Category Archives: Product Development

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.

Information Does Not Equal Insight

Information is not the same thing as knowledge. Information is just a step up from data, which has no value until you are able to formulate, test and learn from a hypothesis about said data.

Then it becomes knowledge.

Knowledge is not actionable until it becomes insight. This is a transformation brought about by experience and an innate/learned ability to analyze and dissect said knowledge within a broad or specific context. In other words, all knowledge must be plugged into a sort of “mental regression equation” to bounce the dependent variable off a number of independent variables in various scenarios in order to arrive at some sort of worthwhile observation.

This is an insight.

It takes a little bit of the scientific method and a lot of reading between the lines to get to an insight. THEN you might be ready to take action.

We believe insight is essential for profitable decisions in the marketplace. We believe insight is what sets us apart from our peers and competitors.

You can take it from us or from the thousands of new products and small businesses that start and fail each year based on data and information masquerading as an insightful new way to approach the market:

Information does not an insight make.

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.

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.

Vacation Snack Odyssey Day Six: Betty Crocker, meet Betty Rubble

Dear Betty Crocker,

We’d like to tell you about how much we love your brownies. We love them so much that not even the absence of an oven will keep us from their moist, chocolatey goodness.

Our love for your brownies inspired us to not only make an heroic effort to cook them on the road, but also to think of new ways food can transport people to another plane or at least go with us on our adventures. As food marketers, we should challenge ourselves to dig deeply into our customers’ habits to see where we can fit better.

Come to think of it, not only would it make sense to see a Betty Crocker ad with families enjoying your wonderful product in all kinds of settings outside the home, but how come we’ve never seen a freshly-baked Betty Crocker brownie in the store? But we digress…this letter is about how much we love your product and the lengths we recently took to enjoy it.

While staying in a rustic cabin on the Arkansas River in Colorado, we got a hankering for brownies, but we didn’t have an oven. So we built one.

First, we dug a 15″Lx10″Wx3″D hole. Then we gathered up a bunch of smooth, stackable stones. Then we stacked them in a rectangular formation about a foot off the ground. We put large, flat stones on top to create the roof of the oven, as shown here.

While the Spoon fired up the charcoal inside the makeshift oven, Mama Spoon and the Littles mixed up the Betty Crocker brownie mix according to the instructions on the box. They put the mix into a disposable 9″x13″ aluminum baking pan.

When the coals had burned down to a red-hot condition, we placed three flat stones on top of them so the pan would not be directly on the heat.

We placed the pan full of brownie mix on the stones and put our camp griddle over the remaining hole in the top of the oven to keep the heat inside.

Three hours later, our slow-cooked brownies were ready for a late-afternoon snack. As you can see, the our effort was rewarded richly.

Thanks, Betty Crocker!

Vacation Odyssey Day Four: Breakfast—The Most Important Snack of the Day

Does it count as a snack if you eat it for breakfast? When does it stop being a snack and become a meal?

A meal should fill one completely. Maybe breakfast is less about filling the tank and more about providing enough fuel for the initial spark that gets the engine going for the day.

If that’s the case, then let’s take a look at some of our favorites, and why they’re our favorite snack and/or brand of snack.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It’s easy. Pretty much everybody likes it. It’s a fantastic family cereal. Cereal, even with added sugar and corn syrup, is hard to beat for a meal, in-between snack or, as designed, for breakfast.

Odwalla Bar! Nourishing Food Bar. Huzzah! Four words: Eight grams of protein. An energy bar that tastes good and still packs a nutrient-rich punch. We like the chocolate chip peanut bar. This bar is also worthy of applause because it’s a natural product-line extension for the people known for being natural, energizing and body-friendly because their juices were rich, tasty, funky and minimally-processed before it was cool. (Available online from Amazon and many grocery stores.)

Pie or brownies. These unbranded little daisies are great vacation breakfast food that’s easy to eat, pleasing to the palate and full of quick energy, plus carbs. There’s a reason why pie is served at rest stops on long bicycle rides. We’ve already seen “breakfast” and “energy” cookies for on-the-go professionals and sportos. Heck, Snickers has an energy candy bar. So we think some smart food marketer should come up with breakfast brownie or pie that has health and energy benefits but plenty of sweetness!

Courtesy gotmilkbottles.com

gotmilkbottles.com

got milk? It’s still a commodity, so we’re not going to lie and say anyone has done a good job of marketing their own brand (except maybe Borden, Shatto-two brands with whom we work-and a select group with an enduring brand, family focus or locally-grown point of differentiation.) But you gotta have the cold, creamy white stuff to complement the snacks we’ve covered above. As Cosmo Kramer would say, “Delicious. Nutritious. Outrageous!”