ATLANTA -- Marketers of prepared foods and the supermarkets they sell them to need to do a better job of marketing the convenience advantages of these products.
That is according to Philadelphia-based supermarket consultant and market researcher Mona Doyle.
"Call it 'consumer-driven,' call it 'on-target': Refrigerated foods are in sync with where consumers are, and interest in foods that are fresh and healthy is very much alive. Nevertheless, from where I sit, American consumers have not learned to associate refrigerated food with a snack," said Doyle, editor of The Shopper Report and a speaker at the Refrigerated Foods Association's annual conference held here late last month.
"Especially for prepared foods, consumers have to learn to perceive them as they have perceived pizzas -- as faster, easier and better, a snack away from satisfaction. Many of you have a way to go to get to that," Doyle told an audience largely made up of marketers of refrigerated foods such as prepared salads.
"People in our business need to pay more attention to and spend more money on design, on how to communicate to the consumer what they have to offer," she said.
Doyle said part of the problem can be traced to a lack of store signs and labeling clearly communicating that a given product is fresh. She cited packaging for refrigerated burritos as an example. "They are not transparent, and supermarkets haven't really promoted them. If only someone would get the marketing right. I am convinced, however, that consumers have to see something and automatically understand at the gut level that 'this is not frozen,' " she said.
According to Doyle, another challenge for selling refrigerated foods is consumer fears about short shelf life vs. that of frozen foods. She cited her recent study of 5,000 shoppers in which 33% of respondents said refrigerated foods "don't look fresh." She said that shows a barrier that must be overcome.
"To go big time," she said, manufacturers of refrigerated foods must get the word out about product safety and perishability issues. She added that a degree of consumer awareness about spoilage is there, but there isn't a great deal of knowledge among consumers about the specific signs of spoilage. She suggested that to ease consumer concerns, the industry should use freshness guarantees and spoilage-information labeling standards. "The food industry hasn't been as forthcoming as it could be in this area," she said.