Does your CPG brand have a solid strategy to move products off the grocery shelf? Most companies focus too much energy on getting a product ON the shelf but have zero clue how to sell it OFF the shelf once it gets there. Most of the big retailers only give one chance for new brands to succeed, so having a solid plan in place is crucial to your product’s success. Let me help you with those details. In this blog, you will learn how to think about building your shopper marketing plan and which tactics you should consider for your shopper marketing plan.
Below you will find the 5 sales and marketing lessons I’ve learned throughout the years. And, don’t miss my money chart at the end for my framework on how to think about shopper marketing and the tactics that you should think about at every brand stage!
Table of Contents
My 5 Shopper Marketing Lessons:
- Moving products off of the store shelf is YOUR job, not the retailers.
- Focus on Driving Regional Awareness + Trial
- There is no silver bullet: marketing objective, brand stage, category, retailer, and budget considerations
- Launching a food brand isn’t cheap. Plan your budget and cash flow accordingly.
- Marketing fundamentals are KEY
Shopping Marketing Advice:
This is one of the dirty little secrets of this industry. You have worked so hard to get your product ON the shelf, and it’s still your job to see the process through and get your product back OFF of the shelf as well. It’s not the brokers’ job, it’s not your buyers’ job, it’s not even the retailers’ job. It’s all yours! Think of it this way: you are renting space within a store. Your brand has probably already spent a lot of money to get on the shelf, but the investment doesn’t stop there.
You must ask yourself how much you are able to invest to keep your product on shelf. Set a velocity goal (units sold per store per week) - a good rule of thumb is above 3 u/s/w. You must establish a goal to evaluate if you’re successful and also to set your budget. You can also reach out to your buyer asking for a category velocity hurdle. Or, you can look at category sales data (try using a free tool like Byzzer) to find the average product’s velocity. POS or point of sale data from IRI, Nielsen, or SPINS can also give you an idea of what the median grocery velocities are in that category.
Lesson #2: Focus on Driving Regional Awareness + Trial
Driving awareness and trial is expensive and time consuming. Your efforts will also add up to be more, together. That’s why it’s best to build strong awareness and trial in one region at a time, starting first with where your target consumer is most likely located. You can declare success in a region when:
- Your consumer can easily find you at local stores
- Your in-store velocities are great and your retailer buyer loves you
- Your distributor rep also loves you because your product is moving briskly off their warehouse shelves
OK, so what does awareness and trial even mean? Here’s the typical consumer journey
- Awareness: a consumer is curious about your CPG product. They might think to themselves, what is this product and what can it do for me?
- Consideration: when the consumer starts to imagine your product in their lives - will this fit into their routine? Does it meet their health goals? Would their families like the flavor? They think that your product benefits could be helpful to them.
- Trial: when that consumer finally says to themselves, I need to go to the store and buy this product. The consumer has learned enough about your product at this stage to be curious enough to actually try it!
- Repeat Purchase: when someone loves your product so much that they purchase it over and over again.
- Brand Advocate: they talk about your product to their social networks.
Moving a consumer to brand advocate is the ultimate goal for any business - these are your most profitable consumers! They are not only repeating purchasers themselves, but they continue to bring awareness back to your brand by telling everyone they know to try your product! These consumers will shout out your products on social media and tell all their friends about you and your CPG products. Word of mouth really is the best way to get brand awareness but it can’t be planned for.
Concretely, here are some tactics to consider at each stage of the funnel:
Lesson #3: There is no silver bullet
There is no one answer for a food business; every brand and business is different. Here are a few things to consider when developing your shopper marketing plan:
- Marketing Objective - Do you have a brand new product category that consumers need to be educated about? Then you should invest a lot more in the awareness stage of the shopper marketing funnel. Educate them about your product PLUS what your benefit so they understand how you might fit into their lifestyle. Are you trying to get the consumer to switch from another brand to your brand? In this case, you would want to put more of your marketing budget into the trial stage because they are already standing by your shelf. It’s your job to get them to purchase your CPG product.
- Brand Stage - How much brand equity do you have? If you’re an early stage brand and consumers don’t know who you are, you’ll need to do more awareness driving. If you’re later stage and are entering a new retailer, you may be able to jump to step #2 (driving trial). It all depends on how much brand recognition you have.
- Category - What do consumers most care about? What are your competitors doing? If you’re in a price-competitive category like grains, increase your grocery velocities by focusing your budget on trial (couponing and promos/rebates). But, if your consumers’ primary purchasing decision is taste and flavor, as in ready-to-drink beverages, consider spending more of your budget on getting that shelf talker at the retailer. Take note of what your competitors are doing in the category too and plan appropriately.
- Retailer - What trade and shopper marketing programs are available to you? Every retailer has these, some are really expensive but others can be extremely effective. For early stage brands, promos should be a top tactic for you to consider. They demonstrate to the retailer that you’re supporting your product in their stores. Many retailers now have e-commerce sampling programs that are very cost effective.
- Budget - what can you afford? What can your product margins support? It doesn’t make sense to get distribution in 100 stores if you don’t have the budget to support those stores. Instead, focus on 25 stores and grow slowly from there.
Lesson #4: Launching a food brand isn’t cheap. Plan your budget and cash flow accordingly.
If you have a new brand or product, you should be setting aside 5-20% of your wholesale sales for marketing on top of trade promos for at least the first and second years in business. If your product isn’t moving off the shelf, you will lose that shelf space. You have worked so hard and spent so much to get the shelf space and you don’t want to lose it over poor marketing support. Plan for this investment in your budget from the very beginning. Distribution is the biggest driver of sales, but this won’t help you if you continually gain and lose distribution because your product isn’t moving off shelves. Most brands aren’t profitable in the first two years of business - you’re brand building.
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Lesson #5: Marketing fundamentals are KEY
It won’t matter how much you spend on shopper marketing if you don’t have these fundamentals down:
- You must have more than 1 SKU and you must have the right flavors. Your SKUs will create a brand block so consumers can actually find you. Are your flavors incremental to each other? It’s better to have a Butter flavor and a Chili flavor instead of a Butter flavor and Truffle Butter flavor - you’ll reach more consumers.
- You must have a strong consumer value (price compared to benefit). If you are premium priced, you need to communicate strongly why you are worth that extra cost.
- Your packaging has to clearly communicate why you’re better than all the other products around you. Your product must communicate this at 6 feet (eye catching), 3 feet (peak interest), and 1 feet (benefits). I’ve seen double-digit velocity jumps for brands that have gone through packaging refreshes. So trust me when I say, packaging matters!
SHOPPER MARKETING TACTICS
When you increase the number of stores you’re in, that typically means you have more sales and more money to work with. Having more money = being able to do more shopper marketing things. Here are my best tips on what you should focus on depending on the stage of your CPG brand:
Less than 500 stores? It’s all about YOU! You most likely have little to no money to work with and here are some things you can get started on right away.
- Activate your community
- Social media and newsletter announcements
- Influencer Partnerships
- Geo-Targeted digital advertising
- Retailer shopper programs such as demos, shelf-talkers, sampling, and rebates
500-1000 Stores? Now we’re talking! You are at the stage where you have retailer programs available to you, and you can actually afford them. Certain programs won’t work with you if you aren’t in enough stores, but that is no longer your concern once you’ve hit 500-1,000 stores. Here are the things you can level up to at this stage in your shopper marketing.
- Sampling ($5-$20K Social Nature, Brandshare)
- Rebates ($5-$10K Ibotta, Chop)
- Shopping Advertising ($10-$20K AdAdapted, Prodege)
- Couponing ($5K+ Mandlik & Rhodes, Inmar)
- Digital Advertising (including e-commerce)
- Retailer shopper programs (merchandisers)
1,000 + Stores? TIME TO SCALE! There aren’t really new tactics here, but your costs go down which means you can double down on the tactics that work. Use your results from the previous stages to figure out where you need to double down. If it works, keep going for it!
- Retailer shopper programs
I hope you have enjoyed the information on how to drive grocery velocity for your CPG brand. Let me recap our five main lessons as you build your shopper marketing plan:
- Moving products off of the store shelf is your job, not the retailers
- Drive Awareness + trial in your region
- There is no silver bullet
- Launching a food brand isn’t cheap
- Marketing Fundamentals are KEY
If you remember these key points, you will be well on your way to scaling your business!