Natural Foods Merchandiser

Marketing To Women

Pink may be the color most marketers associate with women, but the color that truly reflects the consumer buying power of the female of the species is green, as in money—big money.

Women do most of the buying in the United States. Market research firms attribute more than 80 percent of all household purchases to women and say women make the majority of buying decisions that affect the health of their family.

Yet few marketers, including natural and organic retailers, make the effort to tap into this lucrative marketplace on an ongoing basis. Why? Ignorance, says Martha Barletta, president of The TrendSight Group, a Winnetka, Ill.-based market research firm that advises clients on effective ways to market to women. She believes a lack of understanding of the new market realities—such as the fact that women bring in half or more of the income in most U.S. households—keep women on a small pink pedestal in the minds of retailers.

But there are compelling reasons to reach out to the fairer sex, Barletta says. The key issue facing food and grocery retailers today is how to compete against giants such as Wal-Mart and Costco Wholesale, which can undercut them on pricing and product selection. One obvious way is to win the loyalty of the most powerful purchasing group out there: women.

How? By giving them what they want—good service and meaningful information about products and nutrition, says Barletta. It's not as though retailers have to start from ground zero. In October, the retail market is on high pink alert as women celebrate the 31 days known alternately as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Women's Health Month. Manufacturers with products designed for health-conscious women—including The Republic of Tea, Clif Bar Inc., French Meadow Bakery and White Wave Inc.—are valuable resources for marketing aids and information retailers can use to reach out to women. It's up to savvy retailers to build on the goodwill engendered during October and extend it so that their store becomes a place where women feel welcome to shop year-round.

Job 1: Service
Consider this: Women work a double day, with 75 percent of women age 25 to 54 employed. In addition to their jobs, says Barletta, women still assume primary responsibility for household chores and shopping. Add to that the fact that many women are also the primary caregivers in the growing number of families requiring elder care.

"Women aren't just busy—they are time starved," says Barletta, author of Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach and Increase Your Share of the World's Largest Market Segment. "Anything you can do to streamline their grocery shopping experience will differentiate you from competition and earn their gratitude. Most are likely willing to pay a fee for added convenience."

She points to retailers like Trader Joe's of Monrovia, Calif., which has stores staffed by friendly and helpful staff. It offers super-fast check-out, unloads customers' carts for them and accepts returns at any time, for any reason with no problem. Barletta also says retailers who provide prepared foods, including casseroles, sandwiches, chicken salad and even homemade, fresh-today, organic baby food, will appeal to busy women shoppers. Allow customers to call ahead and offer to have the family dinner packed and ready for pickup at the customer service desk, she suggests.

Time-pressed women also look for services such as home delivery and online shopping to help ease their grocery shopping pain.

Job 2: Provide Meaningful Information
Visitors to will find more than information about the nutritional bar that Clif Bar Inc. of Berkeley, Calif., introduced in 1999 specifically for women. They will also find information about women's health issues, including articles by a registered dietitian about ways to create a healthy meal plan that reduces the risk of diabetes and breast cancer. Luna Bar brand manager Yana Kushner says special breast-cancer-related packaging last October caused a noticeable sales spike and will be repeated this year with a shipper that offers customers a free CD. The Breast Cancer Fund provides the health information, and its logo and Web address are on the back of every Luna Bar.

While retailers can share this information with women during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there's no reason news about the benefits of certain foods cannot be distributed year-round. "Retailers need to be more sensitive to the needs of women," says Lynn Gordon, founder of French Meadow Bakery, producers of a line of organic, yeast-free breads specifically designed for the nutritional needs of women. "So often I will go into a store and share the information about why our bread is good for women's health. The retailer will say many women have been asking for the bread, but [the retailer] didn't know about it."

Gordon believes retailers looking to differentiate themselves can win the loyalty of women customers by not only providing products they want, but also being proactive and introducing women to new products the store offers to promote women's health.

Yet Barletta warns that addressing women's health concerns entails more than just offering organic options. Retailers should explain why organic is better, but they should also tell women which foods are high in certain nutrients and what health benefits women derive from those foods. Distribute the "article on the little-known but highly relevant properties of fresh apples—antioxidant, anti-asthma, anti-cholesterol," she suggests.

Manufacturers such as White Wave and The Republic of Tea have rallied around the breast-cancer-awareness community to promote their products, and retailers can easily pick up on their rallying cries as well.

Novato, Calif.-based The Republic of Tea, working with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation of Dallas, has developed a line of "Sip for the Cure" products designed to promote women's health and raise money for the cause. Sales of the company's Special Edition Pink Grapefruit Tea have so far helped raise $165,000 for breast cancer research. "Since green tea has been proven to prevent cancer on a number of levels, it made sense for us to develop a product with this in mind," says spokeswoman Debra Amador. To help retailers spread the word, the company offers shelf talkers: brochures that include information on the benefits of green tea and the Komen Foundation, she adds.

White Wave, the Boulder, Colo.-based maker of Silk soymilk, gives away Silk coupons and samples at the more than 100 Race For the Cure events hosted by the foundation. "We feel that the Komen Foundation target aligns so closely with ours—women who are actively searching out a healthy lifestyle," says company spokeswoman Vicky Melen. Retailers can zero in on that target as well, offering women information on the benefits of soy as an aid for battling the symptoms of menopause and high cholesterol while sharing the company's recipes for soy smoothies, soy crepes and dipping sauces.

"Unlike my mother, I learned at a very young age that I could be responsible for my health by watching my nutrition," adds French Meadow's Gordon. "Women are just starting to get more attention from the medical community and understanding the benefits of different kinds of diets. ... Anything retailers can do to educate and build awareness of products can only help."

Connie Guglielmo is a freelance writer in Los Altos, Calif. Reach her at

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 8/p. 22, 24

What Women Want: 5 Ways To Become a Proactive Retailer

Women's buying decisions are not just based on the immediate transaction, but also on the shopping context, including the store image, says Martha Barletta, president of market research firm The TrendSight Group. To create a store where women will want to shop—and, just as importantly, recommend to their friends—Barletta suggests these tactics:

  • Onsite Events. During Women's Health Awareness Month, retailers can host in-store bone-density scans for women, a process she says involves sticking your foot in a machine for a minute. Year-round, the store can bring in experts, such as nutritionists and dietitians, to talk about women's health issues, including a lecture on which foods are highest in antioxidants.

  • Sponsor local events. In return for signage at a local event, provide "restoratives" for donors in the form of fruit, drinks and snacks.

  • Offer "female-friendly" prizes. Instead of product giveaways, Barletta suggests offering time-saving services as part of store promotions. What will appeal to women? Perhaps a dinner for four tailored to their family's tastes and delivered once a week for a month. Or home delivery of fresh flower bouquets for a specified time.

  • Host listening events. Invite a small group of frequent shoppers for an event with hors d'oeuvres and cocktails. Ask them what they like and dislike about the store, what products they would like to see, what information they need (recipes, nutritional guidelines).

  • Create an advisory panel. Ask women customers to sign up for three-month stints as members of a store advisory panel, and give them a special e-mail address they can use to send their thoughts and ideas about ways to improve the shopping experience for other female customers. "You will not only get good ideas," says Barletta, "but create a network of store ambassadors."

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 8/p. 24

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