Grocery brands

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Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

20 April 2020

Grocery brands missing today’s opportunity

Inserted in an interview with Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen on the current state of grocery brands was an interesting tidbit about his own.

“Customers shop with Kroger in these times of uncertainty because it’s a brand they trust.”

No they don’t. In fact, later in the interview, McMullen admits that people are buying goods, like toilet paper, simply because they are available. Not because of what brand it might be.

Grocery brands“But right now, people are more focused on having – if you look at toilet paper, people really don’t complain about what brand it is. All they’re looking for is toilet paper.”

Correct, which is why grocery brands are currently building false preference based on availability and location (and maybe price) more than on brand meaning.

Does that mean brand preference goes out the window during the COVID-19 epidemic? Not at all. As we’ve outlined, there are human motivators brands can align with to create greater preference at this time.

“It may sound cold to say, but grocery brands should be developing meaning in their brands right now while they are more important to target audiences than before.”

Grocery brands creating false preference

The problem is that few grocery brands have any real, differentiating brand meaning at all. So, consumers’ preference is based on what they’ve always been. Convenience, price and location. The spike is Kroger’s sales during this time is just representative of what’s happening with all grocery brands.

It’s just an unusual time. Those claiming that brand doesn’t matter now are forgetting that most brands are meaningless. They didn’t create preference before and they aren’t now.

The interview with McMullen is actually illuminating, especially when discussing the stages grocery brands are going through. As we (hopefully) emerge from the current situation into a more normal one soon, they will find that they missed an opportunity. In fact, I’d say any goodwill consumers are feeling about their current grocery store now (probably the closest one) is generated by the store’s employees. Not the brand.

It may sound cold to say, but grocery brands should be developing meaning in their brands right now while they are more important to target audiences than before. Now, that they’ve captured consumers’ attention, groceries should be looking hard at what their brands mean and whether that meaning truly resonates.

My guess is they’ll do nothing. Today’s messaging is all about “we care” or “we’re in this together.” Those messages could not be more ignored.

Grocery brands actually have an opportunity they haven’t had, maybe ever. They need significant brand meaning more now than ever.

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