SEATTLE -- Menus are more than a product list; they are a canvas for crucial marketing messages, and one that supermarkets would do well to paint more deliberately, according to a menu design expert.
The designer, Banger Smith, president of Menus for Profit, a company here that analyzes and redesigns restaurant menus and related point-of-purchase material, said the menu is a powerful communicator of product selection and quality, whether an operator intends it to be or not.
"A lot of times supermarket retailers think they are going to sell this stuff, and don't think of it in terms of design and quality," Smith said, but their menus speak volumes about a lot more than just item and price. And they should function as a guide to eating.
"A menu needs to lead people to what they want, and in a supermarket you need to lead them even faster," he explained.
How different items are graphically positioned on the menu will have an effect on their sales. "Look at the velocity of the items and highlight the top one on the upper right-hand side of the menu. Always keep your popular stuff in the upper right-hand triangle of the menu, or you might want to bold or box it." New products are worth highlighting.
It's important, Smith said, to categorize foods in a way that people can understand, by grouping items like salads and sandwiches together. "You should have at least three items in each category and the more you expand on food groups and flavor profiles the more separate [the groups] have to become."
And within each food group, ingredients can work like magnets to draw attention. For example, "Whenever possible, give some of the key elements, like cilantro, that are in a sandwich. It can get people salivating and get people to buy it."
Smith noted that adjectives and preparation descriptors can also help sell the food, but they have to be chosen carefully. "I'll look at how the food is prepared and what's in it. I may focus on ingredients if I can't find anything good to say." More appealing descriptions for deep-fried foods, for example, might include pan-fried, jumping-fried or sauteed in pan juices.
Smith also uses the products' origins as an inspiration for appealing names that can help to boost sales. "I try to figure out where the product came from. If it's locally smoked I'll say where it's from."
Depending on the market, upscale names can also help raise the level of perception of the food on a menu. "Call it tagliatelle alla Bolognese, instead of pasta with tomato sauce. With sandwiches, instead of calling it a ham and Havarti sandwich, call it a Black Forest. There's a perceived value, and it's likely you can get an extra 25 cents for it."
Even the use of color can convey a positive or negative message. "I think the design of a menu board needs to be more than a white menu," Smith said. Stay away from the color blue, because people eat less blue food, he warned. On the other hand, "people love green. You eat green and it's fresh. And people start salivating with brighter colors, like reds and yellows."
The menu is also a good reinforcer for brand logos. Branding is driven by color and design, and given the chance, the menu can play a big role in that.
Through branding, on menus and anything else connected to a meals program, retailers can support a profitable sense of perceived value. Branding "gives the message of quality, supports premium pricing, will address quality assurance and can counterbalance discounting," Smith said.
"Supermarkets just don't go far enough with merchandising and presentation. The menu should be cohesive with packaging, so you are building a brand within a larger brand." It should incorporate the design or logo of the packaging to the extent that "there's no doubt where the package came from."
Another way that Smith suggested of incorporating branding with prepared foods is through individual sales kiosks, which also help customers distinguish between the different food categories.
"How these items are priced is important because you are dealing with impulse buying." Smith explained that it's important to make the food sound so good that price is no longer the main issue. He said that prices should always be listed and should always follow the descriptive copy.
Smith also had some very specific ideas about what signage is appropriate in the case. "[Signage] should not be in the food because it sends a message of dirty. It should be next to the item. The signage in the case might [also] be an opportunity to be a little more descriptive [about the food]."