by Eric LeBlanc, director of channel marketing–deli, Tyson Foods
I’m going to write a book hyping my new diet plan—I may call it something like “The Obvious Diet.” It’s been clinically proven to work. Here it is: Eat right and exercise. The only tough part is eating right and exercising. And finding something else to put in the book to justify the $34.99 I intend to charge for it.
In the world of prepared foods/retail foodservice, I have an equally simple formula: Educate, Inspire and Execute. It’s guaranteed to create double-digit sales increases. It’s proven. The only hard part is educating, inspiring and executing. I’ll come back to this.
As a recovering retailer myself, I have heard many of the sayings that have been passed down from merchant to merchant through the years. Here’s one: You can’t sell from an empty cart. That’s got to be good for an eye roll, right? C’mon—everyone knows that! Rotisserie chicken and fried chicken—together forming a large percentage of prepared foods sales—are out of stock 10-11 percent of the time at peak meal periods. Back when Noah got off the ark and I was running stores we had what we called NBOs—Never Be Out. Every department had a limited number of SKUs that you should never be out of stock on. An example might be Prego Traditional Sauce—or bananas. If you had NBOs in prepared foods, surely rotisserie and fried chicken would be counted among them. Yet there is that pesky out-of-stock rate. Why does it happen? We all know why: not enough labor, too much shrink, and sometimes not enough production capacity. So that’s hard. Like eating right. But it’s something we need to acknowledge and address.
How about this bit of wisdom, once published in a trade mag as “LeBlanc’s Law” (Mom was so proud). The No. 1 reason shoppers buy a prepared foods item when they hadn’t planned on shopping the category is…wait for it…because they saw it. That’s a dissertation right there. OK, LeBlanc, we all know that. Of course we do. Walk into an average supermarket deli and see how far the deli department is from the racetrack. Usually pushed up against a wall, no? That’s a violation of LeBlanc’s Law, and Mom doesn’t like it.
“You only have one chance to create a first impression.” Well, the reality is that as an industry we have a pretty horrible failure rate: 48 percent of deli prepared foods shoppers have experienced a failure (product, service or general issues) in the past 90 days. That failure rate means that at any given time 20 percent of your potential deli prepared foods shoppers are not shopping your store. That means those shoppers are not crossing your threshold for a period of time and you are losing the whole trip.
Consumers are looking for…fill in your favorite. Rotisserie chicken is something I think about quite a lot because it’s convenient. All five of the top drivers of purchase intent relate to the sensory attributes of the product: appears that it will taste good, smells good, etc. What that means is substandard cheap and convenient food ain’t gonna cut it—it’s got to taste good. We all know that. Well, are we telling shoppers that the food tastes great? For the most part, no. We’re talking about a thing and a price.
Which leads me back to Educate and Inspire. The consumer electronics industry was having a terrible time with returns on products that did not do what the consumer expected them to do. There are some problems with that. One, restock costs. Two, the consumer’s perception of the manufacturer suffers in the mind of the consumer and the perception of the retailer declines as well. What the industry has attempted to do is to provide more information on the package and on the shelf explaining to the consumer what each product does, how to use it, and what other products are needed to make it work. Oh, so you need to know how to use something in order to enjoy using it? Everyone knows that. OK, how well do we, as an industry, tell people how to use our prepared foods products? That’s a meal. And a meal isn’t a rotisserie chicken, a beverage, and two tired sides. There’s a lot of fresh food in a supermarket that could take that center of the plate item and make it look and taste fantastic. People just need to be given some ideas. Simple, right? Just like exercising. Simple.
What if I said that in a two-store test where Tyson Foods’ people went into a store and cooked rotisserie chickens—this was a one-week test in each store—sales increased more than 40 percent. You can’t sell from an empty cart.
What if I said that mobile warmers near the checkout are shopped by nearly twice the number of consumers as in the department? People need to see it.
What if I said that simply changing from a product focus to a meal focus and utilizing existing digital and social media to promote prepared foods generated 12 percentage points in growth in a 90-day period? If you know how to use it, you’ll enjoy using it more.
It’s easy to do. The hard part is doing it.
I’ve talked about a lot of complicated and difficult things as though they are simple. Like eating right and exercising. They’re not simple. And it’s not for retailers alone to solve these issues. Suppliers and retailers need to work together to find solutions. In every part of our lives there are those things we know we should do, but somehow, they don’t happen as regularly as we would like. It’s the human condition.
In the coming months I’m going to talk about the human condition—about deli on a human scale. I’m going to talk about the entire shop and consumption journey—not from a category management perspective, but from a human perspective. And in the process, I hope to spend some time considering simple truths that we may need to look at from a different—human—perspective.