Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Meet your potential customer

I'm blogging live today from a conference on the consumer. The thread is best read from the bottom up.

2:05: Uh-oh. It's starting to get ugly. Krista Lorio, senior manager of consumer insights for General Mills, is talking specifically about how c-stores can counter the challenge from quick-service restaurants at breakfast.

This is after noting that QSRs are really being aggressive in packaged-food sales--the packaged cookies, the grab-and-go pie slices, etc. Once, convenience stores owned that market. Not anymore. And like other speakers, she's noted recent indications that McDonald's is about to mount a major, major push for sales of desserts and sweets. That factor will undoubtedly bolster QSRs' sales of packaged foods.

"So how do c-stores win? When you're driving down the road and see the Taco Bell or the Golden Arches, how do you become synonymous with food?"

First, Lorio says, you have to become part of the "hunger solution." You have to establish your c-store as a place for attractive food.

Second, the emphasis has to shift to quality and freshness. Lorio suggested such cues as labeling when the coffee was brewed, or what employee is manning the roller grill.

Finally, she says, c-stores have a major advantage because of the breadth of their inventory. You can have a hotdog, but you can grab a bag of chips with it.

So, QSRs, be forewarned.

1:45: Restaurateurs should be very afraid. Kraft's Johnson says a key to bolstering convenience stores' appeal to Millennials is upgrading the food, particularly in regard to health. "The food offering is especially important," he explains. "They've laid out three pillars for us: It has to taste good, it's gotta be good for me, it's gotta be 'real food,' and they continue to want easy and fast."

A step in that direction will not only offset the competition from fast-food, a traditional rival, but also the rising challenge of drug stores stocking food and snacks, Johnson says.

1:30 p.m.: Is the young c-store customer much different from the Millennial restaurant patron? Data being presented at the conference might suggest a yes on first glance. But, on further contemplation, maybe not.

The top three motivators for c-store patronage in that age bracket, according to Eric Johnson, senior director of marketing/immediate consumption for Kraft Foods, sound as if they also hold true for restaurant customers. They're just seldom expressed that way.

Those drivers: Boredom, a need for energy, and a desire to be pleased.

11:40: Hispanics are twice as likely than non-Latinos to buy hot food from a c-store to eat there or take home, according to Garcia.

11:25: Carlos Garcia, an expert on the Latino consumer, has taken the microphone.

"You can see Hispanics as a segment unto themselves, but they can be segmented themselves," with separate behaviors and preferences, says Garcia. "Segmentation must move beyond just language. If you don't get the behavioral stuff right, the language stuff is irrelevant."

"You have to identify with them, with how they see themselves. It has nothing to do with Latinos;" all consumers want to be treated that way, says Garcia.

Word of mouth is essential, he explained. If a service experience is a good one, a Latino will tell 14 others, or double the usual audience for a non-Latino. If the experience is bad, a Latino will tell 20 people, according to Garcia.

11:12: Women tend to book vacations, and they tend to do it after 9 p.m. on weeknights, or during the mornings of weekends, according to Morris. Her observations suggest that restaurants should be cagier about when they promote themselves as a dining option when a family is on the road.

10:55: Only 24% of families meet the definition of "traditional," according to Morris.

10:50: Morris has just introduced a new term: LAT, or Living Apart Together. As she explained, more than 3 million sets of married couples live in different cities, a reflection of the tight job market.

"How can you help them with the logistics they are facing?" she asks.

10:45: Speaker Susan Morris, a former Marriott executive, is making a convincing case that women should be the consumer in a business' cross hairs. They control 33% of the nation's wealth and "are the Chief Purchasing Officers, the CPOs," said Morris. "Is anyone else ready to follow the money?

"Are you getting in the heads of women? Are you getting in the shoes of women?"

Morris is explaining that Citibank has a whole division devoted to landing more female customers, called Women & Co., "This is the type of thing you might want to look into," says Morris.

10:15 a.m.Shhh. I'm writing this from deep inside the camp of what many of you view as the enemy, the convenience-store industry. I'm attending a conference called Consumer insights & Engagement, a meeting presented for retailers by monkeydish.com's parent company, CSP Information Group. The conference delves into the attributes and behavior of consumers. Because those individuals are the same ones whom restaurateurs are trying to land, I managed to get inside the meeting rooms. I'll be blogging the relevant tidbits I hear through tomorrow. So stay tuned.

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