The food industry is competitive, very competitive. Few markets offer such variety of choice to the consumer, making it a particularly difficult environment for new and challenger brands to be truly impactful. That is why I have outlined four key strategic considerations for anyone who is thinking of entering (or may already have entered) the food industry in 2017.
1. Quality is key
This one may seem obvious, but in recent years, we have seen a number of incredibly brand damaging food industry scandals (think: Findus) and as a result there has been a definite shift in consumer buying habits. Where once there was an attitude of austerity amongst shoppers who food viewed as an area that could possibly be saved on, this is no longer the case. Consumers are willing to spend that bit extra to ensure quality and provenance. Align this with the ever-growing health and fitness trend and we are seeing a more knowledgeable, quality-conscious consumer than ever before.
It is now almost a prerequisite to know the origin, nutritional makeup, and allergenic information of everything we eat and drink. In 2017, food brands are expected to be health-conscious, completely transparent, as well as socially aware. All of this before we even consider how good it tastes.
2. Small is good
There has been a concerted effort to encourage enterprise in the food industry over the past few years with organisations like the Food Academy and the Dublin Food Chain being at the heart of this. Food production for export is the call to arms with the aim of making Ireland “The Food Island” in a matter of years. As a traditionally agricultural nation, why not take advantage of the healthy reputation that Irish food enjoys both here and abroad? The quality of ingredients produced in this country are on a par with anywhere in the world (there has to be some upside to the climate) and the powers that be are right to light a fire under the indigenous agri-food industry.
This means that a range of small food producers are entering the market and taking on the already well established names. For many of these entrepreneurs, this can seem a daunting task, but they must focus on the positives of their situation. They are far more flexible than the food industry Goliath’s and can avail of innovative strategies for reaching their consumers such as pop-up shops, targeting niche markets and more personal communications to name but a few. Small producers must learn from the mistakes of existing products and focus their own message more effectively.
With more and more food startups attempting to carve out a niche for themselves, there will of course be more failures than there are successes. Of the failures, there is a definite trend—they are all trying to fit the mould. Rather than exploring what they could be like, many food brands are happy to conform to what they think they should be like. Why enter a market with a brand so similar to your next competitor that you have to allocate more to your marketing budget in order to make yourself standout? Be confident enough to make your brand and your business truly unique.
With consumers being offered so much choice, it is easy to become invisible, just another product on the shelf. Food brands need to focus on differentiation more than nearly any other industry. This means gaining a clear understanding of your optimal position in the market and then emphasising that to your customers at every opportunity.
4. Focus on lifestyle
Branding as a whole is evolving. Focus has switched from unique selling propositions to unique buying tribes to the conscientious consumer. Focusing on your product isn’t good enough anymore, you must give weight to the lifestyle that you are encouraging, the lifestyle that your brand is a part of. Use this to guide your promotional activities and marketing strategy and you will reap the rewards.
Make the consumer feel that they are buying into something worthwhile, as if your product is saying something about them as a person, it must fit their own self-image and speaks volumes about their personal identity. Remember, you are what you eat.