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How to create a go-to-market strategy for the consumer food industry

August 19, 2021

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Creating a go-to-market strategy isn’t easy — take it from me, as someone who's been building them for years. There’s a ton of audience understanding, product messaging, and research that needs to go into them. That’s why it’s important to utilize an approach that reflects your needs and why today we’ll be looking specifically at the consumer food industry. The go-to-market considerations for a software product, for instance, are going to be a whole lot different than those of a new food brand.

Go-to-market strategies are generally short-term, step-by-step marketing strategies designed to launch one specific item or product line. These strategies may sound simple in theory but are multifaceted in practice.

Why are go-to-market strategies so important?

Let’s start with some numbers. 11 out of every 100 new products survive at retail. Not just ideas—actual products that make it to supermarket shelves. The average consumer spends 40 minutes shopping. With over 25,000 different products on a retail shelf, how do you grab attention and breakthrough at the point of purchase? Whether it be in the last 6 feet in a retail store or before the last click online, there are more ways than ever for your product to be lost — or found.

The modern online grocery shopper is likely using a pre-created list. The opportunity for impulse purchasing is disappearing, making it harder to stand out and be different, or get a trial. A go-to-market strategy needs to think all of this through and more.

An industry legend who I look to for inspiration is Philip Kotler. His statement, “Authentic marketing isn’t selling what you make but knowing what to make” really resonates. This is obviously a fine line between creating breakthrough new products that no one expected and iterative product development, but I think it’s still great advice. As a young brand manager who came from a manufacturing background, I fell into the trap of only creating products we could produce with the raw materials we had. Thankfully I had a great boss who put me on the straight and narrow. Now, I know that looking for market gaps, opportunities, and needs for product inspiration (while still listening to research) are all necessary.

First steps: research and discovery

Let’s assume you have your company purpose locked in, you understand your “why”, and you’ve set your goals. Lafley, (ex P&G CEO) would say a “Winning Aspiration”, for both business and marketing goals for our product, no matter how lofty, needs to have teeth and be SMART.

Before determining your Winning Aspiration, you need to figure out your position. Time for some good old-fashioned hard work. Think hard on:

  1. who you’re targeting
  2. how your target market sees you
  3. how you’re going to frame your product to speak to your customers’ needs
  4. who your competitors are/will be

This technique is called framing. I find framing useful because it makes you think about how the customer will buy you. Where do customers put you on the shopping list? Are you a treat or necessity? Do they think to look for you in the candy aisle or the healthy foods aisle?

Lighthouse launched a range of salad dressings that needed refrigeration— the distribution challenge was where did they put them in the store? Not in the shelf-stable aisle, but in an area in the produce section that was cool enough for their new product, alongside the stuff you make a salad with. Genius! And this category has even expanded over time

The go-to-market format

Lucky for us, go-to-market strategies follow a structure, so we don’t have to start completely from scratch each time. There are a few examples of these structures out there, but I’ll tell you about my favourite.

McCarthy first talked about the 4 P’s of marketing back in 1960 in his book Basic Marketing - a managerial approach. Since then, there’ve been many updates, additions, new models, and over-complications of this model to help it stand the test of time. If you need to add more into this to make it work for you, so be it, but every marketer selling a product or service should have the 4 P’s drilled into their brain.

If you don’t have this sorted, you’re not alone. This simple formula is sometimes overlooked.

What are the four P’s, and how do they relate to your go-to-market food strategy?

When working through the four p's consider the following helpful questions in each category.

Product
  • What are you taking to market?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • Why are you different from your competition (features, functional benefits, emotional benefits)?
  • What’s the quality of the product?
  • What are your brand name and visual identity?
  • What do people say about you when you aren’t there?
  • What are your product sizes and the number of stock keeping units (SKUs)?
  • Are there services associated with your brand/product, like a calorie counter, to round out the brand experience?
  • Why would the identified consumer select you over your competition?

Price

This is more than just the on-shelf, everyday price.

  • What discount mechanisms are you going to use?
  • What allowances do your sales team have to help cross-promote your product with other category products in the store?
  • What are the payment terms you want to have and subsequently, what discounts need to come with that?

I’ve launched new products with new businesses in the past and have encouraged early payment discounts to get cash into the business as quickly as possible. As you grow, there’s nothing more important than strong cash flow.


Place
  • Where are people going to find you?
  • What are your goals for coverage within those channels?

Large retailers break their stores into A, B, and C stores. A stores are those stores that carry the majority of SKU's for a given listed brand. For example, when we launched Baby Gourmet, Walmart’s A stores took all 9 SKU's, their mid-sized (B) stores took 6 and the smaller (C) stores took 4. It is mostly a matter of shelf space available for the category.

You may choose to only be in A stores because they can handle a large amount of SKUs, and your product line needs to have a large on-store-shelf presence to work. This seems weird at first blush but think about a single SKU on a shelf vs. six. A wall of product will help sales initially to create brand recognition, especially during trial. Single SKUs can disappear on the shelf, which is no good for anyone—particularly when large corporation merchandisers come in and “forget” to fulfill your product on the shelf.


Promotion

In my experience, marketers often come to their agency for pure promotion. They have a product to sell and need sales now, thus marketing needs to drive footfall or create market pull. But for this to work, the company needs help to drive and understand the 4P’s. This only happens when they're involved from the start. As an agency full of creative people, we can think of creative ways to drive awareness and create demand for a product that makes sense to a targeted group of consumers. This is one famous example of promotion (and one of my favourites). 


My standards are high in this area because what you get with ZGM is a team of people who really care about all of the 4P’s. We make sure that what we help put in market is the truth of the product, driven by a company purpose. A brand connected to consumer needs, wants, matching product attributes, and emotional benefits that create a wholistic product and marketing offering.

Now that you have the foundations to get started, it’s time to get into gear. Tune in for part 2 of this series, where I cover common mistakes and things to avoid when crafting your strategy. Launching your own product soon and not sure where to start? We’d love to help. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or send me an email and we can book a time to chat.

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