A New Decade's Menu for Capturing Meal Dollars


You spend a lot of time trying to understand customers, and it's clear that what you see isn't always pretty. They're often tired, rushed, frazzled and confused about their next meals.

That confusion is perplexing after years of supermarket attention to meal marketing.

It indicates retailers have either failed to communicate a full plate of options or bitten off more than they can chew. A newly released report presents the most in-depth and flexible approach to this dilemma that I've seen. It combines strategy and psychology to produce a menu of choices that can be mixed and matched.

The report, called “Eating In,” was sponsored by the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council and is based on research conducted by The NPD Group. A story in SN on Feb. 1 introduced this research, but a deeper look is warranted.

The report outlined the potential gains from a boost in consumer at-home eating: a lift of up to 3.2% in a retailer's food sales. This opportunity includes meals of all types, such as ingredient-based, partially prepared or fully prepared. It comes at a time when shoppers are already centering more meals in the home to save money.

The research gives the best odds to retailers that stay focused on shopper needs, priorities and emotions. Notice I didn't mention specific foods or categories. That's because such details will follow from the big-picture exercise of analyzing how shoppers approach each meal occasion.

Lunch is a case in point. Consider the emotions around lunch: Consumers are rushed and face trade-offs among taste, speed and health. This leads to what the report calls “satisficing,” or a combination of satisfaction and sacrifice. That's not a very fulfilling state of being, so a goal for retailers is to reduce the number of sacrifices a shopper has to accept.

Dinner is the make-or-break meal for supermarkets because it's by far the biggest occasion. Retailers need to get into the head of the shopper that purchases or “owns” dinner for the family.

They'd probably find this person in a no-nonsense mood. He or she feels a heavy responsibility for budget, health, family preferences and meal logistics. Making this shopper's life easier is likely to pay off. Strategies include redesigning the store circular and website around meal planning, promoting restaurant-quality packaged meals, and using social networking to alert customers to limited-time specials, suggested the report.

The importance of dinner demands an even deeper dive into shopper psychology by recognizing specific dinner occasions, such as “Last Minute No-Brainers” and “Thrifty Repeats.”

None of these are one-size-fits-all scenarios, so supermarkets need to assess their own customer bases first. However, I'd be surprised if a retailer exists who can't find some benefit from this research. That's because the emphasis is on understanding shoppers first, and only then deciding what to offer them.

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Julie Gallagher

Julie Gallagher’s delicious foray into coverage of the food industry was purely accidental. With a background in technology, she joined Supermarket News as associate editor of its Technology...

Liz Webber

Liz Webber is Senior Digital Manager at Supermarket News. She covers fresh foods for the magazine and creates multimedia, blog posts and other content for the website. She joined SN in August 2012.
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