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Viewpoint: How do you sell to customers? Hint: It’s more than just price

While sorting through my mail recently, I came across several flyers from both retailers and quick-serve restaurants promoting their prepared food offerings. The advertisements were colorful, well-designed and eye-catching. But in all instances, my eyes focused on one pronounced characteristic shared by all of the ads: prices. Larger in size than the rest of the messaging and featured prominently throughout, they were the focal point of the ads.

It was at that point when I began to think about traditional approaches to marketing, where the emphasis is not on the features and benefits a retailer offers, but rather how much money a shopper can save. While cost is certainly a consideration among many consumers, it isn’t the only one. And marketing and advertising focused squarely on cost can downplay other facets of the store that sets it apart from fast food chains and quick-serve restaurants.

Selling features and benefits

Instead of trying to compete with fast food chains and quick-serve restaurants solely on price, retailers should focus on messaging that sets them apart from these establishments: variety, freshness and knowledge.

• Variety. Unlike many fast food and quick-serve restaurants, most supermarkets offer shoppers meal options that stretch beyond the typical burger and fries fare. Prepared food departments, in-store restaurants, sandwich programs and other foodservice options offer a viable—and, in many cases, a superior—alternative. The options are many: hot, cold, eat now, eat later, heat later.

With variety also comes personalization, which is especially important when choosing meal options for family or friends who have different tastes. A shopper can pick up a vegetarian salad, sushi or made-to-order sandwich, all at the same time. 

• Freshness. Supermarket dynamics place them in prime position to showcase freshness in their prepared food offerings, from fresh-baked bread in their sandwich program, to made-from-scratch pizza, salad with fresh-cut vegetables, and offerings in the in-store deli and prepared food departments that are made daily. And while some fast food and quick-serve restaurants promise fresh, some fail to live up to customer expectations. This is evidenced by a recent story that quoted anonymous franchise operators of a national sandwich chain who claimed their stores receive deliveries of produce only once a week.  

• Knowledge. It’s not just what’s consumed. It’s the story behind what’s consumed, whether it’s the ingredients or how it was made or sourced. Whether it’s through in-store messaging, marketing or conversations with store associates, supermarkets can engage with shoppers through “storytelling,” as well as properly advising them on what is and what isn’t in products, which is important information for shoppers needing to avoid certain foods or ingredients. 

Every food retail channel has its own strengths. By expanding the focus beyond price, supermarkets can leverage theirs and offer much more to their shoppers.

Mike Eardley is the president and CEO of the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association.

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