopping excursions.”

Lindsay Beaton: “While stay-at-home orders and social distance concerns may have prevented some people from getting to physical stores, e-commerce saw 77% growth in March as people stockpiled. However choppy sales conditions may continue for the rest of the year.  My gut is pet food companies should look at their e-comm strategies not just for now but as a new standard for doing business.”

Glenn Polyn: “Pet brands are in a good place, all things considered. Any who may be under duress were probably struggling before the pandemic happened.” The grain-free segment, one of the industry’s strongest categories over the last decade, took a sales hit following DCM-related media reports. “Those who were already more impacted by a DCM (grain-free) slow-down may be experiencing added pressures,” he said.

Jennifer Semple: “Pet food is typically a recession-proof industry and is expected to remain one. Package Facts is still projecting 4% growth for the year.” Knowing the importance of impulse buying to some more discretionary categories at retail, “treat sales may well be soft until consumers have a comfort level to go out and shop at the store,” she said.

  1. On the one hand we have evidence that the value proposition for pet ownership is at an all-time high and pet rescue and shelters are seeing a surge in adoptions, yet we’re also observing evidence of balance sheet strain such as some retailers cutting headcount and reducing employee hours. What do you think is impacting the conditions between growing enthusiasm for pets in the home and pet food category fiscal health?

Mark Kalaygian: “The high levels of quality time people are spending with pets, and new ones in the household, could lead to a trade up in food quality to brands carried (mostly) at independents.” Right now, FDM (Food Drug Mass) channels are experiencing a lot of traffic based on consumer response to stay-at-home orders, “there is SKU overlap between big box chain (Petco, etc.) and FDM channel that could create some erosion for big box if FDM shopping patterns persist. We saw a similar dynamic play out during the ‘08/’09 recession. We think food sales will remain strong. However, it will be (increasingly) important to optimize channel strategy,” he explained.

Lindsay Beaton: “It’s true that animal shelters all over the U.S. are seeing adoptions and fosters in numbers they’ve possibly never seen before. Many shelters had to reduce staff or shut down entirely to protect their human workers and volunteers when the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading. The best way to look after their animals was to get them into private homes. With employees suddenly telecommuting or with reduced work hours, communities responded heartily. At the same time, these (temporary or otherwise) pet owners were unable to get to physical stores to take care of their new furry companions. The current conditions have served to speed up an already-occurring migration to online channels.”

Glenn Polyn: “The retailers I have spoken to tell me that their sales are on a roller coaster ride that changes daily. One day there might be a huge wave of customers clearing the shelves only to be followed by the slowest of days with hardly any sales. Some retailers may be cutting staff, and that’s to be expected as customers are mostly going to be seeking necessities. And the fact that pet owners aren’t always walking up and down aisles means they aren’t going to be impulse buying. Considering the pandemic is such a unique event, the wave of adoptions might not be permanent once the nation returns back to some semblance of normalcy.”

Jennifer Semple: “Boston Consulting and IRI reported a surge in pet food sales during March, likely due to panic buying, and followed by a dip. Pet ownership levels are strong but many of the opportunities for impulse purchasing and trying new pet foods and treats are suppressed right now without as many people browsing in physical stores. As communities open up, the drive to feed, nurture and pamper pets will help revitalize the industry. In the near term I expect pet brands will focus on their best sellers, while tracking how consumers are spending.”

  1. What is your best advice to pet food companies working to optimize their plans and navigate current market uncertainty? If you were CEO, what are the top three moves you would make?

Mark Kalaygian: “Going forward, a strong, clear channel strategy is in order in light of e-commerce growth. Independent pet specialty retailers were already paying close attention to how pet food companies were balancing their approach to omni-channel sales before the pandemic struck, and that is only going to increase in the months ahead.

“If I were running a pet food business I would focus on the following: Make sure the supply chain is consistent and working across all retail segments and partners, and not just the larger accounts. No independent pet retailer wants to deal with product shortages while a bigger competitor down the street enjoys high fill rates.

“With a fair amount of overlap already I would consider how to create uniqueness and distinctiveness for brands in independent vs. big box channels.

“Given the growth and shift to e-commerce shopping I would make an added effort to help independents compete more effectively with online specialists.”

Lindsay Beaton: “According to a recent PFI survey, only 11.9% of pet food manufacturers cited ingredient shortages or inconsistent supply as a top challenge. That said it’s better to be prepared with multiple options should any supplier conditions change.

“If I were a pet brand CEO, I would pay attention to:

“Anyone who was already set up for e-commerce had a significant leg up when the pandemic hit and everyone started staying at (and shopping from) home. Now a much larger portion of the pet-owning population has come to understand their e-tail options. Subscription purchasing surged 28% in March.

“It seems wise for pet brands to either be doing business on the larger e-comm platforms or helping specialty retailers make sure their e-commerce platforms are robust and marketed well.

“According to market surveys, by and large consumers are pleased with the way their brands of choice are handling the COVID-19 situation and want to continue hearing from them. When people head online it also means they are doing research there, checking influencer sites, reading product reviews, browsing social channels so it’s important to have your marketing house in order.”

Glenn Polyn: “Communication is vital. CEOs need to ensure the brand message is getting across to both pet owners and to retailers. On the one hand, you want to help consumers realize their pet lifestyle goals to keep pets happy and healthy, and perhaps share their stories on social media channels. Not to be overlooked, now is also the time to create well-written, engaging, interesting stories that help retailers and distributors understand how the company values (and understands) their efforts and how their concerns and needs are being supported.”

Jennifer Semple: “If I were making the calls at a pet food company, I would communicate, communicate, communicate. I would frequently talk to distribution partners, retail owners, competitors and friends in the business to gauge what is resonating with customers, what the customer concerns are, how their purchasing habits are evolving, and I would optimize my processing efforts to better serve what I’m seeing in the market.

“I would also look to diversify to meet another product need, serve another distribution or sales channel, or identify how I could help another company serve their customers better by manufacturing for them.

“Another priority would be to rally the troops within the company. Be open with where the company currently stands, what the immediate priorities are and what the near-term and long-term goals are. I would provide avenues to receive input and ideas from all corners of the company to identify the clearest, most direct path to growth and opportunity. I think many companies are successful because they create a culture of ‘we’re all in this together’ and from that culture gain a better understanding of the company’s true strengths and opportunities.”

Optimism if the right moves are made

It’s cathartic to hear the words and passion coming from those who so closely follow the pet care industry and by virtue of their occupation, have routine detailed conversations with the leaders of many businesses both big and small. Anytime you see the words ‘recession proof’ in a sentence it brings a measure of confidence.

But the challenges nonetheless are steep and varied. Some brands will come out ahead and some will lose ground despite the forecasts. The reason is straightforward: uncertainty can sponsor a form of organizational retreat and withdrawal. While understandable, that condition helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy of defeat. It requires a measure of business moxie to stand in the breach and operate progressively.

Yet that is our call to action to the leaders who read this report. Here, in sum, is the counsel of your pet food prophets:

  • The business remains generally in good condition despite a faltering economy.
  • Communication is a resounding call to action and was repeated over and over for the very reason the experts have taken note of a retreat to silence. Not every story or word needs to be treated like a CIA top security file disclosure. Talking to customers and pet parents is necessary, important and will be rewarded.
  • In a related insight, keep the intel investments going to assess how consumer attitudes and behaviors are shifting within this new cultural minefield they’re living in. To truly know them and their aspirations and concerns is the secret sauce for more effective marketing investments and messaging strategies.
  • Segments of the business driven largely by impulse buying will indeed take a hit until store browsing fully returns.
  • E-commerce is big and getting bigger, and likely to remain an important channel long after the pandemic recedes, so best to map strategy now.
  • When assets are tight and every dollar needs to work like 10, focus on your best sellers and prioritize.
  • Pay attention to supply chain conditions and make sure you have strategies in place should a healthy “Plan B” be required for continuity purposes.

It is important to know that as much as experts see some insulation for the pet food business given the out-sized priority families assign to pets, multiplied by their growing value in a chaotic, less secure world, it is the actions leaders take now that will inform the business outcome later.

Your true north is operating in service of retailer and pet parent needs, aspirations and the health and wellness of pets. Being mindful of consumer concerns and needs can help shape the one thing our experts repeated most often: communicate, communicate, communicate.

Editorial note: Emergent would like to express our heartfelt thanks to each of the editors who participated in this story. We appreciate your time and efforts to help inform the industry.

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.

How to Manage Your Future Success at Retail

February 14th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, shopper behavior 0 comments on “How to Manage Your Future Success at Retail”

The Vital Role of Velocity in the Growth of Emerging Brands

Every new, emerging food and beverage brand is a leap of faith for the founders. It’s also a leap of faith for the retailers who put those new products on the shelf. For this reason, a near universal yardstick is used to determine if the product is a winner and thus a longer-term player, or if it’s a bust and headed towards delisting. That unalterable path to traction and success, or lack thereof, is velocity.

Velocity in simple terms is the repeat purchase data that shows what happens following the initial run-up on trial after a product is launched at retail. The question retailers are attempting to answer: are purchases escalating as users come back again and again while new users continue to enter the top of the sales funnel?

For most new successful brands, a heavy category user audience has resonated to the product and fuels the outcome. Getting to this sweet spot isn’t luck of the draw or guaranteed once the product is on shelf.

There are two primary drivers of velocity:

  1. Memorability – the consumer remembers your brand name and seeks it out
  2. Effectively answering the “why” – every successful food or beverage has a primary ”why” that draws fans in time after time. The “why” can be defined as the primary dietary objective or problem that the product solves.

Both of these drivers are marketing challenges. Yet far too often, we find founders and investors preoccupied with the finer points of securing distribution gains (meeting with distributors and retail buyers), ingredient sourcing and manufacture (getting the product out the door) and financial management of both.

It may appear that the ability to scale the business is best served by adding more retail accounts or driving more traffic to the web site. While in fact, if velocity is not successfully managed, and the memorability and the “why” go unattended, greater risk is injected into the business.

Number one error going in

In the very early going before any brand equity exists, product experience is the primary reason why early adopters come back. Simply said, the promise is fulfilled in the eating and drinking experience. The product taste is a home-run and the expectations on healthier, higher-quality choice are delivered.

This means that in the early periods before any retail scale is achieved, it is vital to seek input and review from the product’s best users to determine if any tweaks need to be made to the recipe, texture or flavor profile. If the product is optimal then added distribution makes sense.

However far too often there’s a false sense of security embedded in the initial product experience win. This may prompt the brand’s owners to mistakenly believe once on shelf the product will sell itself. “If you build it, they will come” is a precarious trail to navigate because other key ingredients in managing velocity goals go unaddressed.

Bandwidth can be a challenge here because there’s already so much on the plate for founders in the day-to-day struggle to get the product made and off to distributors or retail outlets. More often than not, we find that business owners are not expert marketers and can at times assume that marketing consists only of social channel posts or sending out press releases. There’s much more to it than that.

How to manage velocity

Memorability is required to get consumers coming back again and again. This puts greater pressure on the web site, packaging and consumer-facing communication to bring the brand front and center in the context of the consumer’s needs and wants.

However, it is right here where the most frequent fundamental errors are made. Most emerging brands cast the story upside down. They believe the story should be about themselves and their product attributes and benefits. When that happens, the story is embedded with a disconnect right out of the gate, because it casts the brand as the hero.

Every consumer, every day wakes up believing they are the hero of their life story. When the brand presents itself as a hero, it competes with the consumer for that role and people walk on by in search of a guide to help them solve their needs. The construction of the story is paramount, with the consumer as hero and the brand operating as the expert guide and coach on their journey.

The story is about them, the consumer, and their wants, needs, concerns, aspirations, desires and challenges. The consumer needs to find themselves in the story you are telling. Then and only then will they engage and listen.

This is the path to relevance, an essential ingredient in effective marketing strategy.

For the most part new, emerging businesses are b-to-b players, devoting most of their time, energy and communication to investor, trade and distributor audiences. So, it’s no surprise the skill sets in consumer-facing outreach may not be fully developed. The story creation is a top priority and is best done by experienced, creative marketing brains who have the skill sets to build it, and then move the story in earned, owned and (later) paid media channels.

This leads us to the second key element of velocity – the “why”

There’s a key message that needs to be addressed in all forms of outreach from package to outbound communication. What is the primary dietary need or want your product solves that keeps people coming back? Insight research is vital here to determine what the “why” is. Is it weight management? Is it energy? Is it an indulgent reward? Nearly every food and beverage category has a heavy user audience whose purchase frequency is a vital component to achieving velocity objectives. Interviewing these heavy users to get your arms around the “why” is vital to managing velocity because the answer should become a focus of your messaging and hammered everywhere.

People are interesting creatures – we all are – and we never tax our brains if the message is too complicated or dense. Far too often new brands turn their packages into a Heinz 57 variety of claims and benefits in the hopes that one of the many bullets will register. However, consumers will not invest the time and energy to wade through all of that to find something – anything – meaningful to them.

Instead they move on.

Simple, clear, concise messaging is incredibly important especially in a retail setting where the consumer may allocate only a second or two of brain time before they walk past. This explains the importance of the “why” and how it becomes a core area of messaging focus in an effort to simplify what’s being conveyed.

The role of emotion

Another key insight – people are not analytical, fact-based decision-making machines. We are led by the heart over the head. It is the feeling people have in the presence of your brand that impacts whether they are drawn closer or repelled.

Emotional storytelling is important because it respects what we know about people and how they operate. The emotional stories of improvement or change experienced by users can be a vital component of bringing this insight to life. Authentic, real stories are more powerful than the old “that’s why we” tropes of traditional, self-promotional advertising.

“Trusted” is the desired result – and that is best earned through honesty, transparency and a brand voice that is human and real, not ad-like.

Video is an excellent medium for emotional storytelling because words, pictures and music can be combined to achieve that effect. Unscripted testimonials can be valuable here because they’re authentic, relate-able, and honest.

Intentional message design

Words matter. Dialing in emotion, the “why” and a more human, conversational voice are important when creating consumer-facing outreach. It’s harder than it looks and must be done with intention.

When memorability and the “why” are correctly brought to life, velocity outcomes can be managed in earnest. When you know that your heavy users have found themselves and their needs in this incredibly exciting brand and its mission – and are responding as hoped – real velocity management has begun. The scale will come.

We can help you build the right story.

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.

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!

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.

You are now selling sand in the desert…

February 22nd, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, e-commerce, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, shopper behavior, storytelling 0 comments on “You are now selling sand in the desert…”

Navigating the Impact of Infinite Choice

If ever there were a time when sound, informed strategy mattered to the success and outcomes of food, beverage and lifestyle marketing this would be it. Like it or not we’ve entered the era of nearly infinite consumer choices in a media environment of almost countless channels. This requires a new marketing formula.

Thinking at scale today takes on a completely different meaning when consumers are presented with so many options within a click to buy environment. Thus, how should you design for success when you’re ultimately selling sand in the desert? We will answer that question here.

Left to its natural course, food marketing tends to gravitate towards the vanilla middle – an effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience – and in working to address everyone, you end up mattering to no one. When the options are legion this can quickly turn marketing and communication investments into a moonshot without navigation – the hit (or more often miss) driven by luck more than intention.

At various times we’ve written about the importance of putting consumers at the center of strategic planning. Now, we further qualify that statement by saying – in order for a strategic marketing plan to be measurably effective, putting consumers at the center of planning is table stakes. And determining who that consumer is will require even tougher decisions to prune and refocus the definition of the cohort you wish to serve. Why? Because the 80/20 rule is in full force as the vast majority of volume and profit will come from a smaller segment of committed advocates – assuming you’ve planned for relevance to a community of potential believers.

This is the most compelling argument ever for – different

Let’s start with a foundational understanding that the brand must be perceived as special, unique, useful and valuable before there’s any shot at being memorable. No one has the time or mental bandwidth any longer to assess the vast array of options in any given product category. So how do you resolve the reality of inexhaustible choice?

You must start with the intended core user and work backwards. Seth Godin made a cogent observation in his recent book “This is Marketing” when he described the effort behind what may be the most powerful TV commercial ever made – Apple’s “1984” spot for the launch of the Macintosh. The spot aired during the most watched American sports program on earth, the Super Bowl. The majority of viewers would not have understood or probably cared about what Apple was trying to convey in its dark Orwellian mini-movie.

The lesson: it didn’t have to register with everyone to be successful. Godin observed the spot only needed to touch a million savvy creators and early adopters who picked up that Apple was up to something revolutionary. The rest of the viewers didn’t matter, and indeed the rest is history given Apple’s ascent to brand superstardom. Whatever the brand, the audience of committed advocates will always remain relatively small.

It is with the small and devoted cohort where effort and outreach needs to be directed. And those investments should come from a concerted endeavor to push hard at the edges of what’s unique and different in your brand proposition. Here’s the question we often evaluate with clients: how can positioning, audience, product formulation, and the character of the brand, be dialed sufficiently to the right or left so that we’re able to create a new category – one that our client can own?

Who is it for and why?

To dial in your position successfully you then have to know who it’s for and why. It follows if you want to have meaningful relationships with consumers, then imbue your brand with greater meaning. But for whom?

That’s a big question that requires some rigor to answer correctly. Who is going to quickly respond and be drawn like a magnet to your product proposition? Once defined, all eyes and energy must be directed to fully understanding their hopes, dreams, needs and aspirations. Your marketing strategy is then fine-tuned to align with that insight, opening the door for the brand to become an enabler of their wants and needs – in a voice that’s relevant to them – becoming a reflection of their wants and how they’d like the world to perceive their beliefs and priorities.

This is important because purchases now are largely symbolic representations of what people want others to know about what they believe in and think.

The hard truth about marketing

Of note, we’re doing business in an environment overflowing with self-assured claims, assertions and hype. Here’s the difficult pill to swallow: people don’t believe any of it. The counterintuitive basis of effective marketing today is to not look, talk and walk like marketing.

That said, there is a reflexive habit in strategic planning to navel gaze. To focus on the craft of what’s been created, formulated or built. Here at Emergent we totally understand that spirit and where it comes from, after all most brands are justifiably proud of the considerable effort they invest in technology, quality and improvement. But this also sets the table for potential marketing disconnect.

You are not selling a food or beverage

In the same vein as pet food is sold to humans and not to dogs or cats, it isn’t the product that people are buying. What you are actually marketing are feelings, connection, desire, happiness and status. Not stuff, not items, not things in boxes or bags. Not chips or salsa or soup. People are buying a feeling and expression of their status and belief system.

So then, what’s the path to creating a marketing plan with this insight embedded all the way through? It will require all of the hands on the marketing tiller to be empathetic anthropologists of what the biggest brand fans are about.

Here are some areas to focus on strategically:

  • What your audience wants, not what you want to tell them
  • What they believe
  • What they need
  • What they aspire to
  • What story would emotionally resonate with them

The more you invest in seeking to understand, the more likely you are to land on the big idea (one that immediately influences the behavior of the business) and create a voice for the brand that is engaging and is shared. When you seek to improve the lives of your best customers, you earn permission for a relationship with them and the marketing you create comes across less like a transactional maneuver.

If you think this way, it will flow downstream to impact how the business operates. We already know that what the brand does is more powerful than what it says, so there’s an opportunity built into the recipe for authenticity.

Brand trust continues to decline, so the game plan must be to build it, earn it, cultivate it. The reason transparency has ascended to ever higher importance is precisely because people don’t accept anything on face value. Claims and assertions are exactly that. When you verify, validate and reveal the product creation story by letting consumers all the way in, it fosters belief and trust.

10 components of successful marketing  –

  1. You must push for positioning that’s truly unique, different and helps create a new category
  2. Refocus and narrow your audience definition to the smaller community of ardent fans
  3. Devote your insight research to this audience and discover how the brand sits in service of their lifestyle needs
  4. Become an enabler of their wants and desires
  5. Recognize you’re not selling a product but an emotional connection
  6. Activate brand experiences because behaviors speak louder than words
  7. Know that being relevant is more important than being superior
  8. Authentic storytelling to this audience is the path to engagement
  9. Trust is everything…you must earn it
  10. Transparency is the precursor to creating trust

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

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

Home cooked meals

Kitchen Commanders Hold Reign

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

Mining the resurgence of scratch cooking

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

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

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

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

Adventures in culinary experience – at home

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

This makes absolute sense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cornucopia of food brand marketing solutions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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