ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Makers of natural food products lack a plan to market their brands through the food trade. Some 1,500 exhibitors showed their latest products in the so-called "healthy products" industry at Natural Products Expo-West here in March. From interviews on the exhibit floor, it was clear that many executives believe that all you need to succeed is to introduce new products suitable for the trade and appoint some appropriate distributors. Having a real marketing program in many cases is farthest from their minds. As one maker of nutritional supplements remarked, "This industry hasn't grown up yet." As this trade shifts toward more of the mainstream market, many manufacturers don't seem to be prepared. If many of these products gain admission to store shelves, common sense dictates that the products will still need merchandising and marketing help. Most manufacturers interviewed didn't admit to having much of a marketing strategy except for some initial discounts, shipper-displays and perhaps some demonstration programs.
There were the exceptions to this rule on the exhibit floor. One was Triumph Sports Quencher from Stonepoint, Brandon, Fla. The company's line has received a product endorsement from Linda Jackson, one of the top women cyclists in the world. Trade and consumer public relations and advertising are featuring this endorsement, and the whole program is concentrating on the healthy products industry where the likes of Gatorade or Pepsi's All Sport are not generally welcome. Together with an appropriate name that connotes a positive image, an attractive label and a formula that is nutritionally credible, the company is aggressively demonstrating the product to gain acceptability. In an unusual program, it will allow a new retailer to remove from its stock as many bottles as it wishes over a two-day period, remove the tops and offer an open bottle to the store's customers. The retailer sends in the tops from the sampled bottles and the company will reimburse the store for all the sampled bottles as accounted for in tops. Really successful and growing companies in this field explained their aggressive approach. Companies such as Lightlife Foods, Greenfield, Mass., use a combination of in-store demonstrations, public relations carefully tailored to the local press near where new products are put on sale for the first time and co-op store advertising, where available, to bring the attention of potential new customers to its newly released products. It maintains its own newsletter to contact trade customers, and uses specialty trade and consumer advertising in various vegetarian and healthy products publications. To reach potential purchasers, for example, Kings Super Markets in West Caldwell, N.J., offers its customers a newsletter called Kings Naturally. Lightlife participates with new product write-ups and other featured articles on the company and the vegetarian product areas in which Lightlife works. The company's newest line, Vegetarian Request, features frozen entrees designed for the devout vegetarian as well as those simply trying to cut back on meat. Each entree is based on a classic, time-honored recipe "that tastes like homemade," says Rick McKelvey, sales manager. The new line has six entrees: French Country Stew, Moroccan Lentil Stew, Penne Pasta Bolognese, Thai Tofu, Vegetable Coquette Dinner and Traditional "Meatloaf" Dinner.
"Going meatless never tasted so good," said McKelvey. The packaging on this line -- with full-color illustrations of the various dishes -- is carefully designed to make the dishes look delicious with extremely upscale graphics. "With as many as 150 products in our line," said Harry Urist, creative director of packaging and advertising at Health Valley Foods, Irwindale, Calif., "we maintain a direct mailing list of perhaps three-quarters of a million consumers who have responded to mail-in offers."