Food is an omnipresent part of life for many of us. We like to eat, cook, and try new restaurants. This is obvious when you look at the increasing quantity of food related content in cooking shows, magazines, online recipe sites and all the cooking tips and info on social media.
According to Agriculture Canada, the food and beverage industry is the second biggest manufacturing industry in Canada. It shipped goods valued at $105.5 billion in 2014 and is responsible for 17% of Canadian manufacturing shipments and 2% of our gross domestic product (GDP). Employing 246 000 Canadians, it is the country’s biggest manufacturing employer. In Quebec, the food industry’s 2,200 companies and almost 65,000 workers deliver goods valued at $24,000 annually. The food industry is many people’s bread and butter.
As consumers, we are exposed to the full range of the food industry’s offerings every day. A key moment definitely occurs at the grocery store. The average consumer who is responsible for buying family groceries goes to the store every week with a list and reusable bags. They follow the same path every time, starting in the fresh produce section, moving on to the meat, fish and deli aisle, then the dairy section and finally the inner aisles. They know where everything is. It’s all very efficient. Everyone has their favourite products and those sure-bets that offer good value. If, like many Canadians, there are family allergies or dietary restrictions to deal with, new products will be added to meal planning very rarely. All this poses an interesting challenge for new products!
For most of us, grocery shopping is not really a value-added experience, but it’s a necessity. Stores make an effort to make the experience more pleasant, but nothing revolutionary is on offer at this point in time. This may change with the $ 13.7 million acquisition of the American chain, Whole Foods, by the online giant, Amazon. Many articles argue that this deal will have an impact on the entire food chain network and on consumer behaviour. Given the progress Amazon has made so far, it’s hard not to agree.
Given that the revolution is not yet at our doors, how can a food brand claim its spot on supermarket shelves – and more specifically, in consumers’ shopping carts? With thousands of SKUs available and house brands taking a bigger and bigger share of the market, doing that is no small matter. But it’s certainly a very stimulating challenge for anyone who works in advertising and branding. Since I belong to this group myself, when I do my shopping I have a different point of view than the average consumer. And that’s no doubt true for everyone who works in the food industry, too. We pay particular attention to products that stand out from the crowd. We let ourselves be swayed by great branding and packaging. We take the time to hold a product and give it a close look. Maybe we put it in our basket if we think it’s worth trying out. Promotional materials that are part of an intelligent, innovative sales campaign won’t fail to draw our attention, either! With thousands of products on the shelves, a company that invests in its branding and packaging definitely has a better chance of landing in our baskets. Above all, you can’t underestimate how much a brand can influence you right on the spot – and right up to the decision to make a purchase. Having a quality product that meets consumers’ needs is the price of entry. Presenting it in the best possible light – that’s the crux of the battle. The container has to live up to the quality of its contents. We’ll always be particularly drawn to a brand with innovative packaging, whether it’s graphically or somehow physically interesting, or whether it uses a new format or packaging materials. All that effort pays back big time in the grocery aisle wars. Price does influence buying decisions, but it’s far from being the only consideration. Transparency in nutritional information, ingredient sources, and being locally produced are examples of important factors that influence the decision to buy. Today’s consumers are always looking for more information, so it’s best to share all this with them. Undoubtedly, companies working in the food industry face many financial and operational constraints. But every business in this field shares these challenges. A long term vision is crucial for any business that hopes to survive in the long run. Some have understood this and had great success. Being attentive to consumers, offering them that little “extra” that makes all the difference, making improvements, innovating, using conscientious and genuine branding and marketing – these are guiding principles that can lead to success.