Consumers today are faced with an overwhelming number of choices about purchasing their food, like where to shop for groceries or where to eat out – and, once that decision is made, then they must choose which brand of chicken to buy or whether to order a chicken sandwich or a hamburger. With so many different food options, poultry companies need to make their products stand out in the marketplace and ensure that they are effectively communicating their “unique selling position,” according to Lou Cooperhouse, director, Rutgers Food Innovation Center, speaking at Process Expo 2015 on September 16.

lou-cooperhouse-speaking-at-process-expo

Lou Cooperhouse speaking at Process Expo.

Cooperhouse defined this unique selling position as “the factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition.” He said companies can better communicate their unique selling position by providing their customers with “experiences” and integrating these nine food industry trends:

1. Product differentiation: Since consumers have so many different options when it comes to selecting their food, poultry companies must take not only new, but also very familiar, products and differentiate them from competitors’ products by communicating the product’s rareness, exceptional quality, origin or other unique characteristics.

2. Freshness: Cooperhouse showed a recent AT Kearney analysis indicating that “freshness” was by far consumers’ top purchasing factor when it comes to selecting their food.

“Do consumers expect their eggs to be fresh? Of course,” he said.  

3. Local: Many consumers feel that buying local is important, Cooperhouse added. Poultry companies can communicate their sourcing or long-standing history in a community, for example, with words like “authentic,” “seasonal” and “traditional.”

4. Convenience: Various preparation and “involvement” alternatives exist for the consumer, he continued, with products like pre-marinated meat or protein wraps that can be eaten by the mobile consumer. Additionally, Cooperhouse said that there is a declining trend in supermarkets being the place of choice for grocery shoppers, as food is being sold in new places like Amazon, Peapod grocery delivery and farmers markets. Though this means fewer consumers will be walking by the deli’s meat case, it also opens up new opportunities for food companies to bring their products directly to consumers.  

5. Variety: Cooperhouse said that the industry is now focusing on creating “healthy” foods and conveying this on packaging with words such as “minimally processed” or “organic.” But, consumers also want foods that are indulgent.

“As a whole, industry really focuses on health, but I want to say that health is not the only thing we’re looking for," he said. "The No. 1 attribute that trumps all other factors is taste. Food must taste great as something that will lead to the repeat purchase.”

6. Sensory stimulation: While taste is the most powerful criteria for consumers to repeatedly purchase a food, perception is the leading driver of consumers’ trial and first purchase of a product, so things like appearance, color and packaging can help captivate the senses.

“In the fresh meat case, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of products that the visual clarity of the product is really important. I want to see those colors,” he said. “There’s a lot to think about so that the product can really communicate its freshness and your sensory reaction is as positive as possible.”

7. Social and environmental responsibility: A lot of us as consumers are also looking for companies to communicate their social and environmental responsibility, Cooperhouse said. Factors like where packaging is sourced, whether companies give back to communities and recycling efforts, for example, should be included as part of a company’s messaging.

8. Functional foods: Cooperhouse defined functional foods as those which provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. He said that these functional foods will continue to be demanded by consumers, especially as more science proves their benefits.  

9. Technologies: Another way poultry companies can make their products stand out is by producing them utilizing the latest technologies. For example, Cooperhouse said hurdle technologies can make poultry products as safe as possible as well as sometimes make them taste better; and new packaging technologies can help make products look better.    

Process Expo, the global food equipment and technology show, was held September 15-18 in Chicago.