Whether you're just launching a product or you're a natural channel superstar ready to grow your business, eventually you need to think about appealing to conventional consumers says Chris Cornyn, founder and president of DINE Marketing. His firm works with hundreds of conventional brands to improve messaging, redesign packaging and differentiate from the sea of food products available today.
Here, he offers tips specifically for natural brands.
If a new natural brand would like to eventually be sold in conventional retail, how should it focus its marketing message?
In natural, you need to communicate attributes to both the buyer and consumer that are a lot different than where you'd focus in mainline grocery. You have emotional needs, functional needs and then nutritional needs. A lot of products in mainline grocery stores don't need to address all of those things. When someone is just entering conventional, we look at how to communicate the benefits that were so important in natural in a concise way that resonates with the conventional consumer. That product should speak to them in mere seconds.
There are certain things that mainline grocery shoppers don't care about or that would alienate them that would be totally acceptable in the natural channel. We have a lot of manufacturers that are working to bridge that gap. You obviously don't want to have to have different packaging and different promotions for the same product depending on where it's sold. So we're spending a lot of time thinking about things like, does non-GMO mean anything to someone who shops at Safeway? Probably not as much now, but it's going to eventually. So, how do we communicate those benefits now?
Can you give an example product that's successfully done this?
Jolly Llama came to us. They make sorbets with real fruit. They're non-GMO, but they're much more expensive than sorbets you'd find in a conventional set. They wanted to communicate all the good points about their product—that they're all natural, fat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, no artificial sweeteners, etc. Those are all great things but they needed packaging and positioning that would compete in a mainline ice cream section in a supermarket. We changed the name of the product itself. We figured out what the hot buttons were to a mainline sorbet shopper which were calorie count and vitamins C and A. Then we strategically picked the right messaging so the packaging would work both in the natural channel and in mainline grocery. You don't always have to throw everything out. It's often just sniffing out those common threads that work in both worlds.
What hurdles do you see for natural brands in reaching this audience?
A lot of natural products are very niche. They fit a specific consumer need and audience. How do you translate that product to have mass appeal? A good example is right now we're working with a vegetarian eggplant brand. They make delicious products, but eggplant is a) polarizing and b) not everyone knows the benefits or even what it tastes like. The challenge is how do we take this successful product and give it a new face?
Do you see any trends crossing over from natural into conventional?
I think mainline shoppers are more aware of the functional behaviors of their foods. They're realizing that sometimes it's not flavor versus function, but that function and flavor can go together. You want a product with both hedonic and health benefits. Convenience too will continue to be a priority because consumers need ease of use. That wasn't always a top priority in the natural channel, but it's becoming more so. Also packaging—I spend a lot of time thinking, "How are we going to package this so there's not a lot of waste?"
What's an example of a functional claim that carries conventional value?
In mainline it's certainly calories. Everyone is looking for a snack or indulgence that's under 100 calories—especially with moms. They want something that's not going to make their kids fat. Sources of vitamins are absolutely big. I do believe that it's just a matter of time before GMOs are a concern. But there's still a lot of confusion with consumers between organic, natural and GMO. The natural channel tends to put every little logo and slug on the front of the package. But you need to be delicate about which you put on the front of the package so you don't confuse the consumer.
You coined the term "shelf evident." What does it mean?
The consumer should be able to look at your product and in less than five seconds understand exactly what it is. If you were to go into the market today and really look at the food products on the shelf you'd be surprised by how puzzling some of these items really appear. Second, you should ask what makes this product different from the 40,000 other items in a typical grocery store. It's the, "what makes me me” statement. Don't over think it. It could be flavor profile, functionality, the brand itself. Whatever it is, that must be communicated on the package.
How crucial is packaging?
I have a saying, the package is the product. I would assume that any manufacturer would put a great tasting, truthful food product in a box. The box is often the only piece of advertising or promotion that you have. You can't taste it in a grocery store, you can't smell it, or often see it. We eat with our eyes, and the only way to communicate that is with packaging.
How do most consumers make purchasing decisions?
What's interesting is that 75 percent plus purchasing decisions are made in the store. People come in knowing very little of what they're actually going to buy. Given that, there's a lot of opportunity for brands to impact shoppers' decisions. Our research shows that a product is more likely to end up in their cart if it communicates something that is either unique or fills some life need.