Local food winning ground in the US
This week we welcome Guest Blogger, Nick Sawbridge, a former UK based marketer who now lives in the US. It is common knowledge that what happens in the US often ends up here too (and occasionally vice versa!), so here Nick shares an interesting insight into what is happening in US grocery…
I’ve worked in innovation (or new product development as we used to call it) as a UK based consultant for over 20 years so when I moved to live and work in the USA, it was second nature to look for similarities and differences in food markets between the two countries.
I live in a rural New Hampshire town – two “supermarkets” and a small Walmart. I’m pretty sure that very few shoppers knew that the two grocers were foreign owned, Hannafords by Belgian Delhaize, and Shaws, at that time, by J Sainsbury.
How US supermarket grocery differs from the UK…
US grocers still stock far more brands than in the UK; its not uncommon to have 4 or more branded variants of the same line and varieties flourish – think 5 recipes of baked beans and 3 brands or 10 of canned tomato variants.
Produce quality can be very poor, but displayed and racked beautifully and sprayed automatically with a mist of chilled water. When half of the produce has travelled a couple of thousand miles from California, it’s no surprise that it looks a bit tired – and of course all that water adds to the weight – and the price!
Biggest range differences are the almost complete absence of chilled ready or part prepared meals. Tesco, through their Fresh & Easy outlets, have been trying to introduce them but it’s a long haul to win over the competition of just going out to eat (1 in 3 meals are eaten out of home); from the California Fresh & Easy I visited, its going to be a hard fight if large amounts of shelf stock are on their last day of code life and already growing mould!
Small & local is winning ground…
Despite the power and the presence of major food manufacturers like Kraft, Heinz and Kellogg’s, operating in their home markets, local and small is winning some interesting ground.
Most grocers now spotlight local products at aisle ends and within the relevant section. In New Hampshire, local Maple Syrup is everywhere. Artisanal cheeses display alongside regional dairy co-ops, alongside Kraft Cracker Barrel, and even in our small town there are 3 good bakeries and farmers markets are flourishing. A local free range poultry farmer raises and pre-sells 3 flocks a year at around a 300% price premium to store bought birds. Local brands of Gin and Vodka are building premium positionings and micro breweries have a wide range of bottled and canned beers. Oh and just up the road in Vermont is the birthplace of Ben & Jerry – they did all right in the end!
City markets are showing the same trends – interestingly, food and non food companies are co-operating under a shared banner for publicity. Born in Brooklyn, for example, offers cheese, beer, spirits… and kitchen construction.
When I got my first brand manager job (don’t even think of asking what year), the big win was to persuade the marketing director that a “shopping trip” to the USA was a great way to see the future. Global trade may have reduced the value of the trip but seeing how other countries are changing still has enormous value.
© Nick Sawbridge May 31st 2012
We’ve got lots more on food, consumer and shopper behaviour trends in the Relish members area – you can register here for access. To gain further insight into the US market, Nick would be delighted to help – he can be contacted on [email protected].