Schoepp: Consumers are looking beyond the brand, and that’s a big shift

Products like grass-fed beef and ‘milk’ made from oats create powerful images in the minds of people

There is strong evidence that consumers are looking beyond the brand to product claims.
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If you have ever found yourself wandering up and down the grocery store aisle with a furrowed brow as you make purchasing choices, you are not alone.

We have all at some time been lost in the aisles and deviated from the list of things we just were going to ‘pop in’ for. What drives us to make those final decisions on which groceries to buy?

Companies bombard consumers with the value of a brand. This imprinting is to drive and secure customer loyalty. In the meat case for example, you may have been exposed through advertising to such brands as Cargill’s Sterling Silver. You can see the logo and know some of the production protocols behind the meat offering.

Big brands often dominate the shelf space. Value-added foods or snacks such as potato chips have a tremendous amount of shelf space because of the buying power of the brand, such as Old Dutch. Meanwhile, the local chip maker gets a wee display at the end of the aisle at best. It costs big money to own shelf space.

Back at the meat section there are choices that range from chilled cuts to processed meats. Many of them have a brand, but I was curious — is it the brand that is still selling the product? If not, then what gets consumers to buy?

There is strong evidence that consumers are looking beyond the brand to the claim that the product makes.

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At the meat case, antibiotic free, organic and grass fed are all attracting attention — with all three categories growing by double digits. (Fish consumers look for wild and wild caught as claims of choice.) Grass fed on the beef side leads the way, with sales up by 34.5 per cent in the U.S. and 11 per cent in Canada. Those sales gains are followed closely by organic meats and antibiotic-free meats.

What are consumers looking for?

They want to know that the animal or fish led a healthy and natural life. If so, they assume the product is good for them. Although grass-fed beef often needs to be imported to fill the North American demand, consumers have forgiven food miles in the interest of the claim.

Any relation to environment supports the product. Organic sales continue to increase on health concerns. But if consumers can visualize cattle grazing in a pasture, then that is seen as a healthy life and healthy meat.

New to the field is the aspect of buying based on farming practices and there is now evidence that a claim about sustainability is received less favourably than a wild or regenerative one. It is about the ‘It is better for me and the Earth’ feeling, and that emotion mixed with a memory related to food, that drives claims-based buying in six out of 10 decisions.

So let’s boil this down.

Six out of 10 consumers now buy not on brand but on the claim such as wild, organic, grass fed or antibiotic free. Does this then spill over into other grocery products?

Research indicates that fruits and vegetables might be on the shopping list but the final decision is based on claim, such as organic and the appearance of the product. More than 64 per cent of decisions in the fresh produce aisle are made on appearance alone and 69 per cent of consumers express a preference to organic (although they don’t always purchase the organic product).

Fresh is key in the produce department regardless of the claim and although certain veggies sell more during fads (remember when many fridges were full of kale?), consumers retreat to fresh presentation for the final buying decision with price being the last determinant.

There is little doubt that the feel-good part of buying is an extraordinary opportunity for entrepreneurs.

For example, Vancouver-based Earth’s Own Food Company is one of the leaders in the oat milk beverage market, which is seeing sales grow by double digits annually at a time when other alternative beverages (such as those made from soy and rice) have seen a decline in sales.

Some suggest the reason is that it is oats. Oats are familiar to people and inspire memories of wholesome goodness. Oat-based products such as oatmeal and granola have been marketed as, and are believed to be healthy. Though there is no claim to be organic with Earth’s Own, the fact its claim to be vegan, gluten free, dairy free, soy free, carrageenan free and nut free has appeal.

What does this mean for grocery shoppers when food inflation is rising such as it is now?

For families there might be a struggle to ensure a quality and quantity balance. Teenagers often drive budgets on the sheer volume that they eat! Yet in reality, most households in Canada are 2.9 persons and 28 per cent are single-person households. The small and single-person households will likely continue to drive claims-based buying, joined by those larger families with the financial capability to make those choices.

Groceries — or more specifically food choices — are very personal and buying decisions are now often based on the claims of the product rather than the brand.

About the author

AF Columnist

Brenda Schoepp

Brenda Schoepp works as an international mentor and motivational speaker. She can be contacted through her website at All rights reserved.



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