Posts tagged "food retail"

Digital commerce redirects the future of retail

June 27th, 2019 Posted by CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Digital marketing, e-commerce, food retail strategy, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance 0 comments on “Digital commerce redirects the future of retail”

Profile of refined strategy for brick and mortar

In today’s consumer-driven marketplace, staying ahead of food and lifestyle cultural swings, shopping behaviors and the significant sea changes they create, are the most important considerations to marketing strategy effectiveness. Failure to recognize and address these ongoing shifts can negatively impact brand relevance with core consumers.

Case in point:  increased traction of e-commerce occurring in most product categories consumers’ value is causing a domino effect that will drive the future of successful retail strategy. Consumers are pushing harder on their preference for retail uniqueness, differentiation and memorable experiences. In the first of our two-part series we will look at implications of digital commerce to retail, and in part 2 we’ll peel the onion on what’s coming for CPG brands.

Home is where the heart, wallet and shopping reside

As consumer friction declines in e-commerce purchases and fulfillment, the inevitable move to online-ordering convenience will continue to grab share momentum. This trend is starting to amass a variety of ancillary impacts, such as consumer preference for the exceptional retail experience over the mundane. When the very definition of convenience to satiate needs transfersfromregional zones toarmchairs and screens in the family room, retail businesses are now being challenged  to adjust their optics and embrace new cultural (read consumer) priorities sooner rather than later.

  • This is an inevitable transition. In a recent report from Federal Express, the granddaddy of quick delivery is projecting e-commerce growth will double the number of packages shipped to 100 million per dayby 2026.

The point-and-click ease of fulfilling product ‘wants’ creates a companion outcome: less and less venturing out from the four walls of the residence. More in-home purchase and consumption of everything. More online comparison shopping. More emphasis on consulting consumer reviews. Along with this at-home shopping revolution is a declining tolerance for the routine hassles of destination shopping and the time requirements to drive, park and walk. How far will people be willing to go for a shopping experience that has nothing special to offer — what’s really going to pull them from that point-and-click simplicity?

Experience with the endless shelf of digital commerce will adjust expectations of ‘want it now’ and cause people to be less forgiving of retail out-of-stocks and more limited assortments. With it, the added value premium on exceptional in-store experiences goes up as anything that feels commodity-like will yield to the ease of electronic ordering.

Trends ahead and the emergence of micro-trading areas –

Consider the long-term impacts of the decline in car ownership (once a defining metaphor for personal financial success and independence), alongside the emergence of driverless delivery vehicles and drones. Distance-confining legs, scooters and bikes are increasingly common modes of urban transportation. Witness the explosion of online restaurant and ghost- kitchen prepared food delivery that jumps squarely on the never-have-to-leave-home bandwagon.

As retail shopping becomes increasingly commoditized, there is a growing consumer thirst for scarce and transcendent experiences, more personalization and meaningful relationships with retail banners that matter. This may play against the vanilla, conventional character of some chain store concepts that can feel derivative, common and maybe even a bit boring.

By definition, the chain model depends on consistency and mechanization to achieve operating efficiencies and the ability to replicate at scale. Is it possible to rethink the business paradigm to allow for different designs, footprints and merchandise collections more attuned to the community they serve?

As convenience gets a makeover, with it comes a premium on re-casting what a trading area looks like to smaller circles of proximity. Alongside this condition we observe the continued idealization of the “small town” as a colloquial, romantic reference point for aspirational lifestyles. In urban areas this puts an increasing premium on reflecting neighborhood character and shopping within walking distance.

In Chicago, a fair example of this is Andersonville, a northside city neighborhood known for its Clark Street shopping district packed with unique collectible stores, fashion boutiques, local restaurants – all walk-able within a three-block core. Stands to reason this ‘go smaller’ development favors shopping experiences that mirror the lifestyle characteristics and populace of the neighborhood.

For retail we see five implications for planning strategy:

  1. Increased pressure on the viability of destination shopping centers, as convenience is recast within shorter distances from home.
  2. The rise of smaller footprint store designs that align with neighborhood shopping areas.
  3. Emergence of retail concepts based on lifestyle experience more so than the traditional array of shelves and merchandise. Instead the attractions are ideas, emotion and guidance rather than pushing merch off fixtures (a twist on omni-channel commerce strategies).
  4. Recognition that the future is with those who work to build bonds and relationships beyond just stocking inventory at a price.
  • Expect to see a host of novel ideas develop in service of more relevant lifestyle associations such as on-line dating brand Bumble and their wine bar café concept and Taco Bell’s new hotel.
  1. The bifurcation of omni-channel strategies to embrace exceptional experience that reside inside the retail store front while volume objectives are delivered online. How will this symbiotic hand-off work between high touch retail and digital convenience? Only the seamless survive.

Speaking of smaller footprint concepts, if people are increasingly food shopping for meals and menus more so than stock-ups, does it make sense to force them to search for 7 to 12 items in an 80,000 square foot maze? Can food shopping be made more fun and less of a navigational chore by specializing in what’s for dinner?

ALDI, a darling of grocery hard discount, recently announced an expanded test of their new “Local” store concept in the United Kingdom. The 6,000 square foot stores operate with 300 fewer SKUs than the normal ALDI. Proof that hard discount does not mean absence of insight, relevance and creativity.

Larger trend: ‘Extremeification’ of retail in America

Robinhood, the investment platform for non-one-percenters, recently reported examples of the growing bookends of success between the higher and lower ends of the retail spectrum — while the middle falls away. Restoration Hardware (RH) continues its relentless march towards further upscaling its retail roots. After recently posting a 7% gain in sales, RH stock shot up 25% on the related news of its new chic catalog concepts RH Beach House and RH Ski House. As well LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) and Dollar General are celebrating record highs at the same time in their share prices.

Yoga pant purveyor Lululemon reports Spring quarter revenue of $782 million vs. its period forecast of $755 million, despite increased competition in its category. Last quarter profits hit a record $97 million. Hard discount and heavenly experience collectively show how disparate propositions that lean in heavily on their mission and ethos are advancing.

You have to stand for something — and go all in (go low or go high). In fact that’s really the message here. The future of retail belongs to the innovators who go deep on uniqueness and memorable experiences — which by definition requires focusing the concept and target audience appeal to a specific need and cohort. All things to all people is often a recipe for ambivalence.

Find your core, narrow your appeal, optimize your mission and go for it.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emergent Announces Emerge Partnership with FMI

July 10th, 2018 Posted by CMO, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Growth, Healthy Living, Navigation, retail brand relevance, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Emergent Announces Emerge Partnership with FMI”

Mentoring for the greater good in food and beverage business

Today Emergent formally announces a partnership with the Food Marketing Institute’s new Emerge platform, a forum to help nurture and grow new, developing food brands on their way to potential stardom.

FMI recently created Emerge (love the name!!) as a path to helping its stakeholder base of food retailers and CPG brands, realize growth opportunities presented by investments in developing food and beverage companies. It’s no secret these nascent brands are now gaining shelf space and consumer devotion, often at the expense of legacy brands that at one time dominated the food preferences of American households.

  • At stake for all is helping scale these new enterprises without inadvertently upsetting the proverbial applecart ̶ by violating the product truths and marketing rules that influence their hard-won fan base.

Emergent was established to help food, beverage and lifestyle brands successfully navigate the sea change from interruption style, talk-at marketing and communications to a more healthy lifestyle relevant and participatory model. In keeping with this mission, we have focused also on emerging brands and the distinct differences that govern their go-to-market best practices.

We saw an opportunity through our long-standing alliance with FMI and the evolution now taking place at food retail, to be of greater service and value in helping organizations deal with the seismic changes going on in the industry. We have joined Emerge as a Mentoring partner, there to offer our deep experience and familiarity with how consumers behave and marketplaces evolve, to help these new food ideas gain a faster footing in the race to meaningful volume.

We’ve had the distinct pleasure of meeting and guiding entrepreneurs who are making a difference in their efforts to create a sustainable business while also embracing a higher purpose. This matters to us greatly because we have a mission, too.

Our higher purpose is to influence the health and wellbeing of people by helping improve the food and beverage industry’s efforts to align more closely with preferences for a healthier lifestyle. Our values are their values and vice-versa.

As business people we respect the need for all parties to achieve scale while maintaining the integrity of the original concept and remaining faithful to the principles that guided the creation of the business.

In this, we are Mentors that understand the motivations and desires of those who create these new companies as much as we know intimately the needs of people who buy and consume their products.

For that reason we’re honored to join with FMI in this endeavor to embrace change and be a catalyst for helping the industry adapt. The food industry is unique in its blending of technology and emotion – a perfect alchemy that respects the fact we eat to nourish and experience enjoyment, while recognizing the impact the food system has on the world around us.

Best time ever to be in the food and beverage brand building business!! Thanks FMI for inviting us.

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

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

 

 

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

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

Retail kit growth could impact restaurant business…

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

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

Millennial preference for home cooked meals

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

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

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

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

Boxed food adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food-enthusiastic supermarket?

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

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

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

What’s next for foodservice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?

February 23rd, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, digital tools, food retail strategy, Food service, Social community, Social media, social media marketing 0 comments on “WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?”

Brands look to better manage their own destiny

As we’ve stated many times here at Emergent, the brand that gets closest to the customer wins. Yet a form of strategic separation now descending on the food marketing universe has made it more challenging for brands to manage how that consumer closeness is achieved. These same conditions help contribute to the collapse of traditional media marketing models (about scale and control) often deployed by legacy brands to build and maintain consumer relationships.

As a result, we believe what’s ahead for CPG food may well include a large helping of direct-to-consumer outreach efforts. E-commerce growth has already redefined the business landscape, giving consumers a comfort level with buying products from home.

Retail isn’t going away, online or off, but we think a measurable percentage of the business overall may indeed move to direct-to-consumer platforms.

Meantime escalating brand participation in the “walled garden” of rented audiences in major social channels, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, has also conveyed relationship control to these platform intermediaries. On any given day, the decisions made by these social media giants can be a good thing or bad as their policy changes impact what brands can and cannot do on their platforms.

  • Brands, now forced to reckon with the shift of business to e-commerce, are finding the complexity of cross channel marketing and online engagement has already worked to snuff out the last embers of mass media’s flame. Disappearing with mass media’s grip is the brand’s ability to efficiently leapfrog various forms of retail or other digital gatekeepers to capture consumer brand equity and preference.

Algorithm alarm bell – now what?

Food and beverage companies working to implement their brand-building strategies in social channels find themselves challenged once again, as the behemoth community aggregators like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube adjust algorithms and feed policies making it harder to organically scale audience attention and reach.

In January, the tide turned (the second time since 2016) as Facebook announced yet another round of changes that favor posts from friends and family while diminishing organic post distribution from brands and publishers. Larger, mega-influencers – who must use Pages rather than personal Facebook accounts – will face a similar audience squeeze.

More regulated content policies put greater pressure on brands in social channels to up their shareable post quality game. We believe though, these restrictive conditions will add more value to building direct consumer relationships. This means, thoughtfully reconsidering how best to connect with consumers and deploy tools that sit outside the control of social channel policy moves, through owned channels like Blogs and email (e-newsletter).

Consequently, we believe the model for food and beverage brand building may change in the next three to five years. Pepsico currently projects their annual e-commerce sales to be north of a $1 billion across direct, retailer-owned and pure play (Amazon) e-commerce channels.

Of note, many of the new and emerging brands now grabbing the marketing spotlight in food, got their start in the direct-to-consumer space, where they built a loyal fan following before venturing into retail channel distribution.

  • A classic example: in the personal care category, online brand Harry’s disrupted the legacy razor blade industry by answering consumer frustration over runaway price increases. They successfully constructed a direct-to-consumer subscription model that helped Harry’s deliver a more affordable, high-quality alternative. The new Harry’s brand story, alongside rival Dollar Shave Club, helped end Gillette’s dominance.

As consumer contentment with buying online continues to expand in adjacent businesses, Harry’s recently secured added equity investment to fund another bellwether expansion. This time into other personal care, household and baby products categories that may naturally fit into a subscription model.

Bottom line: selling directly allows the brand unfiltered and unfettered access to consumers. As such it enables a direct flow of conversation without the unexpected shifts that are occurring in third party social channels due to conflicting business interests and priorities.

Behavior changes occurring behind the curtain

We see the shift to e-commerce as an outcome of evolutionary progress – meaning anything that adds measurably to consumer convenience and satisfaction is going to get its day in the sun.

During the last decade consumers spent 12 percent less time shopping, according to Jared Koerten, senior food analyst with Euromonitor International. “Consumers are spending less time shopping (while) looking for efficiencies and ways to save time,” he said. The result is fewer conventional shopping trips while online ordering continues to accelerate.

E-commerce and the digital communications environment will continue to be a major focus of brand marketing strategies. Consumers see the value in reallocating their spare time from shopping trip to other passions and pursuits. Be that as it may, other changes are occurring in the digital universe that impact how closer consumer relationships are incubated.

Emergent’s guidance on optimizing social channel strategy:

  1. Social algorithm changes enhance the valuable role of smaller (nano) influencers and the content they create, while amplifying the need to ensure that influencer relationships are truly founded on aligned interests and subject matter relevance.
  2. Social channel policy changes that depress organic distribution and engagement will necessitate yet again, more pay-to-play activity to boost posts.
  3. There will be diversification of outreach strategies to include more investment in direct paths of communication through Blogs and email.
  4. Rise of User Generated Content as a key component of social media marketing strategy. This tactic helps sidestep the policy changes and hits the right notes on authenticity and value to brand community participants.
  5. In case you’re wondering what form of content ranks highest in shares on social channels: Infographics.

Social channel policy changes and the dynamics of e-commerce may favor a new look for brand marketing that leans in on going direct. With it comes great responsibility in how these interactions are managed – so it doesn’t appear to be just a transactional proposition.

Help over hype – always.

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.

 

 

 

AMAZON GO OPENS TO PUBLIC; RETAIL TRANSFORMATION BEGINS

January 21st, 2018 Posted by Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Marketing Strategy, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “AMAZON GO OPENS TO PUBLIC; RETAIL TRANSFORMATION BEGINS”

Emergent announces retail transformation services

After a year in beta test, Amazon today opens its new high tech retail concept – Amazon Go — to the Seattle public. With it a new era in food retail begins, one that we believe will be transformational on more than one level.

Undoubtedly most of the coming media feeding frenzy will be focused on Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, and the computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion capability that sits underneath their no-checkout-line innovation. Importantly though, at Emergent we’re watching closely how the store is designed and curated to reflect consumer preferences for higher quality, fresh products for either immediate consumption or at-home meal execution.

Food retail has followed a familiar formula for decades, built around a focus on packaged food and pantry stocking. This has defined the shopping experience for a generation. Amazon Go at 1,800 of retail square feet is more convenience store than grocery. But the entire platform is edited to optimize and leverage shopper interests:

  1. Everything matters — and consumer insight informed merchandise selections are critical to match the consumer’s desire for fresh foods and upgraded snack and meal experiences. Carefully edited choice is a good idea.
  2. An on-premise display kitchen conveys the fresh, culinary inspired fresh preparations people prefer.
  3. An array of four to five rotating meal kits brings grab-and-go to full meal solutions.
  4. Integration of Whole Foods 365 store brand products offers its own, embedded quality cachet to packaged shelves.

Elimination of the check-out immediately removes friction from the shopping experience. So, yes, we believe this leap will be greeted warmly by people who have better things to do than stand in line.

The most important shift from our perspective is the product curation itself. Grocery stores ask the consumer to conform to its business model, to serve its supply chain relationships and its legacy shopping format – which is more about stock-ups in an era when consumers increasingly shop smaller baskets looking for just-in-time fresh ingredient meal solutions.

With Amazon Go we now have a food retail concept that religiously follows what the consumer wants in addition to how they want to shop (more convenience). The future of food retail must be centered on consumer relevance rather than just a mirror of routine retail infrastructure and traditions.

So today Emergent also announces our retail transformation services, intended to help food retail bring the consumer to the center of business and strategic planning. At a time when Amazon once again changes the game to secure a greater share of food shopping, Emergent’s transformation services for food retail address improvements to brand mission and go-to-market strategies.

Why does it matter? As Kevin Coupe wrote in his announcement story in his special edition of Morning News Beat, as Don Quixote’s sidekick Sancho Panza opined, “Whether the stone hits the pitcher, or the pitcher hits the stone, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.”

Amazon is the stone. You already know who the pitcher is.

We’re here to help.

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

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

 

Cheese is cheese is cheese

Cheese is cheese is cheese, or is it?

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

Inspiring craft of the world’s longest standing savory solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New era for cheese is now developing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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