The Basics of a Food Product Marketing Plan

Market owner with clipboard checking deli case inventory
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Too often, food consultants look for answers without first asking the (right) questions. As a marketing consultant, you should always focus on the questions first (to gain balance and perspective) before counseling a business owner on what direction to take. Here is a comprehensive list of questions and sentiments for any business conducting a marketing self-examination.

Gauge Your Company's Brand Awareness Level

Do consumers even know your brand exists?

Twitter is becoming a food entrepreneur's best friend to ask the consumer what is on their mind. One thing you can do is conduct in-store surveys. This can be combined with food demo's you are already planning. Another idea is asking non-competing brands to poll customers on their website, with a promise to reciprocate.

Find out If Consumers Prefer Your Products

Brand awareness is simply not enough. You need a brand to be your brand evangelists. Set up a blind taste test at a neutral location, letting consumers sample your product and that of your competitor(s). Find out which brand they prefer, and most importantly, find out why. Is it the taste, the packaging, or what they believe you stand for?

Developing a product positioning statement is a must to help you think about your entire brand experience. Make sure the public knows if your process is "green" or if you support a favorite charity.

All of these factors contribute to an improved product perception.

Find out If Consumers Recognize Your Products

A major salt company once changed its package without telling Hispanic demographic, one of its key user groups. It's no surprise; they lost sales. Food packaging needs to do more than protecting your product.

 Packaging communicates your brand identity that gets the product flying off the shelf.

Assess Your Products' Perceived Value

Value perceptions come in all shapes and sizes. Value is a function of quality, price, and quantity. Don't forget to tell customers that your product has a superior refining process, a lesser carbon footprint, or a larger, fuller container than your competitor's.

Find out Where You Are in the Product Life Cycle

Are you developing new product launch, a relaunch, a seasoned product, or are you the one brand trusted for generations? You can position each one of these as a positive brand advantage.

Maximize Your Best Distribution Channels

If you're selling a single-serve, on-the-go, youth-oriented product, then you don't want to overlook convenience stores. Conversely, if your product lends itself to bulk sales, be sure to approach warehouse club stores. Remember, given e-retailing, traditional supermarkets now account for less than half of all food product sales.

Define Your Strategy to Grow Market Share

Virtually no one owns a single product category, even the most dominant players. There is always room to grow. However, the size of the pie is finite. The only way to get more of the pie is to take it away from someone else.

So, how will you get your "unfair" share of the pie?

You can do it through line extensions (e.g., more items, more SKU's), you can do it by expanding into more sales channels, or, you can grow your market share by joint venturing with a compatible, non-competitive player. This enables you to grow your volume. For example, if you sell peanut butter, work out a joint promotion with a maker of jellies and jams.

Determine if You Have Brand Awareness and Brand Preference with the Trade

Food and beverage products at retail require developing winning retail sales pitch because retailers are the gatekeepers to the shelf. You can join your retailer's or wholesaler's trade associations and serve on committees, attend or exhibit at the trade shows, refer other food entrepreneurs to the retailer, and author guest columns for the trade press.

 

Think About What You Have Committed to Long-term Brand Building

It's easy to fall into the trap of just promoting the deal of the week. In the end, it keeps you on the shelves but it doesn't build your brand. Consumers are fickle and will switch brands to get the sale price and then switch back. To build loyalty, you need to continuously advertise and promote your brand's attributes, both the physical ones and the intangible ones.

Engaging in cause-related marketing helps this effort. Consumers will always support the brand they believe supports their ideals, their lifestyle, and their values. Demonstrate that you really care and customers will continue to purchase from you and recommend your brand.

Do All of the Above

Simply put, if you're not asking the right questions, how can you find the right answers? Not everyone has the insight of a Steve Jobs. The vast majority need to conduct at least some informal market research with the most important people in their world, their customers.

Food entrepreneurs can learn from their customers because people love to give their opinions. Social media makes it easy to ask about your package design, price points, promotions, your products' taste, ad campaigns before you go to market. It's called "marketing insurance." Save yourself a lot of anxiety (and expense) by learning about consumer preferences before you embark on that costly new packaging, point-of-purchase display, and ad campaign.