Business and Operations
Marketing insights: A Natural Order
By Michelle Brisebois
Certain words are used so often and thoughtlessly that they cease to have deep meaning.
Certain words are used so often and thoughtlessly that they cease to have deep meaning. For example, the term natural has been bandied about the food and beverage industry like a tennis ball at Wimbledon. Webster’s Dictionary defines natural as “living in or as if in a state of nature untouched by the influences of civilization and society.” One could make a literal case in saying that if food were natural as in truly untouched by the influences of civilization, it wouldn’t be starring on a menu but instead be enjoying a blissful existence far from the threat of harvest or slaughter. The word natural is open to interpretation. While it has a positive connotation, it doesn’t necessarily define the product for the consumer. Is there a more natural way to say natural?
To market our pizza menu effectively, we need to understand what consumer need is driving the use of the word natural. To put it simply, people want to know where the food came from and what’s in it. In its annual survey of 1,500 chefs in the U.S., The National Restaurant Association says that the sourcing of local produce and meat, menus filled with simple and healthy food, and sustainable business practices top the list of what’s hot in the industry this year. Diners have a myriad of reasons for wanting to know about the origin of menu items. The back story may enhance their enjoyment of the meal, allowing them to get a sense of the place where the ingredient was grown. The wine industry refers to this as terroir.
Health concerns around additives, pesticides and hormones have been widely reported in the media, prompting anxiety on the part of consumers to escalate. Considering people’s many reasons for wanting the lowdown on their grub, it’s best to be specific about the pedigree of menu items. Instead of just using the descriptor natural, tell patrons what the food is free from, whether it’s pesticides, hormones, gluten or dairy, etc. If you source an ingredient from a local farmer who employs sustainable and/or humane practices, promote this through your pizza menu and via your staff so they can sell the selections to your diners effectively. Be wary of making it sound like a eulogy for the animal. Focus on the farmer’s systems rather than the life and death of the main course. Research shows that guilt has no place on an effective menu.
The Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, released last November by Technomic, says that “nearly half of all consumers want healthier menu items, but only about a quarter of them actively consider nutrition when dining out.” These results suggest that healthy menu items are important in drawing customers to your restaurant but may not perform as strongly at the till. The study also noted that wording has a significant impact in motivating consumer selections. Sixty-seven per cent of consumers said they were willing to spend up to 20 per cent more for a food or beverage that said “certified” organic, yet just 18 per cent indicated they would do so for an item labelled simply organic. Similarly, 67 per cent of consumers said they would spend up to 20 per cent more for a food or beverage item labelled “all-natural” compared to 59 per cent who said they would do so for an item claiming to be just “natural.” These findings highlight the importance of being as specific as possible with your words. Smoke and mirrors won’t cut it anymore. It’s time to put our money where their mouths are.
“Consumers definitely expect restaurants to offer something they consider to be healthy, and they expect them to be able to do it in a way that still tastes really good,” says Kelley Weikel of Technomic. “The expectations are really high.”
Many of the industry’s trend-watchers quickly get to the heart of the matter when it comes to sustainable eating options. While food grown locally or without pesticides can be perceived as healthier, consumers also often believe it tastes better too. Study after study always circles back to the importance of taste for consumers.
Knowledge, taste and availability are key barriers to healthier eating, reveals a five-country study by Ketchum titled Food 2020: The Consumer as CEO. When asked what factors aside from cost prevent them from buying healthier foods, 44 per cent of consumers said knowing what’s truly healthy, 43 per cent reported taste; and 35 per cent cited availability. Consumers in Germany, Argentina and China are more likely to cite knowledge as a barrier, while consumers in the United States and China list taste. The top barrier in the United Kingdom is availability.
Be specific, be transparent and focus on dazzling their taste buds. What could be more natural than that?
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.