Posts in Uncategorized

Food Retail and CPG Alert: Coronavirus Spawns Opportunity

March 5th, 2020 Posted by consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, e-commerce, food retail strategy, grocery e-commerce, retail brand relevance, shopper behavior, Supermarket strategy, Uncategorized 0 comments on “Food Retail and CPG Alert: Coronavirus Spawns Opportunity”

Being relevant and valued in the moment of need

The New Yorker published a story chronicling China’s historic crackdown on the movement of people in public places in an effort to control spread of the virus. An interesting outcome is that home (quarantine) cooking is on a rapid rise especially among younger Chinese consumers who previously were much more likely to outsource their meals.

As massive numbers of people must stay home, turn on the stove and make their own food, popular Chinese social channels such as Douyin and Weibo are turning into online quarantine-driven cookbooks with recipes, journals and menu suggestions. Home grocery delivery is equally impacted. People are ordering the ingredients used that will help hone their cooking skills while they also discover the benefits of greater control over flavors, ingredients and preparations.

This event has disrupted normal food consumption habits and required many with limited cooking skills to seek support, inspiration, comradery and cooking tips to weather this lifestyle altering storm. This may have long-lasting impacts on food making and buying behaviors.

Home and hearth offer stability in an uncertain world

We’ve written before about the skyrocketing growth in online ordering through delivery apps like GrubHub and Doordash. This growth is connected to the consumer’s desire for convenience but driven in part by a sense of greater safety and control at home in a world that appears to grow less friendly and out of control by the day. Online everything allows the consumer to shop and also to eat easily without having to venture outside the household sanctuary. This is a powerful motivator that may only accelerate in the face of COVID-19.

The need for help – an opportunity in the making

Food retailers and brands are facing an extraordinary moment when behaviors and offers could coalesce to help consumers realize new home-based food consumption habits and even culinary ambitions. Of course, there will be a need to prepare for a potential onslaught of online ordering that could tax delivery services.

However, and importantly, there is an enormous opportunity here for retail, food brands and meal kit providers to be of help to consumers in gearing up for home cooking realities and adventures. Conditions like the potential of a pandemic are unusual and may create behavior shifts that will continue beyond the end of the crisis.

  • Here it is simply stated: how can you help the consumer with a rapid rise in home cooking occasions and a parallel need to know more about creating menus, meal preparation techniques, ingredients, food storage and safe handling, and sharing their experiences and ideas with others in your brand communities?

Now is the time to step up with tools and resources designed to enable these at-home eating experiences while positioning your banner and brand as a go-to, empathetic voice and valued resource.

Home cooking tool time

Some recommendations on the path forward:

  • Publish download-able menus tied to special offers and connected to shopping lists.
  • Serve as guide by providing instruction via online video on cooking skills and techniques – especially for vegetable dish preparations that aren’t as well understood.
  • Inspire the home cook by bringing chef techniques and voices to the table on cooking hacks and layering flavors.
  • Enable social sharing of meal ideas and preparations among your shopper community.
  • If ever there was an Instagram moment, this is it. Your social pages can be a helpful, informative and inspiration resource for novice home cooks.
  • Answer common food preparation and storage questions like, should you refrigerate berries or should you avoid storing apples near bananas. Shelf life questions will likely be common.
  • Communicate early and often on food delivery conditions, wait times and manage those expectations.
  • Get creative: food retailers can offer online meet ups and interactive webinars that will help families manage at-home events and dinner parties (social channel broadcast opportunity).
  • In short, become a resource and not just a product source.

Emergent believes this return to the kitchen is likely to have a lasting impact on the growth of e-commerce grocery ordering, and a long term upswing in home cooking.

If you’re wondering how to navigate this rapidly changing environment, we can help.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Verification and validation may be the strongest marketing strategies yet

March 6th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Insight, Transformation, Transparency, Uncategorized, Validation 0 comments on “Verification and validation may be the strongest marketing strategies yet”

Transparency advances to gold standard for successful brand building

The value proposition of verified truth and honesty is rapidly turning into the foundation of strong marketing strategy in an era where consumers, starved of trust and belief, impose change on how brand relationships are built.

We’ve lost the signals of credibility.

Some time ago we reported on the impact of digital conditions in the marketplace and instantaneous access to anything you want to know. This manifests as ‘anything that can be known will be known’ – hence every company now resides in a glass house. This is an outcome of pervasive social and digital communication and dramatically increased scrutiny of how brands and businesses operate. Daily we are confronted with outed fraudulent practices, misinformation and less than genuine product representations, mislabeling, omissions, recalls, investigations, misrepresentations of fact, even indictments — all while messaging perceived as self-reverential brand apple-polishing and brimming with marketing hyperbole falls increasingly on deaf ears.

Toss into this milieu, everyone with a device is now a content creator…and not all content creators (or their motives) are created equally. Today’s digital platforms foster an environment where opinions look like news to our always scanning eye. And those who opine may not be professionally trained, held to or bound by time-honored journalistic practices which have protected the word-consuming public. John Kass, columnist at the Chicago Tribune recently lamented the rush-to-support style of reporting in the Jussie Smollett debacle as evidence of how journalism standards remain vital. He urged reporters to revisit the old but wise axiom of “if your mother loves you, check it out.”

Brand trust heads south.

An outcome of fractures in belief and trust is a shift away from marketing’s traditional tactic of attempted ‘persuasion.’ In this environment, when assertion-based claims are deployed it can breed further contempt. People aren’t buying any of it.

The unintended consequence of always on 24/7 availability of everything about everyone is the rapid spread of information chronicling corporate misfires. The steady drumbeat of ‘caught in the act’ misdeeds subtracts from the consumer’s willingness to trust any voice driven by a profit motive.

  1. In a recent global research study of some 350,000 consumers HAVAS advertising found that consumers would not shed a tear if 77% of the world’s brands were to disappear. So much for the millions invested in building brand equity. If the brand becomes a less relevant commodity in the consumer’s eyes, there’s no deeper meaning or relationship there to be had.


  1. Further 58% of advertising and promotion for the world’s 1,800 leading brands is seen as irrelevant. If the communication isn’t constructed around what’s important to the consumer, and is more about the brand’s self-reverential promotion, the disconnect is already embedded in the communications strategy.


  1. Of note, brands that are considered truly meaningful to people soared over other businesses on overall impression, purchase intent, advocacy and justification for premium pricing. Meaning, values and purpose are fundamental to earning permission for a relationship. Does a brand have a soul? Apparently one is needed. Those without risk dying on the shelf.

The study concludes: usefulness and delivering on what you say you are may be more important than anything else. What does that tell you? Demonstratingcredibility and taking actions to earn trust are prerequisites to engagement. Transparency is an important path to proven authenticity and belief.

  • The value proposition for truth and honesty goes up daily in proportion to the growing weariness over evidence that some brands operate selfishly at best and dishonestly at worst. What consumers want are brands that listen; that make a priority of working overtime to be relevant and engaged in their lifestyle aspirations. Consumers are resonating to brands that have a soul, stand for something greater than themselves, and see the value of integrity standards and faithfulness to more human values.

There’s equity and opportunity in operating openly. What does the alchemy of advantage look like when the formerly powerful rules of brand command and control that once governed how to go to market no longer apply?

Credible proof in the form of verified and validated claims

Several years ago we were helping a client (Schuman Cheese) in the cheese industry to mitigate rampant fraud, adulteration and mislabeling in their category. A significant percentage of the Italian cheese business in the U.S. was adulterated with lesser ingredients to protect profit margins. To help solve the challenge, we developed and launched the first trust mark in the cheese industry. The True Cheese seal we created would appear on product packaging to signal the product inside meets or exceeds the standard of identify for the type of cheese, and that the ingredient label is indeed truthful.

Outside testing of products bearing the seal would be done randomly and unannounced by sampling retail products from store shelves – the same products consumers buy. Tests performed by a respected outside third-party laboratory confirmed adherence to the code of Federal regulation and findings were published.

When we launched it was a big media story – about fake Parmesan cheese – that went viral in 72 hours and got sufficient traction in popular culture to prompt the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to feature an entire segment on the adulterated Parmesan cheese development.

Important to note that retailers resonated to the verified trust approach and believed they were better off to stock the real thing than take chances with something that might not be.

What’s the story you’re telling?

Consumers want the truth but understandably are reticent to accept company assertions at face value. Hence the incredible surge of interest in Transparency.

Being transparent means you allow consumers to observe for themselves what goes on behind the corporate curtain in product creation and ingredient sourcing.

Trust marks and seals are shorthand for validation. Standards and testing organizations like are gaining traction as companies in food, beverage and lifestyle categories increasingly look for ways to credibly prove the quality story embedded in their products.

Recently Organic Valley and Maple Hill jointly announced the “Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program” to address misleading labeling in the grass-fed dairy products marketplace. The program, unlike others in the organic category, requires a full supply chain verification before qualifying to use the mark.

The strategic linkage in these validation programs and others we predict will come, is recognition that trust is vital to consumers and that assertions aren’t good enough to secure belief. Transparency’s call for openness and clarity, for access and demonstration to be brought to life through various techniques aimed at letting consumers, experts and media in the tent to see for themselves what brands hope they will recognize as truth.

Blockchain to digitize honesty

Perhaps the most significant development to come in the quest for verifiable trust is the advancement of digital solutions that are essentially tamperproof. Blockchain’s great promise is digital ledgers and contracts supported by the deployment of sensors and scanners — and backed by algorithms that monitor and validate every step from the soil to the store. Truth tech that will prove the tomato’s organic and heirloom heritage, its cultivation and harvest, its safe handling and freshness from the ground to store shelf.

Imagine the marketing opportunity that awaits for digitally verified trust… Emergent is following the development of Blockchain technology and is studying its evolution as we seek to stay ahead of Transparency strategies for our clients.

Where are you on the curve to provide these proof points in your marketing strategy?

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.




mobile grocery order

The Real-Food Uprising

June 6th, 2017 Posted by food experiences, Food Trend, Healthier habits, Healthy Living, shopper behavior, shopper experience, Uncategorized 0 comments on “The Real-Food Uprising”

Re-making the food and beverage business landscape

The single most important and disruptive change in food culture, now winding its way through virtually every part of the industry, is the overwhelming desire for fresh foods.

Call it the quest for all-things real. Fresh is defined as unprocessed, simple ingredients and often refrigerated. Fresh also conveys to consumers higher perceived quality, better taste and healthier. And so the packaged food world finds itself facing a state of transition as fresh versions overtake and replace their processed cousins.

consumers values impacting the food landscape

A.T. Kearney/Hartman Group study “Is Big Food in Trouble?” tracks growth of fresh trend as the dominant shift in consumer preference.

Why are meal kit solutions taking off so rapidly? Because they fit with fresh – offering real food ingredients already portioned and curated for menu creation. The meal kit is a form of convenience and taste adventure that connects to the consumer’s desire for experimentation. Thus, meal kits sit squarely on cultural relevance driving the fresher, higher-quality ingredients business.

Fresh fuels grocerants and more interesting prepared foods

The emerging fast casual restaurant sector is symptomatic of the fresh revolution and move beyond fast, cheap and common foods that have dominated the QSR category for decades. Fast casual’s emphasis on open production, customizable, made-to-order foods using fresh ingredients is relevant and in sync with consumers’ interests for higher-quality, healthier food experiences.

Grocerant strategies: all of this should instigate change at food retail to elevate Deli menus, think creatively about prepared foods sold for take-out, and improve in-store dining experiences.

Fresh food implications for retailers –

1. Investment in culinary-trained commissary staff and fine dining experienced chefs in leadership positions (Chief Culinary Officer).

2. Open kitchens and preparation spaces to show ingredients and allow for customizing menu items.

3. Reworking Deli menus to add more creative, global influences to prepared food options, beyond the comfort staples like meatloaf and rotisserie chicken.

4. Creating improved in-store signage and merchandising that will alert shoppers to fresh, in-season, locally sourced products.

5. Building content and storytelling around locally-sourced ingredients, farmer profiles, as well as tangible investments in local agriculture.

6. Cooking classes to inspire improvements in culinary skills and adoption of chef techniques for the home kitchen.

7. Better designs and environment for dine-in spaces inside food retail.

E-commerce traction and influence on fresh

There are those who simply love and enjoy food shopping – call it a sort of culinary catharsis – and want to visually experience the fresh options arrayed in front of them. Shopping at the store is, for some people, a type of food religion observed with regularity. For others, convenience must address the demands of busy lifestyle where online ordering is a valued (even required) option.

Mobile-based ordering platforms – in web and app form – are not peripheral but rather integral to the food retail eco-system. We believe e-commerce will be a factor in fresh product sales. Increasingly, consumers are getting used to the process as orders continue to meet and exceed their quality and freshness expectations.

Where the e-commerce play becomes a real exciting opportunity is when local sourcing can be woven together with digital ordering and delivery – such that time between farm and dinner table is shortened considerably.

As digital sophistication increases, another game changer would be the ability to solve and resolve last-minute ingredient or recipe needs (where rapid ordering and delivery is required).

Fresh and healthier

There is no other consideration more relevant, important and powerful than the groundswell towards healthier lifestyle. While healthy food was at one time attached to diet products, the meaning has changed considerably.

Foods made from simple and less-processed ingredients continue to gain traction, while better-for-you snacks are encroaching on more indulgent rivals.

Insight: we are moving from a production-fueled system to a demand-driven system, founded on the consumer’s interest in real foods and a parallel desire to know more about ingredients, sourcing, transparency, and sustainability.

For strategic planning purposes, food retail and food brands should look hard at the following consumer cues for guidance to what matters on the demand side:

  • Fresh, real
  • Health
  • Higher quality
  • Discovery and experimentation
  • Kitchen creativity
  • Indulgent reward

How brands and retailers respond now will have great bearing on their relevance and success later on.

Emergent’s strategic planning capabilities are designed around this agenda: marry insight to optimizing growth strategies and translating this work to more effective communication.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

couple cooking in kitchen

The New Kitchen Recipe: Marketing Insights and Ingredients for Healthy Living Inspiration

April 20th, 2017 Posted by Food Trend, Healthy Living, Human behavior, retail brand relevance, Uncategorized 0 comments on “The New Kitchen Recipe: Marketing Insights and Ingredients for Healthy Living Inspiration”

Kitchens have fully transformed and left behind any vestiges of being the labor-focused food prep station of yore (orange cone work zone). Instead, the room has morphed to become the most dynamic and influential household space. It’s the heart of the house – where social interaction and connection, entertainment and media consumption, healthy lifestyle expression, and food adventure all coalesce.

Life unfolds here on so many levels.

A renaissance created by cultural change

When exactly did the kitchen move from cooking conclave to heartbeat of healthy living? The origins can be traced to a cultural shift sparked by the Internet age in the late 90’s and the dawn of ‘anything that can be known will be known’ – ushering in the era of consumer control. The digital revolution allows people to indulge in unprecedented access to information about fresh food, industrial food, ingredients, sources, preparations, cooking techniques, and the impact of our food choices on both ourselves and the environment.

Fanning this spark to disruptive blaze is the unstoppable premiumization of food experience in America; a massive light bulb moment that what you eat directly impacts the quality of your life. In sum, the consumer’s desire for higher quality food and beverage experiences goes along with their higher quality lives.

Let’s face it – food is just super popular. Think Food Network, celeb chefs, food bloggers, food trucks, meal kits, cooking schools, the move to fresh and local over packaged and processed, culinary vacations, gastropubs, even school food – virtually everywhere food quality has gone up. Except on your average airline.

Further examining root causes

There is an equally intense desire to invest more time in an environment we can control while the world outside roils with uncertainty. This condition has helped catalyze a resurgence in cooking skills and culinary exploration; helping fuel the deepening bond between satiating our more sophisticated sensory interests and desire for more social attachment.

2017 Peapod Infographic

Source: Peapod – From the Pod (2016)

In fact, it is the intersection of media, food experience and the social aspects of food consumption that has transformed the kitchen area to lifestyle retreat.

Stepping back – when healthy was a narrower idea

At one point in time, healthy was ascribed to calculations of addition by subtraction. A food focused trip to ingredient eradication in service of less – sodium, sugar, fat, and calories. Healthy is no longer just a food-centric science experiment. Instead, it is a way of living that mirrors the consumer’s interest in a more fulfilling life.

Know more, be more and do more. Live better, brighter and longer. Yes, we’ve connected the dots between what we consume and do and the outcomes on health and happiness. We’ve rediscovered the true path to improved and more interesting food experiences through experimentation in the kitchen.

For this reason, we increasingly prefer to have home prepared meals over dining out – for its creative inspiration, control over experience, and ability to manage ingredients to our specs. The kitchen is now an environment that bridges media and entertainment interests with family and social interaction.

An expression of healthy living

We’ve come to appreciate a more holistic integration of mind, body, and spirit. We recognize how our choices and decisions impact the direction we take, experiences we have.

The kitchen is the hub and epicenter for much of what we do each day. Here celeb Chef Rick Bayless describes the higher purpose of food in our lives:

“I want you to cook more. It’s good for you. You know exactly what you’re nourishing yourself with… It allows you to feel the natural rhythms of life in a way that microwaved frozen dinners never can. And cooking often draws people to the table, encouraging dialogue and providing a moment to appreciate the good (and truly tasty) things in life.”

Just magic!

The implications to marketers working in and around this area in the home are deep and diverse. How can brands become enablers of creativity, personal expression, learning achievement, social discourse, family life and relationship growth?

Healthy living is more than a commitment to exercise. It’s a desire to follow a path to improved happiness and satisfaction. Brands that position themselves as facilitators of healthy lifestyle and provide resources, information, and easy-to-use tools will endear themselves to this ever-growing, engaged and active consumer base.

This is rich territory for social and experiential content and brand community building – enlarging the brand voice to rise above feature and benefit selling, to become a true partner in consumers’ lives. Oddly enough, letting go of traditional sales thinking can achieve authentic engagement and real traction.

What’s more, we unlock a treasure trove of relevance to consumer’s lives and what they care about. If brands can become a genuine healthy lifestyle coach, then we can also earn permission for a relationship built on trust and reciprocity.

The creative wheels should spin on elevating kitchen strategy – designing a viable footprint in this area of the home that fuels emotional lifestyle aspirations over tech specs. Just exciting.

Everything can be summed up in this thought:
We sit in service of the whole human being, not just the stomach.

What do you think?

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

family grocery shopping

The Food and Beverage CMO Directive: Belief Management

March 10th, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, shopper behavior, Supermarket strategy, Uncategorized 0 comments on “The Food and Beverage CMO Directive: Belief Management”

Is this embedded in your marketing plan?

Belief: Something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion (Source: Oxford Dictionary)

Belief is now central to closing the deal with consumers – to earning their allegiance and engagement. Yet, belief and its sibling trust are often not acknowledged directly in marketing strategies, priorities and especially downstream business behaviors.

We already know consumers are fully in control of initiating any conversation (pull) with brands – while traditional business, marketing and media strategies (push) have been upended by cultural shifts and technological disruption. Trust, relevance, and consumer-centricity have become foundational to growth because they mirror consumer expectations, and thus inform brand preferences.

Of all the business priorities clamoring for attention, it now falls on CMOs to become belief managers – working (harder) to build trust between consumers and brands in a business environment where skepticism rules.

Trust is not necessarily enhanced in…

  • Paid media channels – the channel and form carries their own liabilities
  • Interruption-style tactics, both online and offline
  • Brand assertions of quality, superiority and benefit

Areas where trust is cultivated…

  • Earned media a third party provides independent perspective
  • Social media – the consumer’s personal opinion is aired, unedited
  • Retail and digital experience – consumers witness it first hand
  • Verified quality and transparency – credible experts supply the proof

Today, the marketer’s goal is to transform customers into advocates and ambassadors. But to do so first requires belief. Trust is difficult to secure and challenging to preserve. It springs from a point of view that brand relationships are really like friendships, and so trust must be earned and nurtured through actions not just words.

The bargain for Belief Management is consumers determine you are operating in their best interests, that you are devoted to quality and craftsmanship; that your business operates with real values, a tangible soul and is making an effort to improve the world around us.

There was an era when marketers felt they could control and transact belief by ordering up paid influence through advertising imagery, music, message done in an effort to persuade. Now the artifice of concocted, self-promoting story is running headlong into a reality test. The consumer isn’t listening. They are, however, listening to each other – thus ‘social proof’ is a major part of the belief acid test.

Mining moments of truth

Belief Management might be best expressed as a planned effort to identify and activate opportunities to be completely relevant and believable. How? By curating all consumer touch points, from in-store experience to operations decisions to communications:

  • Be candid and honest.
  • Be transparent.
  • Be open.
  • Be helpful.
  • Be useful.
  • Be generous.
  • Be an enabler and supporter.

As you read those statements, they sound oddly familiar – as in the type of human behavior that leads to trust and friendship. The more brand relationships mirror characteristics of human friendships the better this gets.

In the marketing plan, belief must manifest in every step the organization takes to put the consumer at the center of strategy. That said, with consumers increasingly skeptical of corporate motivation, the pressure is even greater for brands and retailers to not only represent themselves as authentic, transparent and trustworthy – but TO BE authentic, transparent and trustworthy.

This is why Higher Purpose is such a vital component of installing belief. To the extent the business is shaped and guided by a legitimate belief system that steps beyond the transaction and profit motive, the deeper meaning and values help facilitate company behaviors that ‘prove’ a customer-first commitment.

It should be noted, there’s also a stark reality. In today’s connected world where ‘anything that can be known will be known,’ brands now live in glass houses. Honesty as an imperative is fueled by the reality of hyper-connectivity and the ability of consumers to rapidly obtain information in real time, confirming or denying, what your company does and does not do.

The Importance of Validation Marketing

At Emergent, we started work awhile back on a new planning model. We call it Validation Marketing. We created this series of steps with one fundamental concept that sits underneath: it is a trust creation engine.

If you accept the idea that belief and trust are vital to getting “permission” for any kind of relationship with those that buy from you, then this recipe for belief creation is for you. It is a virtuous circle. As belief managers we establish the foundation for engagement, working hard to build relevance and deeper meaning with consumers. Why? Because we’ve, in effect, humanized the entire operation and, in doing so, created the basis for trust.

For food retailers, if you follow this thinking all the way to the ground of shopping experience, there’s an opportunity to elevate and differentiate the banner brand. Legacy policies suggest some lack this insight or are unable to translate customer-centricity all the way through to offering food adventures in an environment that is traditionally focused solely on pushing transactions.

The irony: transactions will be better served by working harder on belief management.

Digging Deeper

Interested in learning more about harnessing the power of brand purpose, developing belief strategies and becoming the beneficiary of consumer trust?

Watch the webinar we hosted with Fresh Squeezed Ideas on the “Power of Purpose.” Moderated by the Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI) Mark Baum, the webinar features Emergent’s Bob Wheatley and Fresh Squeezed Ideas’ John McGarr, a premier consumer insights provider.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Tales From the Food Retail Front: “Think Different”

February 8th, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, food experiences, shopper experience, Uncategorized 0 comments on “Tales From the Food Retail Front: “Think Different””

impossibleWhen disruption is necessary for real progress

Just returned from the Food Marketing Institute’s Midwinter Executive Conference in Scottsdale. A remarkable gathering of food retail CEOs and CPG C-suite officers who come together once a year to network and compare notes on the future of the food business.

Much of the agenda focused on digital tools and strategies as food retailers work to address e-commerce, assaults from digital culinary innovators like Blue Apron and the disruptor of all retail, Amazon. Change is definitely in the air…

Kevin Coupe, author and owner/producer of the Morning News Beat and I were chatting about the hurdles to change in food retail. Made tougher when the business model based on razor thin margins and velocity/volume runs headlong into a consumer desire for greater service, culinary experiences and higher quality real, less processed food adventures.

I think it’s safe to say the food and beverage industry is in a state of transformation as food culture shifts impact what consumers want and how they engage with both product brands and retailers. But change is hard if you’ve been following a certain strategic recipe for decades. And the rules and conventions of business are just so familiar it’s challenging to walk past the comfort zone of what you think you know. In a manner of speaking, it’s difficult to follow the beat of a different drummer.

What’s changed?

People have changed – their wants and needs, how they engage with brands, their media preferences, their attitude about food and the things that motivate purchase or how they form relationships with brands and retailers they care about.

If your own corporate culture follows a relatively predictable path, then planned disruption may be necessary to alter course and, yes, Think Different.

Think Different

Think Different – the disruptive idea that ignited Apple’s resurgence

The story of Apple’s transformation in 1997 is one of disruption and evolution. For more than a decade prior Apple had been through an identity crisis that started in 1985 when Steve Jobs was drummed out of the company he started. Following Apple’s merger with NeXT, Jobs returned to the fold as interim CEO.

During that time the tech business was defined mostly by desktop computers and the software that powered them. When Jobs got control he wanted to re-introduce the brand while ushering in a new hardware era where design and user experience considerations were as important as the technology. And in doing so, he repositioned Apple differently against the other beige boxes in the competitor set.

Lee Clow was the TBWA\Chiat\Day creative executive behind what many consider to be the best TV commercial ever produced, Apple’s “1984” Super Bowl spot – created to introduce the Macintosh. After a decade long hiatus, Clow and colleague Rob Siltanen were invited to meet with Jobs to discuss his objectives. This meeting would ultimately lead to the renaissance of the Apple brand and its emergence as one of the most successful corporate turnarounds in history.

What’s important in my mind about this isn’t so much the ad campaign. It arguably set the company on a new trajectory, but more so the thinking and influence the message had within Apple and popular culture.

Clow and Siltanen brought a video to their presentation that helped cast the thinking behind “Think Different.” Essentially, it was a way to put Apple in league with the great disruptors in history who’ve created change in one way or another in science, the arts, their careers or life pursuits.

Here’s the script from that video:

Apple Think Different script

Albert Einstein, Mohammed Ali and others were employed as the iconic examples of “Think Different.” Please note this communication did not focus on features or technical advantage. There was no buzz on chips or memory capacity or screen resolution and lower prices. Instead, it was a clarion call to the creative community and others who see themselves on a different path, that this is the non-computer computer company for you.

The bold move to pick a position and bravely stand on it was unexpected, unusual and flew in the face of conventional thinking in how you make the case for these products.

Perhaps Job’s best move was to put user experience at the top of his business agenda and drive hard on that point of view through every innovation and strategic move they unleashed, including Apple retail stores – a unique experience in themselves.

“Think Different” expressed a point of view. It went past the obvious of tech and specs and focused instead on the ambitions and desires of all the game changers out there who want to leave a mark on the world. It was, and is, inspirational.

Disruption and the goal of culinary experience

Unlike CPG brands that must focus on message, social community and content to engage their audiences, food retail has the awesome advantage of real-time live experience to bring the level of engagement up a personal notch. How can the food retail experience be disrupted and thus changed to alter the perception people have of the banner(s) they prefer?

What can be done to better develop culinary inspiration, guidance on health and wellness in ways that alter what happens inside the front door?

If consumers could design their own food retail experience, what would it look like? From what we have gathered from previous projects and research, we can say it would follow closely the consumer’s own desires around food and its preparation and social enjoyment:

  • Service in the aisles
  • Better-trained staff
  • Culinary experiences
  • Help and guidance in real time with menus, techniques and preparations
  • Meal solutions not just ingredients
  • More transparency around the supply chain
  • Recognizable standards and commitments to help consumers make better choices
  • Tastes, flavors and smells from the kitchen
  • Community creation for food lovers to share and exchange ideas

True innovation is more than a signage proposition. It requires putting the consumer at the center of business strategy, investing in insight discovery about their wants, needs, concerns and aspirations – and working backwards from there.

That, by the way, is what we do.

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.