Marketing from the Grocery Aisle: Evolving Status Quo

Whether we realize it or not, we’re trained to act a certain way when we visit certain retail locations. Step onto a car lot, and you probably used to looking both ways, expecting a sales person to hasten out of the showroom or materialize from between a car.

Should you want to purchase a car, you know that you’ll be passed from person to person who reviews your credit, assesses the value of your trade-in, and pretends not to be anxious when you’re signing the papers.

Box stores have radically changed shopping, combining what was once dozens of discrete stores into one. Consider your local home improvement store, which puts under one roof a hardware store, lumber yard, nursery/garden center, appliance store, cabinet shop, lighting and window treatment store, plumbing and electrical supply, and paint and wallpaper store.

Lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, and cosmetics were typically only available on the shelves of pharmacies, grocery stores, and five-and-dimes. Now you walk into specialty stores, and decant, mix, or slice a wide variety of body products.

While some shoe stores require you to wait for the sales person to return with shoes in your size, many are now rows of boxes, which you shuffle through, hoping to find a shoe that fits and matches those on display.

Clothing stores have also morphed. While traditional boutique and gentlemen stores still have sales associates (or style experts) to help expand your wardrobe while shrinking your wallet, going so far as to recommend a particular brand or style, and carry your garments to the dressing rooms, for the most part, you’re on your own, sorting through racks, finding your size, making your way to a dressing room, and then back to the racks for the correct size, and finally, carrying everything to a cash register.

The point being, there is no status quo when it comes to retail. This is especially true with supermarkets, which innovate as fast as consumer taste change or natural calamities alter what’s available.

Consider orange juice. Fifteen years ago, the average per capita consumption was six gallons with three-quarters of American households serving it at their kitchen tables. A glass of OJ was as ubiquitous at breakfast as a cuppa’ joe. us-annual-per-capita-orange-juice-consumption-per-capita-consumption_chartbuilder

The popularity of orange juice has since plummeted by 40%, owing to consumers concern with sugar, less time for breakfast, and the rise in price due to the nasty Asian citrus psyllid, which has been spreading citrus greening across Florida’s once highly productive groves. Infected trees die within a few years, having turning oranges green, misshapen, and sour. The impact is significant. Florida produces around 80% of the oranges used for the orange juice consumed in the US.

With orange juice falling out of favor, and becoming more expensive, consumers are turning to a symphony of juices from the mundane apple to the tropical mangosteen. Navigating the juice aisles now requires an encyclopedic knowledge of exotic fruits and ingredients.

Meanwhile, breakfast cereals are falling out of favor, with consumers grabbing breakfast on the good, choosing granola bars, yoghurt and breakfast sandwiches. In the early 1970’s, nearly 90% of American adults ate breakfast. Today, that number has declined to the low 80%. Nevertheless, ready-to-eat cereal remains the largest category of breakfast food, which according to Euromonitor was around $10 billion in sales in 2013, down from $13.9 billion in 2000.

With many trends possibly contributing to the downfall of cereal, it’s challenging for cereal manufacturers to figure out how to quell the decline in their sales. Culprits include lower birthrates, resulting in few kids gulping down bowls of sugared, colored flakes and shapes. In addition, parents are becoming more educated about what constitutes a healthy breakfast, taking the advice of nutritionists and not lucky leprechauns, crunching captains, talking toucans, bombastic tigers, and singing bees.

The gluten-free fad has turned cereal into a nemesis; although, some manufacturers, like General Mills are touting gluten-free cereals such as Chex made from rice or corn. The Atkins diet, espouses eating more protein less carbohydrates so cereal makers are jumping on the bandwagon, adding more protein to their offerings. Kellogg’s have pumped up the protein in their Kashi GoLean and Special K cereals.

Simultaneously, healthy cereals like Kashi no longer appeal to their target markets. They’re considered too mainstream.

While cereals aren’t going to disappear from the shelves, it’s certainly keeping cereal manufactures on their toes, contemplating ways of maintaining mindshare, by recommending cereals as perfect for snacks, part of party mixes, sprinkled over yoghurt, and added to recipes.

Salted Caramel sauceToday’s manufacturers and retails don’t have the luxury of sticking to the status quo because consumer tastes and interests are constantly evolving, especially when it comes to food, diet (African mango to The Zone), and fitness (barefoot running to Zumba).

However, keeping up ahead of shifting customer interests doesn’t necessary involve having to come up with something new. It can be as simple as combining or using existing products in a new way. Consider salt.

A decade ago, salt was primarily available in small granules, which strangely “when it rains, it pours,” and crystals, intended for making ice cream, pickling foods, and lounging on pretzel. Today, salt can be purchased in varying colors, consistency, and flavors. The latest rage is salted caramel, drizzled on coffee, turned into candies, iced on cakes, sandwiched between macaroons, and bottled as sauce.

What’s next? If you’re a retailer or manufacturer don’t wait for others to innovate. Consider how you can you can do a twist on the status quo to create the next craze.

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