Category Archives: Merchandising

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.

Shopping and Mood are Strongly Correlated

We were surfing MSNBC to get the latest US medal count when we came across this little dandy:

“Shopping in a lousy mood will cost you.”

You’ve heard how hungry shoppers spend more? Well, a study shows the SADDER you are, the more you spend. Check it out here.

The good news for food marketers is that shopping can actually LIFT your mood.

Can’t you just see a whole new line of weekly supermarket promotions?

Perk up your disposition with outrageous deals on asparagus and T-bones.

Give your mood a lift with this week’s stock-up sale on meat.

Feeling blue? Our two-for-one blueberry special will fix you right up!

It may seem trite, but this study adds to the credibility of our conventional wisdom that there is a strong relationship between the visceral feelings and the act of buying something.

People are less likely to SEARCH for a solution than to REACH for the nearest solution to their discomfort. We happen to be selling one of their favorites: FOOD.

Traditionally, we’ve focused almost completely on price. What if circulars were more about promising feelings than discounts?

Obviously, it’s something that will require a delicate balance in the current economic climate, but it bears repeating:

Emotion sells and emotion spurs purchase.

Stylish AND Cheap Sells; Good Advertising Helps

Just because we advocate appealing to people’s heightened dollar-value consciousness doesn’t mean we necessarily advocate abdicating style, fun and intellectual and emotional appeal.

What do these things have in common?

a. Burger King Whopper Jr.
b. Taco Bell bean burrito
c. McDonald’s Big N’ Tasty
d. Wendy’s Small Frosty

We’ll give you a hint: They’re all available for about a buck on the value menus of their respective QSRs (quick service restaurants).

In a recent post, we talked about how fast and cheap seem to be winning out, at least if three-year stock performance is any indication.

But as we’ve also discussed, being fast and cheap, even under the threat of rising prices and reduced productivity, isn’t enough. Consumers want it all, remember? And they’re always right. You have to be cool, stylish and lifestyle-relevant while satisfying the more mundane elements of the value equation.

So, once again, we sing the praises of the Golden Arches. “What makes them so great?” You ask. Check this out.

Hot (at least half the time) food, wrapped in paper and set on a tray is nothing special. That’s where advertising comes in.

Food, any kind of food, fast food included, has numerous close substitutes. And regardless of what we tell ourselves, there’s only so much we can do to the product itself. We can improve service, make the experience more exotic and, importantly, we can create an expecation or reinforce a decision with the use of properly placed, relevant and compelling advertising.

In a world with hundreds of different fast food options, McDonald’s makes people feel good about having just visited one of the chain’s thousands of locations by reinforcing their choice with messages like the Chicken Dance commercial.

It may not get you to run right out and by an Extra Value Meal. But it will reduce the cognitive dissonance that many people feel before, during and after eating at the restaurant. “I really want the burger and fries, but I know that later I’ll feel like I could have made a healthier choice. Still, it’s always so satisfying.”

It doesn’t hurt that this particular ad is tagged with a shot of a seemingly healthy wrap, Dasani bottled water and a fruit/yogurt parfait. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that many of us won’t be ordering that particular combination of menu items.

But that doesn’t matter. McDonald’s has given us the options, shown us how much fun their brand adds to our lives and simply asked us to make them a part of our lives. It’s not a push-y strategy at all. They’ve even toned it down on the promotional offers, specials and movie tie-ins. It’s not all about product and price.

If McDonald’s and Wal-Mart can do it, smaller competitors who trail them better take notice.

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.

Vacation Snack Odyssey Day Three: Does a Bear Like Snacks?

Apparently, the answer to that question is an unqualified “Yes.”

Early one morning of the trip, the Spoon walked out and discovered a mess from what looked to be a week’s worth of trash strewn all over the driveway, about 50 feet from where it should have been in the storage shed. (See photo above.)

And not far from the three-dimensional multimedia collage was a telltale sign that the culprit was of the ursine variety. That is, this bear left an apparent sign of his approval of the feast in the form of a nice pile of bear scat.

So in the spirit of our vacation’s theme, we give you the bear’s list of favorite human snack food.

  1. Coca-Cola. This seemed to meet with the bear’s approval, judging from what looked to be teeth marks in the cans that had previously held the corn-syrup equivalent of sweet nectar. Maybe the folks in Atlanta have a new spokes-species.
  2. Cantaloupe. Again, something sweet seems to be what pleases. Or at least it was worth ripping the door off a shed to get to. Of course, most of what was left in the trash had been peel, so a little roughage was seemingly in order, as well.
  3. Bacon drippings. Yep. The bear likes a little porkbelly grease. Given the similarities between the omnivorous habits of humans and bears, perhaps there is a product line extension opportunity in here for the hog producers and packers: Bear Hollow Bacon Drizzle. Mmmmm.

A Small Town Grocery Store and So Much More

Whether it’s Washington, D.C., or Lamar, Colo., (pictured here), Safeway does so many things right. We’ve worked with Safeway for a few years now, but we’re always observing new things.

The small-town version of the store proves you can be small town and still stock the essentials and so much more, from an extensive line of yogurt to gourmet soft drinks to select Washington cherries for pies or for eating out of hand.

With a little local color, of course. The assistant manager insisted on helping with our groceries (including four six packs of Henry Winehard’s root beer because it’s not available back home) and kept them aside while Mama Spoon finished some other shopping. And you’re not going to see the extreme low prices on meat that’s getting close to expiration date in every market. It just feels right here.

The Safeway store brands, such as Rancher’s Reserve and O organics find a home in this Colorado town as easily as in the Safeway at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

The multi-tier, segmented private label approach is one thing that sets Safeway apart. You may have heard that the company is even trying to sell its own labels in other channels in an attempt to give the brands a life of their own and build equity in the Safeway masterbrand.

Fortunately, you can cash in on those Safeway card savings even if you live outside a Safeway market area. For someone who grew up with Safeway, only to see it leave the Midwest with the likes of A&P and others, it’s nice to be connected to a familiar brand. So we’ll keep that Safeway card as handy in the wallet as the Dillons card on the key ring. Because the Spoon believes in supporting really good brands.

Vacation Snack Odyssey Day One: Replenishment is Important

Oberto natural beef jerky and a bag of Art and Mary’s potato chips, after a big breakfast at the Famous Serveteria sustained us well. But 200 miles into our 500-mile trip, it was time to top off the gas tank in the Honda Odyssey and top off the road pantry with our favorite snacks. Here are our selections by team member:

The Spoon
The cooler was already loaded with plenty of cold citrus green tea (Big K, the Kroger private label beverage, is a surprisingly good substitute for Lipton when the Dillons market runs out of the name brand). This trip inside the truck stop called for something salty. Oh, yeah: Corn Nuts. It’s vacation. Corn Nuts: For when you’ve got 300 miles to go and you don’t care if your breath smells like dog food.

Try the barbecue-flavored snack size. With a mild taste and 200 calories, it’s a great shot of grain-based energy that awakens the senses and complements a cold beverage SO nicely.

Mama Spoon
After driving the first leg of the early-morning trip, Mama Spoon was ready for a nap, but it wasn’t long after catching a few winks that she was up and downing a quart of G2 from Gatorade.

She has discovered the hydration and electrolyte infusion is the perfect preventative medicine for altitude sickness, which can result in headaches and fatigue.

Little Spoon 1
This pre-teen consumer treats selecting a snack like picking Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club competition. After much deliberation, he picks up a snack-size bag of Doritos QUEST chips. These are the ones that challenge you to guess the flavor and win a prize. So we’re almost to the register, and he changes his mind. He goes back for the Mounds bar, instead. “Why?” you ask.

“Well, the DARK chocolate was too hard to resist,” he says. “And the coconut was a different flavor to throw into the mix.” Note to parents: Don’t let your kids search for “mounds” on the Internet. Specify “mounds candy bars.” We’re not even joking.

Little Spoon 2
There are a couple of reasons why this kid’s nickname is Sweet Tart. One reason is she loves sweet and tangy candy. Sour LifeSavers juicing gummies were an easy choice for her. They come in a bag. They’re not messy.

As a parent, now that you’ll appreciate that they keep a kid pretty busy and quiet for awhile, too.

Pistachios: Nature’s perfect snack food

We’re just hankerin’ to get out on the open road, and our little excursion down Route 66 this week whet our appetite for snack foods. As promised in an earlier post, we’ll chronicle our food finds while on vacation. In the meantime, check out this little beauty from Everybody’s Nuts.

These pistachios come in a bag inside a fun little box. Kids love them.

Here are some fun facts about pistachios. They are indigenous to Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. They are loaded with phytosterols, which promote cardiovascular health. Pistachios grow in bunches on trees, sort of like grapes on a vine. The word pistachio comes from the Italian pistacchio, which is derived from the Latin pistacium, taken from the Greek pistakion.

We just like to shell them and eat them one after another. Remember the red ones? They would get your fingers red. We used to get those at the baseball game or out of a machine.

They’re perfect for a game or watching TV. OK for vacation too, as long as you’re not at the wheel.

Top Ten Things We Like About the New Wal-Mart Supercenter

We got the chance to peruse the surroundings and selection at a brand-new Wal-Mart Supercenter in South Tulsa this week. Here’s what we liked most about it, in no particular order:

  1. Stained concrete floors made to look like giant slabs of stone. Elegant, functional and clean-looking.
  2. Oversized, wide side aisles. They make it easier to browse alongside other shoppers and easier to peer down them from the center aisles so you can see what’s on them.
  3. Wide-open produce area right up front has tidy black bins and kiosks. Good-looking produce too.
  4. On-demand lighting in the freezer section conserves energy.
  5. No more stark white painting on the open-framed ceiling. Much more soothing.
  6. The exterior of the building is attractive stone.
  7. The requisite enormous parking lot is unobtrusive thanks to the creative use of landscaping.
  8. They have maintained the same basic layout of the Supercenter, so familiarity is maintained.
  9. There is plenty of room in the store for everything, so it doesn’t feel cramped or crowded.
  10. The store combines the best of Super Target with the best of Wal-Mart Supercenter to give the shopper a stylish, comfortable, utilitarian store.