MARKETING OF SHELF-STABLE FOOD
FEATURES OF THE INDUSTRY
Shelf-stable food products typically constitute the largest group of items on supermarket shelves, encompassing a diverse range of food products varying in properties, origin, packaging, and purpose. However, a common factor among all these products is a certain degree of processing of the primary ingredient, enabling long-term storage without the need for refrigeration or other special storage conditions. Shelf-stable food includes a wide range of products such as grains and flours, pasta, oils and sauces, sugar and salt, canned goods, tea and coffee, spices, and much more.
Naturally, the marketing of such diverse products must significantly differ between product categories. Marketing coffee and tea will differ significantly from marketing spices and herbs, and marketing pasta will differ from marketing canned goods. Nevertheless, we will try to identify commonalities and characteristics, outline key tools and practices that require special attention to achieve commercial success. Here are the main factors that determine the fundamental approaches to the commercial practice and marketing of shelf-stable food:
- Category specialization. Manufacturers usually aim to cover a specific category of products to avoid potential demand overlap between groups of goods satisfying similar needs. This approach allows manufacturers to be less concerned about non-price-related demand decreases, such as a shift from rice to bulgur. Typically, a manufacturer has all products with similar consumer needs in its product portfolio, and due to the long shelf life, they can withstand temporary demand fluctuations in one direction or another. Note that the situation is opposite when it comes to price fluctuations, as discussed later.
- Low product differentiation. Within one product group, manufacturers' offerings are mostly standardized, meaning there is minimal quality difference among producers. While manufacturers try to differentiate and establish their brand through various marketing methods, consumer perception is generally the same—vegetable oil of the same brand is more or less the same, ketchup and mayonnaise from different manufacturers, pasta and grains—within the same price category are hardly distinguishable.
- Competition between product groups. A significant portion of shelf-stable goods comprises products whose demand significantly depends on long-established family consumption habits. Consumption proportions, such as rice versus spagetti, remain relatively stable and are partially influenced by economic conditions, especially for less affluent populations. Increasing consumption of one product group at the expense of another can only be achieved temporarily by lowering prices, with a subsequent drop in demand due to consumer stockpiling in the low-end segment.
- Price competition. The three characteristics mentioned above give special importance to price competition. Lowering the price by one manufacturer in an almost undifferentiated product market leads to a decline in demand for the product from other manufacturers in the medium and long term, which won't be quickly compensated in the future. In other words, consumers stock up on a promotional brand for weeks and months, and stable consumption proportions and low brand differentiation make it challenging to recover lost sales volumes. Therefore, price competition occupies a significant place in the marketing of shelf-stable goods, requiring constant market monitoring.
- International aspect. Especially in the premium segment, it's crucial to consider competition from international brands, widely represented on store shelves, creating challenges for promoting the premium product lines of national manufacturers. Some affluent customers prefer original Italian pasta, Japanese rice, sauces, and spices from other countries, etc.
Of course, the list of industry features can be extended by delving into the segments of ready-to-eat products and those that require cooking. However, from a marketing perspective, the factors mentioned above are the main determinants of the marketing mixes of major manufacturers. How to compete in such conditions? SOME GENERAL STRATEGIES AND APPROACHES
Considering the above, the following marketing strategies, approaches, and tools deserve the most attention for successful marketing of shelf-stable food products.
- Price differentiation. Creating product lines in different price segments and targeting various consumer segments based on their financial capabilities and preferences can overcome price competition. This strategy allows leveraging price reductions in the economy segment when needed while maintaining acceptable profits in the medium and premium segments. Successful implementation involves both physical product differentiation, such as using higher-quality raw materials or processing methods for the premium segment, and marketing measures.
- Packaging. Given the perceived uniformity of shelf-stable goods within respective price segments, traditional advertising methods are less effective compared to other industries. In contrast, marketing tools and methods within the store, in direct contact with the product, become crucial. Packaging plays a vital role in this marketing approach, needing to visually stand out from competitors, be memorable, include key creative elements, and preferably convey meaningful content, emphasizing advantages over competitors.
- Integration of secondary associations. Supplementing the main brand positioning, integrating secondary associations is common. In markets where product differentiation is limited, secondary associations are necessary for creating a more complete and interesting consumer perception of the product. Common elements triggering secondary associations include the product's place or country of origin, recipe traditions, sports and healthy eating.
- Characters and brand faces. Creating artificial brand characters as brand faces can be a powerful marketing tool, especially for products with limited product differentiation opportunities. Memorable and emotionally positive characters remain with the brand for years, providing a competitive advantage that is challenging for competitors to overcome. Characters allow constant adjustments to market positioning, organically building the brand's story and revealing its advantages to consumers.
- Merchandising. Merchandising in the sales of shelf-stable goods plays a crucial role in attracting customer attention. Effective merchandising helps create an attractive and organized product display, making shopping more convenient for customers and stimulating impulse purchases. Bright shelf displays, strategic product placement, and efficient use of space complement packaging and play a significant role in in-store marketing.
- Traditional advertising. Certain product groups in the shelf-stable category may require traditional advertising on TV, radio, print, and outdoor media. This practice is more common among large international corporations that can afford extensive advertising campaigns to increase consumer awareness and create a leading image. Indeed, marketing coffee, tea, spices, and other products produced by international corporations may involve mass advertising campaigns in national media. Smaller producers, however, aim to minimize such significant expenses.
- Online promotion. Again, international corporations are more active in promoting their products online, investing significant budgets in advertising video content, primarily on social media. Nevertheless, creating at least a basic digital ecosystem, such as a company or brand website and social media pages, is mandatory for all market participants. Further online promotion through SEO and online advertising remains a decision for owners and depends on the marketing budget.
- Collaboration with influencers. Particularly in online promotion, attention should be paid to collaborating with influencers, renowned chefs, and reviewers in the culinary field. If a well-known chef consistently mentions and praises a brand's product in his or her videos, blog, or on third-party platforms over time, such promotion will undoubtedly have a positive effect on creating the brand's image, acting as a quality and taste guarantee.
It's worth noting again that marketing coffee and tea will significantly differ from marketing spices and herbs, and marketing pasta will differ from marketing canned goods.
Also, it is necessary to note that within the scope of one article, we cannot show all the pitfalls or demonstrate all the marketing methodologies and tools specific to the shelf-stable food. These are just a few examples of quite general marketing approaches that can be applied to such products. From a practical point of view, everything is much more complex - the choice of a specific marketing strategy and tools depends on the target audience, competitive environment, and unique advantages of the brand, etc. At the same time, it is desirable to understand that marketing of shelf-stable food may face a number of specific problems that are unique to each individual case and require an individual approach to their solution.
Achieving the commercial objectives of a company through effective marketing requires a deep understanding of the market situation, consumer needs, the ability to analyze and explore alternatives, and a creative approach to problem-solving. Our company has extensive experience in defining optimal marketing strategies for our clients' businesses, creating a strong brand and market positioning, as well as developing a marketing mix and implementing the chosen strategy. You can familiarize yourself with the services and solutions our company offers on the "Services
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