Market View

Market View: Ways to Co-Deliver Convenience in the Grocery Store

Our marketing expert ponders: if consumers buy for recipes, why shouldn't food and beverage manufacturers make it easier for them?

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

Everyone has read about Millennials and Gen Z's. I think most food businesses realize there will be changes as these two age groups dominate the food shopper market. We hear they want this or they want that, but are there actionable steps to deliver those requests or desires?

For example, it is well documented that the Millennials want “convenience.” But what specific action does that suggest? Many times, we have to guess. What can we do to make it more convenient for our target consumer?

What evidence do we have that Millennials want convenience? They are buying more boxed meals like Blue Apron because they are convenient. They are heavy shoppers of convenience stores. They are heavy buyers of prepared meals and very heavy users of restaurants.

While we could make a list of things that would make the shopping process easier for Millennials, I would like to focus on one thing: consumer solutions and not consumer products. We have a long tradition of doing everything possible to support our brands. Consumers on the other hand, focus on solutions to their problems.

About 30 years ago, I wrote that consumers only buy products for two reasons: to feel good or to solve a problem. Solving consumer problems often involves a number of different brands or products. But we require consumers to shop the stores to get what they need for a simple solution.

For example, we know consumers need a variety of items to make an Italian dinner. Yet we make consumers walk all over the store to get the needed ingredients. The non-traditional channels have figured this out by sending the entire meal with all the ingredients, recipes, etc., directly to the house -- e.g. Blue Apron (now, that is convenience).

There are obviously in-store solutions, like “asking” retailers to stock certain items together. This often doesn’t work because quite frankly the retailers don’t want to use labor to execute this idea and the various department managers don’t like products in their sections for which they get no credit. And by credit, I mean a bonus!

Food processors have to find their own solutions. This might not be easy because the ethos of brand managers was to focus exclusively on their brand. I learned my lesson when I consulted with Campbell Soup Co. We discovered that people who ate soup most often had fewer health maladies. We wanted to say “soup is good food” but the ad agency and brand managers wanted to say, “Campbell Soup is good food.” The marketing people said competitive soup companies will benefit from our research. That campaign didn’t last very long, although it was effective.

One solution that does not rely on retailers working too hard is the multi-vendor promotional in-aisle display. For example, a specific meal can be placed in a display with a variety of different brands of products that are “necessary” for the meal. Basically, the store needs only to place the display in the suggested aisle. San Giorgio pasta could be with Prego sauce, Kraft parmesan cheese and maybe even capers. One stop has everything you need. That’s convenience!

Another example is female personal care: shampoo, conditioner, fragrance, deodorant, razors, shaving gel, exfoliant. Think about all the products that many consumers have near their bath/shower. Why make them walk around the various sections to buy what you know consumers buy for the same purpose?

One final example: spring-cleaning. Just think about all of the different products and brands of products this demands. A spring-cleaning display with multiple brands makes the buying chore even more convenient: cleaners, paper towels, sponges, latex gloves, etc. This is used by stores near universities that have “move-in days,” when one assortment of cleaning supplies is needed, and then on “move-out days” when dorm rooms are cleaned (for only the second time in an academic year, of course).

But how do you tactically get different brands into the same display? Some suppliers can facilitate this process. For example, International Paper has a program where it buys products from companies that want to create a multi-vendor display, creates the display and ships it to the retailers.

There are various issues to be worked out -- we still have the age-old problem of getting retailers to put up displays in the aisle -- but companies that want incremental business and promotional displays at a lower cost with a convenient choice for the new consumers will work these issues out.