Friday, September 10, 2021

We Are Not Post-Pandemic. That’s No Excuse to Stop Innovation.


Photo source: Dutch Farms

Kids are back in school, where they should be (masked, of course!). Many professionals are returning to the office, albeit on a hybrid schedule. And air travel is picking up. But the message was loud and clear from the Marcum LLP’s panel discussion on Sept. 9, 2021, titled “Food and Beverage Innovation in a Post-Pandemic World.” That message was a clarification to the title of the event, “We are not post-pandemic,” said Jeff Swearingen, global senior vice president-demand accelerator, venturing and global business services for PepsiCo. 

He explained that we are in an evolving situation with a lot of unknowns. For many, the fear of going out during the delta variant rampage is greater than one’s fear of crime. Yet, the food and beverage industry must do its best to deliver against consumers’ expectations of convenience, and with the challenged supply chain, which is ongoing, that’s difficult to do.  

Communication is key, as is transparency. And part of what consumers are looking for during these uncertain times is a brand’s message of “good.” 

The concept of what is “good” in food and beverage marketing is in flux, according to research from Bader Rutter Intel Distillery, Chicago, which hosted a live panel discussion on August 25 on the topic. Overall, Bader Rutter data indicate that traditional definitions like taste and nutrition are not going away but newer ones are growing in importance.

“For decades, the source of food and how it’s made hasn’t really been an important message to consumers,” said Dennis Ryan, executive creative director at Bader Rutter. “But today, between the proliferation of brands and information access—digital and social platforms—consumers can really bode and choose brands based on whether they align with their values, whether they agree with how they’re grown and produced and where they come from, and what cost it takes to produce them. So defining your good and ensuring your definition of good aligns with your core audience on the right platform is now critical to modern marketing success.”  

You can read more about this topic by linking HERE to a Food Business News column I wrote on how creating and marketing “good” food is both an art and a science. 

Kristin Kroepfl, chief marketing officer, Quaker Oats Co., Chicago, a business of PepsiCo, Purchase, N.Y., and one of the panelists, said that marketing teams should work more closely with procurement to better understand the farmer connection. 

“Such conversation may unlock value that is hidden in the supply chain,” said Ms. Kroepfl. “It might spark an idea.”
In the end, when deciding where to focus energies for communicating good, Ms. Kroepfl said it’s an intersection of three things. First is the “authentic brand DNA.”  Photo source: Dutch Farms

“You need to inventory and understand at a very deep level your brand equities,” she said. “Then know the needs and wants of your lead consumer. Drill into that insight. Then move from consumer insights to foresight. Identify the values we share. It’s both an art and a science and relies on data and intuition.”  

That brings me to cheese. I am thankful to Dutch Farms Inc., a Chicago-based company with Dutch roots, for sponsoring today’s blog. The family-owned, fourth-generation company is all about communicating “good” through its brand messaging. After all, the Dutch have always been known for their dairy products, especially great-tasting cheese. 

And that’s real cheese. In case you missed the August 20, 2021, blog titled “Beyond Cheese. Impossible Cheese. Then There’s Real Cheese.,” you can link to it HERE.

There’s a great deal of opportunity to continue to innovate in the cheese space, in particular with snacks, but also with recipe development and assistance with helping make dinner. We are still in the pandemic and eating at home continues to be where most consumers get nourished.  

On the note of snacking, it is paramount that dairy marketers position dairy foods as a complement to all types of foods folks are snacking on, from sweet to salty, to fruits and vegetables. (See infographic.)

JPG Resources Inc., a food and beverage innovation consultancy based in Battle Creek, Mich., recently published a white paper titled, “How to Turn Your Food &  Beverage Idea into a Product with Staying Power.” It was made available to members of the Chicagoland Food and Beverage Network. You can download it HERE.

In this white paper, you’ll learn what steps to take, what mistakes to avoid and the milestones to mark. The voyage may not be easy and it may not proceed as quickly as you would like, but with the right combination of creativity, competence and commitment, your food product innovation might become the next big thing.

The authors state that the late Harvard Business School professor and innovation expert Clayton Christensen once said that 30,000 new consumer products are launched every year in the U.S., and that 95% of them fail. University of Toronto marketing professor Inez Blackburn is more generous. She contends that up to 80% of new products launched in the grocery sector fail.

But we love new products. And we want to try new things…now. 

In 2020, McKinsey & Co. reported that more than one-third (36%) of consumers had recently tried a new product brand and that 73% of them intended to continue buying the new brand. McKinsey also found that in some categories, nearly half of all product purchases are new trials.

“Although there’s no silver bullet for success, food brands of all sizes can tip the scales in their favor by taking a measured and strategic approach to food innovation that marries good ideas and genuine passion with shrewd business intelligence, expert technical knowledge and keen consumer insights,” according to JPG Resources. “Large or small, established or entrepreneurial, success in the hypercompetitive food landscape boils down to a single, simple realization: Innovation isn’t a commodity, but rather, a discipline.”

Photo source: Dutch Farms

“Big CPGs often look at a lot of data, and then they try to develop food and beverage ideas that are going to be really popular and make a lot of money,” said Veronica Lehman, business partner and emerging brands specialist at JPG Resources. “Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, often stumble onto ideas based on their own life experiences. They have ‘aha’ moments where they feel really passionately about something that they believe is going to change people’s lives for the better or progress the food system in a positive way. 

“It’s not enough to come up with something that’s really cool, shiny and fun if you can’t also make it, commercialize it, scale it and grow it into a sustainable business,” she said. 

Jeff Grogg, JPG’s founder, added, “Passion and personal experience are a great place to start. It’s our job to help you understand whether your idea is something you can actually make a business out of.

“Choose a single starting point instead of trying to be everywhere so that you can win where you play,” he said. “Pick a region, a channel or a retailer and focus on driving brand velocity, driving depth and driving repeat business.”

That’s Dutch Farms’ story. Congratulations to Dutch Farms, Chicagoland’s number-one dairy brand.

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