Fifteen thousand natural products launch every year. Samples tend to disappear off buyers' desks, Expo happens only twice a year, and somebody keeps stealing your copy of The Natural Foods Merchandiser. What's a frazzled buyer to do?
A new initiative from the publisher of NFM aims to ease the frustration of buyers who want immediate, useful information about new natural products—and manufacturers who want to use their marketing dollars most effectively.
New Hope Natural Media's New Products Launch Pad will debut this month at www.newproductslaunchpad.com. It's a searchable, customizable Internet portal that allows retailers to evaluate new products easier, faster and more cost-effectively.
Instead of marketing copy, the site focuses on hard facts retailers need to make buying decisions: prices, ingredients, packaging and availability. It has photos of products, a quick way to request samples or contact the manufacturer, and it's free.
"We heard from retailers that get thousands of new products a week—and a lot of the products just go straight into the trash," says Patrick Rea, director of eMedia for New Hope Natural Media, the parent company of NFM and the Natural Products Expos.
Proprietary research done for New Hope by The Intelligence Agency of Traverse City, Mich., found that even the largest naturals chains struggle with the volume of new product pitches.
"If you have ever paid to deliver the wrong message at the wrong time to the wrong audience, you know it can be done better," says Sherwood Smith, former president of The Intelligence Agency.
Marketers tend to start with promotional materials, then move to product details later in the sales cycle. Retailers want factual details up front, Smith said.
"It's a mystery to me what to stock," a Tennessee supplements buyer admitted.
About 80 percent of retailers surveyed about the New Products Launch Pad said they would use the site and expected it would make their jobs easier.
"This will definitely help me out, since I won't have to sift through so much stuff to get at what is pertinent," one Illinois retailer said.
The New Hope standards department will screen all products that appear on the New Products Launch Pad. Ingredients will be listed so stores can evaluate them against their own product standards.
"Usually we don't see a complete ingredient list until the product is in our store, and by then it is too late," an Oregon co-op grocery buyer said. "We have very high product standards, so if we can see the ingredients prior to ordering, that would make things so much easier for us."
Rea says the product pages include only the information retailers have asked for, such as distribution, case counts, sizes, prices, UPC codes and dates of release, so that products can be searched from any time span from the last year to the last seven days. Manufacturers can provide a link to request samples or contact the company directly.
Manufacturers—who spend thousands of dollars to launch a new product—have responded enthusiastically to the New Products Launch Pad's potential to reach retail buyers quickly, reliably and with credibility. New Hope is a third-party resource that retailers already know through NFM and the Natural Products Expos.
"If this is what the retail market is saying they need to bring in new products, then that is what we should listen to," one beverage marketing manager said.
The coolest feature, Rea says, are the product reviews. Registered retail users may add their comments about any product on the site. "You can read the opinions of other retailers who are making the same decisions you have to, about bringing new products into your store," Rea says. When retailers were queried about what features they would like on a new products site, "that was the one thing they were most excited about."
An e-newsletter feature will enable retailers to sign up to receive information about whatever categories they buy. For example, a frozen food buyer can request e-mails about new frozen items, or a small-store owner looking to build his or her nutrition bar set will receive just new bar listings. Clicking on a listing in the e-mail will link the user back to more product detail on the New Products Launch Pad Web site.
Those preferences can be changed at any time, Rea says, so retailers will get only what they want as frequently as they want and not be inundated by unwanted e-mail.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 84