Greg Seminara, Export Solutions

Best in class Distributors are overwhelmed with by products looking for access to the valuable shelf space on the retailers’ shelves. Worldwide, the art of cooking and “Fashion of Food” has created demand for innovative tastes from international markets. Unfortunately, many good new product ideas lack the marketing budgets to gain awareness with the consumer. Other products fail to create a meaningful USP (Unique Selling Proposition) to differentiate their product from existing category assortment. Listed below are Export Solutions steps to avoid the trap of another “me too” product.

Conduct a Local Category Market Review
Category reviews range from extensive studies conducted by market research companies to simple store visits at target customers. This review should give you a snapshot of existing local flavor preferences, sizing, pricing, and any direct competition. This information may also be sourced from your desktop from retailers featuring an online store.

Look in the Mirror- Determine Your Product Benefits
Line up your product with 5 – 10 competitors. Does your product have unique ingredients or health benefits? What is the nutritional value of your product versus others? Vitamin levels ? Calorie count, carbohydrates, sodium level etc. ? How much of your product is required to be consumed to obtain the desired benefit ? Taste , product fragrance, and ease of handling are all important differentiators. Package attractiveness and educational messages all form part of the equation.

Is your New Product Newsworthy ?
Are early adapters and “foodies’ searching for your product ? There is a fine line between trendy and leading edge and actually creating a product that someone is interested in trying. I remember a lively” discussion with a leading producer of Indian food regarding the potential for his product for South America. At the time, his product was viewed as innovative, but I was unconvinced that the Latin American consumer was interested in authentic Indian food.

Market Research Validates your Product Claims
Retailers sit through presentation after presentation backed by vendor claims that their product tasted better or performed better. Rarely are these claims backed by sustentative research documenting their products promise. Focus groups may be an expensive. Many distributors requests 4-5 cases of samples to share with their employees as an informal taste panel. Often, these tests determine whether the distributor will accept a new product. My experience is that a “Tastes Better” claim should be supported by consumer research.

Value is An Important Differentiator
Today’s strapped consumers search for a bargains or a good value. Your product may create a point of difference by offering a better value for the consumer versus a product with similar attributes. Better value may translate to more product for the same price or an absolutely lower price point on the shelf. Lower prices are a bit of a gamble as comparisons versus a retailers private label is also a consideration.

Communicating Your USP to the Consumer
Consumers take about 10 seconds to make a purchase decision. Will your product gain their attention ? A demonstrable product advantage may be wasted if you do not have a budget and plan to create consumer awareness for your product. A snazzy package and label are a good start. Successful marketers assign upfront budgets for trade incentives to promote their product in store and consumer incentives to try the product: special offers, discounts, coupons etc. A heavy spend plan to launch your brand can also serve as an important point of difference.

Premium Profit Strategy
Retailers are in the business to grow category sales and profits. A common strategy is to trade the consumer up to an added value product which commands a higher price and profit margin per unit sold. I once questioned my wife on why she had purchased an obscure brand. She replied that it commanded the highest price on the shelf , so it must have been better than the basic offerings. Another famous case study is the American “Baked Bean” category. Historically, the Baked Bean category had been dominated by commodity players who locked the trade into seasonal 4 cans for $1.00 deep discount offers. These offers created traffic , but did nothing to stimulate category innovation or profits. A regional competitor came along with superior tasting products and a premium price point and converted the consumer over a 5-10 year period. Now the former regional player is a dominating national category leader and promotional price points are closer to $1.00 for one can.

Taste the Difference – Invest in Product Demos
I am always impressed with a company that comes to me with a strong commitment to invest in store level product demos or “tastings” to support their launch. This confidence and belief in your brand frequently translates into marketplace success. Product demos are usually not a “one time event”, but an ongoing part of your brand building strategy.

Lessons Learned
Do your homework with a category review. Take an honest assessment in comparing your brand with others in establishing your USP. A distributor may be gentle in evaluating your product, but a retail buyer will be brutally honest, so be prepared. Market Research or some organized form of securing input adds credibility to your claim. There are many ways to differentiate your product including packaging, pricing, and retail profit. Lastly, you must invest in brand support ( demos), as even the best new product ideas will fail without investment in consumer awareness activities and retailer incentives.