Category Archives: Manufacturing

Attention, manufacturers and distributors: How to sell to restaurateurs

Starting Monday, we will feature excerpts from our interview with Janet Rine, owner of Caffe Moderne.

Our discussion centers on what it takes to earn the trust of an independent owner/operator.

Whether you sell meat, beverages, spices or mixes, you won’t want to miss it.

For now, we leave you for the weekend with a quote from Danny Meyer, the brains behind wildly successful restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and Union Square Cafe. From his book, Setting the Table:

“Be the best you can be within a reasonably tight product focus. That will help you to improve yourself and help your customers to know how and when to buy your product.”

If you don’t take care of customers, you will get “weeded”

And no, “weeding” in this case doesn’t have anything to do with gardening or the Black Crowes.

In this case, according to Yankelovich MONITOR, it means being “blackballed” for superficiality in favor of substance and accountability.

In today’s world of myriad choices, it’s easier than ever for consumers to walk away from brands, restaurants and retailers that they don’t see as honest. After all, why exert the energy and spend the time when you can walk to the other side of the mall or click to another window and get something better.

It’s remarkable how the wisdom of a cousin in grocery retailing and a five-figure subscription to a consumer trend monitor can overlap. Here’s how Cousin Ron and Yankelovich recommend you improve customer service in order to delight and retain customers:

  1. Hire great people. Restaurants, retailers and manufacturers are all guilty of placing too little emphasis on hiring, training and retaining talented and passionate brand ambassadors. Trust us, your more successful peers and competitors do this. No excuses, now. Fix it.
  2. Remove the word “no” from your vocabulary. You have two choices. Make it happen or be willing to risk the customer moving on to something better.
  3. Don’t wait for them to ask you. If there’s even a slight chance a question might arise, publish an answer to it on your Web site and prepare your people to be able to answer it.
  4. Show caring through customization. Every neighborhood is different. Every market segment is unique. That’s why they’re called neighborhoods and segments-because they’re full of neighbors and segs who want something a little different. Wherever possible and profitable (especially long term), give it to them. It shows you care, and it builds loyalty.

Have a profitable, customer-focused, consumer-friendly day.

In honor of Michael Phelps: A new way to think about counting calories

Today, let’s talk about a different way to think about calorie intake or “share of stomach.”

In one of our first posts, we addressed the problem of obesity in this country, trying to add a dose of sanity to counter the notion that the food industry is solely to blame for it. We pointed out that the decisions people make about diet and exercise, along with genetics, also factor into the equation. But basically, it’s calories in, calories out.

If you’ve been following the Olympics this week, you might have heard that 14-time gold-medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day to keep his engine going.

Phelps also swam about five miles a day during the Olympics. If that sounds like a lot of exercise, that’s because it is. To put it another way, conventional wisdom is that swimming five miles is like running 20 miles. Imagine running 140 miles in a week.

Unlike Phelps, most of us need far fewer than 12,000 calories to keep our motors running. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization say the average American consumes about 4,000 calories a day.

That’s still a fair amount of calories to count. And the reasons for consuming those calories are numerous and diverse:

  • To satisfy hunger
  • To experience flavors and textures
  • To soothe emotional wounds
  • To celebrate achievement

We talk a lot in our business about share of stomach. Usually, we’re talking about our share versus our competitors. We ought to be trying to learn what types of emotions and activities are responsible for what percentage of our target consumers’ caloric intake.

Make sure you’re taking a detailed account of WHY your customers are buying and consuming your brands.

At every point possible in the buying process, take advantage or opportunities to ask questions. Put questions on coupons. Offer discounts for answering questions. Put surveys on cash register receipts.

This next part will seem a little foreign to some people. Rather than asking about satsifaction with the product, ask your consumer about themselves. Ask them why they made the purchase when and where they did. People would much rather talk about themselves than you.

It’s a natural thing to ask, and the answers will tell you the language, tone of voice and venues in which to best communicate to your targets when they’re making their food choice.

Have you hugged your logistics manager today?

We do a lot of work for a lot of different clients, including food clients. But most all of our clients do some sort of manufacturing. And that means they have stuff to deliver.

And sometimes, the wrong stuff is delivered. Or the right stuff is delivered at the wrong time. Or both are wrong. It can get ugly.

But here’s a little something we’ve learned for you to chew on today. It comes from talking with loads of procurement people and buying decision-makers in many channels and industries.

Time and again, they tell us:

“Communication is the key to our hearts. If it’s going to be late, give us fair warning. If there’s a problem with the shipment, call us before you short us so we can be prepared or work something out. We can handle the truth, not matter how unappealing it might be.”

People make mistakes. Buyers understand that. But they would rather buy from honest people who admit their mistakes and try to help fix them.

Homework Assignment: Experience Your Product

This weekend, pick your most favorite store and your least favorite store.

Shop for regular items as you would normally.

Take note of the one thing you love and the one thing you absolutely despise about the respective stores.

Think about how the one thing endears you to your favorite store while the other’s negative quality keeps you from shopping there. Get to the visceral emotion you feel as a result.

Now that you’ve experienced both euphoria and frustration, think critically about your own product. What is it that can alternately exhilarate and frustrate consumers about your product.

Is it hard to open?

Is it too sweet?

Is it just the right portion?

Is it easy to pour?

Make a list of the pros and cons of your product. Get crazy and list even the things that seem like completely unreasonable objections. This is an inexpensive way to identify weaknesses and threats after putting yourself in the frame of mind of a judgmental, fickle consumer.

Have some fun this weekend.

Portable + Tasty = Profitable

OK, class, it’s time for equations.

Nature Valley Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bar + Gatorade G2 = BREAKFAST

Slim Jim + Handi-Snacks Crackers ‘n Cheez + apple = LUNCH

Capri Sun juice pouch + Cheetos snack size bag = AFTERNOON SNACK

There’s no need to get scientific here. If you can make it portable, you’ve just increased your food product’s chances of being relevant to consumers, and thus, purchased by them more often.

We need to make it happen. Especially with food products that are truly commodities. It’s that simple.

There are challenges, though. For example:

  • How do you balance freshness with portability, i.e. how do you make a tasty steak portable?
  • How do you balance “natural” with portability, i.e. how do you cut back on preservatives?

Technology and creativity can help solve these problems. After all, we’ve turned cranberries into a tasty snack called Craisins, made fruit into fun strips and created shelf-stable milk. We should be able to give consumers more protein, fiber and carbohydrate food options for life on the go.

The Localization of Food Brands

Once, long before she had celebrated her Bicentennial, America had a local-regional food system.

The Spoon is not quite 40, but there used to be a dairy that supplied reusable milk bottles full of ice-cold milk just across town from where we lived. There was a meat market. And a bread store. It wasn’t until 1978 that the one-stop supermarket really started to show up in our part of Middle America.

This is important to consider because consumers have started a dull roar of demand for a return to this type of specialization and localization. Why? There are several factors. Their order of importance depends on the individual consumer.

  • Health. This is number one. In surveys, people cite freshness as the top concern about food. According to a survey by Yankelovich, they also equate freshness with health. And when they know their food came from someplace nearby, they feel it is fresher, healthier and safer to eat.
  • Altruism. People believe they are helping out their local economy, but more especially farmers, when they “buy local.” Consumers also tend to believe that “the little guy” has less of a negative impact on the environment, lending additional “greenness” to their purchase.
  • Quality. Aside from food safety concerns, consumers tend to report that locally-produced products taste better, have better texture and perform better in recipes. They are also usually willing to pay more for products that travel lesser distances and are grown using practices that are inefficient.

Whatever their reasons, Desmond Jolly a retired professor from the University of California did important work that shows there are plenty of reasons to believe this emerging trend is not going away. He sees it as more than just a luxury of the coveted wealthy segment of America. Interestingly, one survey showed 55 percent of households buying these foodstuffs earned over $60,000 per year, meaning almost half of such households earned less than $60,000 per year.

Researchers point out that going local may also be a way to negotiate many challenges, from improving pre-natal health of low-income mothers to providing as yet untapped career opportunities for new generations of American workers.

To paraphrase Eastern philosophy, this ox is small right now, but it is growing. We can choose to put a yoke on it now and benefit from its strength, or we can look on in horror as it tramples our crops.