In the 20th century, specialty food producers formulated a new product, co-packed it, branded it and found willing high-end retailers – come one, come all. Sexy packaging could sell at a premium price. While supermarket chains were still stocked with mainstay brands, producers didn’t have to worry much about comparison shopping – there wasn’t much to compare.
But as with all growing categories, familiar retail practices followed. First, retailers were anxious to take on new, inventive high quality products. Second, as these branded products demonstrated their value, private labeling became the next logical step as retailers mirrored the “quality story” at a competitive price. Still, things were on the up and up for specialty food brands.
Then, two important waves hit the market: a recession caused consumers to rethink their shopping habits; and social networks began driving conversations about everything from what movie you watched last night to what brand of dish detergent creates a squeaky clean.
Both of these sea changes have a big effect on your competitive positioning and sales. As unique as you think your product is, buyers will ALWAYS find an alternative. So, what should you do to make sure you come out on top when the comparison shopping is over?
First, do some comparison shopping yourself. Before your product plans leave the drawing board or kitchen table, spend time in the retail outlets you expect to sell through.
If you have visions of getting on a supermarket shelf, study how many brands are already competing for space, what range of price points exist, what kinds of price promotions are popular, what labeling stands out and what labeling doesn’t. Talk to the retailer. Is there a gap that your product can fill?
If you plan to sell on-line, go on-line. Try searching for your type of product. What kind of competition can you expect to face there? Then, scan Facebook and Twitter or any number of media influencers and blogs that focus on the food trade. Who’s talking about your category brands? What are they saying? Finally, visit your competitors’ websites to see how they stack up to your own product line.
Second, now that the homework is done, revisit your three most important variables: price point, labeling and presentation. Can your price point support a promotional trial discount? What will set you apart on the shelf? Will having a QR code on your hangtag be unique enough to attract attention? Will dressing the package up with ribbons so it is ready to give as a gift make a difference (I tried it, it works!)? Will boxing your bottle appeal to a higher price-point customer?
There is always room for a new brand to take the market by storm, but remember that “media darlings” all have one thing in common: they found a unique way to pitch their product. Being just another “best ever on the planet” won’t be enough if you want to become the “brand of choice” among an ever widening field of competition.