Deli/Prepared Foods National Tyson Deli

What Shoppers Really Need During The 4 P.M. Dinner Dilemma

dinner dilemma, Eric LeBlanc blog 2

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by Eric LeBlanc, director of channel marketing–deli, Tyson Foods

It’s 4 p.m. and 70 percent…no…75 percent…maybe 85 percent of Americans don’t know what’s for dinner tonight. The actual number depends a great deal on which recent study you’re looking at. Accuracy aside, the consensus opinion is that at 4 p.m., lots of people don’t know what’s for dinner that night. In fact, in a study we did a while back, 27 percent of deli prepared foods shoppers did not decide what was for dinner that night until someone said, “I’m hungry.” I love that.

There may be less consensus, however, on what exactly that means. The assumption is that consumers have fear and anxiety over this horrible situation of not knowing what they’re going to eat until the last moment. So, given that assumption, we create solutions and communications that target “convenience” and “ease.” I suspect those words hardly have any meaning left in them as a result of how overused they are.

What if we looked at it a different way? We just completed a study in partnership with Technomic and found that only 4 percent of our sample found the 4 p.m. “dilemma” stressful. Hmm. That’s not what we were all saying. What if the ability to put off a decision until the last moment were NOT a sign of a failure in our domestic management, but rather an expression of freedom, affluence, and choice? What if we wait until the last minute to choose because we CAN? A few examples:

  • When you were a kid, did you ever come home after a big day outside only to find that Mom had made a dinner that was not even a little bit like the one you would have chosen? No? Well how about this one:
  • A meal service has struggled with retaining users. Anecdotally, customers expressed that they did not like the pressure of having something in their refrigerator that they HAD to eat before it went bad. I picture the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come pointing to the refrigerator with a skeletal finger while some poor soul exclaims, “Spirit, are these the shadows of meals that must be or those that may be only?” It’s the sort of thing you’d want clarity on if a spirit were pointing a skeletal hand at YOUR refrigerator.
  • In an experiment we did with a number of families, we followed them through seven consecutive dinners, trying to capture that “why” behind their choices at dinner times. We wanted to see a range of dinner solutions—cook at home, delivery, dine-in, etc. What we found (and this was qualitative, so I don’t want to speak beyond my evidence) is that most often people would consider the “what” before the “where.” For example, I feel like Chicken Pad Thai. OK, where do you want to get it?

What if it’s empowering to be able to say, “I don’t know, let’s get…” I don’t have to eat what Mom made, I don’t have to eat what I ordered. I get to choose. That should change the way we talk about it, right? Instead of talking about the burden, maybe we talk about something like this: “You’ve got the freedom to do what you want for dinner—how do you want to embrace that freedom tonight?” Well, maybe that’s not very good, but consider this. When a manufacturer of a luxury performance car advertises their car, the pitch line is not, “Whew. Driving is such a chore. But if you have to force yourself to drive, this car isn’t the worst choice.” I think the pitch is about how cool it is to experience this car and the freedom of the road. Big difference, no?

One last reason why I believe the 4 p.m. thing is not a problem: if it were, we would have fixed it by now.

Let’s pretend we’re one of the 27 percent and someone just said, “I’m hungry.” What now? There are two issues to be confronted: where do deli prepared foods rank in the consideration set, and how much friction is there in procuring the food? Let’s take the first one first—there seems to be some kind of logic in that.

Where is our channel in the consumer’s consideration set? From what I’ve been able to tell in my years of working on this business, not very high. What does the marketing gobbledygook mean? When people try to answer “I’m hungry,” deli isn’t the first thing people think of. Or the second. Or the third. Maybe fourth. Or fifth. Like that. So, that’s an issue of awareness and there are two ways of handling that: one is by increasing our effectiveness in using out-of-store communication (which, by the way, we have used to increase a retailer’s prepared foods sales by 15 percent in 90 days). The other is in ensuring that today’s experience of procuring and consuming the meal is one they would like to repeat. Let’s talk about the latter.

I think we forget—or maybe just don’t realize—what a large and confusing place a supermarket is. The deli/prepared foods area only more so. In a study we did a few years back, we found that a large number of shoppers exhibited signs of confusion. That’s what the ethnographers said. I know that in at least one case I saw a shopper scratch his head as he pondered a case full of deli meat. Anyway—here’s the point: of those that were confused, only 4 percent asked for assistance. That’s a lot of people walking around your store that are leaving just as confused as they came in. And confused means dissatisfied. But the amazing thing is, of those that asked for assistance, 87 percent accepted the advice they were given! So here is the vision for the day: hungry shoppers looking for dinner and around their necks they wear a sign that says tell me what to do and I’ll do it. That’s quite an opportunity.

The shopper has a need. It’s a deep need about their freedom, their empowerment, and the others in their lives. How do we meet them in their need? If we’re like most marketers, we will do our best to manipulate them. OR we could choose to meet people in their need and be a trusted advisor to them, helping them to feel smart and strong. What a difference that is from trying to build a relationship on the basis of product and price.

Next month I’ll talk about the shopping trip and how it can better serve the shopper in their need.


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