Every successful food product is built upon a story, however fascinating or simple it may be. Bringing a new food product to market requires all the moving parts associated with actual production and distribution, plus something more.
Much of consumer marketing has to do with identifying where your product stands out. Maybe packaging sustainability is a defining feature, or perhaps you have developed a way to deliver a coveted product at an irresistible price point.
It is not enough to differentiate your food product based on how it tastes. You must also drill down and identify the real message your product delivers. Maybe that message is, “You can get dinner on the table 25 percent faster with all the flavor of a home-cooked meal,” or maybe it is “We make our product exactly how it has been made in its country of origin for 150 years.”
Knowing the story behind your product is the key to identifying how you will compete. There are some products that simply cannot compete on price, but that is not necessarily a handicap. If the convenience, flavor, or exceptional ingredients mean it will never be a budget brand, that is fine, as long as you know on which elements you plan to stake your competitive advantage. Before you can map out where you want to go, however, you must know where you are right now.
Evaluate the Status of Current Product Recognition
Does anyone know about your product? Maybe this product is so new that nobody aside from the people who developed it know about it. That is okay, as long as you know your starting point.
Building brand awareness can and should be done through multiple channels. Handing out free samples in person is one way to do it, and distributing coupons is another. Social media can make a great milieu in which to build up brand awareness due to the rapid, broad distribution of message and interactive nature of social media. At a sampling event, for example, you could make arrangements for a local artist to create a live “social media wall” that makes the perfect Instagram background for use by the people who are trying out your product.
You can gain some idea of product recognition from your brand or product’s social media data. Your goal is to learn whether your product resonates with its target market. You can do so in many different ways, such as by analyzing trends for your branded keywords. Various analytics suites can help you learn, for example, which branded keywords are growing in popularity and which have led consumers directly to your website.
Assess Perceived Value and Consumer Preferences
“Perceived value” can mean a number of different things. Value may be a function of price or quantity, but it may also be a function of quality. Within the concept of “quality,” there are many variations. Depending on your target audience, you will want to emphasize certain aspects of value more than others.
For example, if your target market is parents of small children, “value” may have to do with convenience, or the fact your product is offered in larger quantity bundles than competing products. On the other hand, if your target market is older adults, availability in smaller, or single-serve quantities could be an advantage to emphasize.
Perhaps your target audience consists of environmentally-conscious Millennials. In this case, you could emphasize perceived value in terms of your company’s sustainability practices, minimalist packaging, or ease of package recycling.
Assessing perceived value requires that you understand your target market thoroughly and understand what piques their interest. Only then will you more fully understand what specifically they value about the food products they buy, so you can adapt your developing consumer marketing strategy accordingly.
Identify and Manage the Stages of Your Product Lifecycle
What is the overall context of your new food product? Is it an entirely new product, or a relaunch of an older product? How well you manage the lifecycle of your product affects how well you can market it and how quickly you can take it to market. Understanding the product lifecycle of your particular product requires steps such as:
- Evaluating the product’s nutritional value
- Identifying any allergens that must be called out under FALCPA (Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act)
- Calculating the costs to go to market
- Identifying and implementing necessary quality control checks
- Maximizing the use of your raw ingredients
- Developing packaging and labeling that meets all regulations and requirements
Particularly if you plan to distribute your food product through mass retailers, or across a wide geographic area, you have to have outstanding product lifecycle management to fulfill orders in a timely manner and ensure future orders from the channels that distribute your product.
Explore Distribution Channels and Potential Buyers
Which distribution channels make the most sense for your food product? Choosing distribution channels is a crucial business decision because it influences the speed with which your product is delivered to consumers. You may not think of choosing distribution channels as an element of your consumer marketing strategy, but it is. Several factors influence which distribution channels and potential buyers you choose:
- The type of food product. Perishables, obviously, must be distributed more quickly than non-perishables, for example.
- Your market. If you are selling to consumers, your distribution channels will be different than if you are selling to other businesses (like restaurants).
- The need for intermediaries. With some products, middlemen can ensure efficient distribution and may be a cost-effective choice.
Choosing your distribution channels may be influenced by the channels your competitors use. Do they have an advantage over other channels? Has the industry always operated in a certain way, and if so, is there a reason for that? Do not neglect to examine distribution channels your competitors do not use. If they have overlooked a particular channel, you may gain a unique angle by choosing that channel as one of yours.
You have to examine costs and benefits of various distribution channels, because your company will have to develop all the necessary support systems for using them, and in some cases, this may require the creation of infrastructure you do not have. Do not commit resources to a distribution channel until you have carefully weighed all the costs and potential benefits.
Conduct Market Research and Begin Strategy for Gaining Market Share
Realize that in many food product categories, you will grow your share of the market by taking it away from someone else. Line extensions, expansions into additional sales channels, or creating joint ventures with compatible non-competitors are some of the ways brands do this.
You can do some market research in a close-to-the-consumer way by, for example, selling your new product at local farmers’ markets for a period of time. Not only can you see how well the product sells, you can gain more input about pricing, and learn more about which types of people buy it. You can ask customers which supermarkets they frequent and ask them directly for feedback, such as how long a container of your product lasts in their household.
If you plan to use retailers, learn what criteria various retailers use when they consider which brands and products to carry. Some will expect you to offer marketing support including things like providing samples, offering specials, or using coupons. Though the specifics of your market research will be unique to your business, there are several key steps to the process that most brands use:
- Identification of target market
- Learning target market’s spending habits
- Understanding consumption trends
- Projecting a target market geographically
- Understanding the competition
- Knowing your product’s strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities
Develop Packaging and Presentation
Packaging design and branding should not be separate endeavors. There are many cases in which the packaging itself is an integral component of branding, such as with the iconic shape of Coca-Cola bottles. Packaging for food products must adhere to numerous safety and nutritional regulations, and there is no getting around it. Additionally, packaging and presentation must communicate branding and brand benefits, all while protecting the product from damage, spoilage, contamination, and tampering.
Primary packaging is the packaging that holds a single retail product unit, such as a box of cereal. It must follow prescribed labeling regulations, and many food products use primary packaging to include instructions on use or preparation. Primary packaging can be a tremendous asset for branding, especially for products that are sold through retailers.
Secondary packaging is what holds together a single wholesale unit of a product, such as a case of cereal boxes. This packaging is primarily designed for retailers, and though it does not have to carry the type of nutritional or ingredient labels that primary packaging does, it will still be labeled and have brand marks. It is more practical than brand-building. The same is true for tertiary packaging, which is designed for efficient shipping of large quantities. Pallets wrapped in plastic are examples of tertiary packaging.
Secondary and tertiary packaging may not be consumer-facing, but it will be retailer-facing, and the more you do to make your secondary and tertiary packaging amenable to handling, unloading, and stocking displays, the more appreciative the retailers will be.
Build Your Contact List for Awareness in the Trade
Brand awareness among consumers is mandatory, but it is important to also build brand awareness and brand preference within the food product industry. This type of “marketing” is not the same as traditional consumer marketing, but it should not be ignored. After all, retailers and wholesalers stand between your product and retailer shelves, so you are wise to join trade associations, exhibit at trade shows, and generally insert your brand and your company into the industry and its trade activities.
Like it or not, who you know and who knows you are critical factors in your success. Building and maintaining an industry contact list makes sense, even though it is not a direct part of consumer marketing. Building and consistently communicating with your contacts list can turn it into an important and valuable business asset.
Building industry relationships is similar in many ways to building relationships in general in that it works best if you give it genuine effort and give it time. Like social relationships, business relationships should be regularly maintained, not only for strengthening professional bonds but also for expanding your professional contacts.
Develop Long-Term Brand Building and Consumer Marketing Strategy
Developing your long-term brand building and consumer marketing strategy is like a strong thread woven through a tapestry of product launching. An amazing product launch will fizzle fast if it is not undergirded by a strong, long-term consumer marketing strategy. Building brand over the long term begins with answering two key questions:
- How big is the pool of consumers receptive to my brand?
- To what brand characteristic (product features, pricing, distribution, etc.) are they most receptive?
The long-term consumer marketing strategy is not a static document, because market conditions change all the time, as do the demographics for whom your product is intended. Ultimately, the consumer is the center of your attention, or at least they should be if you want strong brand recognition to be accompanied by strong brand loyalty. Finally, you should be aware that the elements that make up your brand, including the brand narrative, the customer experience, and communication will all necessarily evolve, because consumers evolve, like it or not.
Consumer marketing for new food products has its own industry and consumer norms and must be designed specifically for the food industry and the food consumer. It begins with knowing where you are currently with respect to product and brand recognition, product lifecycle, available distribution channels, potential market share, and competitors. Only when you have locked these down and have invested in getting to know your target audience thoroughly do you have the tools and materials needed to create a long-term consumer marketing strategy for your new food product.
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Topics consumer marketing