"Don't judge a book by its cover" may be decent advice for interpersonal relations, but in the wall-to-wall melée of the grocery aisle, shoppers' snap judgments often depend on how a product is dressed up.
Recently, a 30-year-old Canadian company discovered just how important appearances can be – and saw its sales jump nearly 70 per cent without any advertising. All it needed was a packaging makeover, and a better spot on grocers' shelves.
Maison Orphée, a Quebec City-based maker of oils, mustards, sea salt and vinegars, was stuck. In 2009, the company had Canada-wide distribution in organic and health food stores, and in major grocery retailers in Quebec. But its bottles were mostly stocked in the marginalized organic or health food aisles, where fewer shoppers tread. And national expansion with other big retailers such as IGA and Sobey's was elusive. Growth had slowed.
"When we tried to get into new markets, that's the answer we would get: 'We've got better-looking products,' " said Élisabeth Bélanger, chief executive officer of Maison Orphée.
Its new ad agency, Montreal-based lg2, agreed that the packaging had a "down-market" look. They advised that the products needed a total rebranding to convince retailers – who wield a great deal of power over products in the allotment of shelf space – to give them better play.
In June, 2010, the company unveiled the new look, with slimmer bottles and a higher-end label design. Sub-brands were tossed out in in favour of selling everything under the Maison Orphée name.
Lg2 also decided to emphasize the product's use on the label, instead of the product name. Research had shown that consumers were confused about how to use the different products (a delicate cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil versus a classic or robust version of the same, for example). So, "for salads and pesto" is highlighted for shoppers, before any product details. In an instant, a home chef knows that grapeseed oil is "for cooking, frying and fondues."
The new look was not just cosmetic. Maison Orphée expanded into the rest of Canada, winning over buyers and securing placement at Loblaws, Metro and Sobey's in Ontario, and IGA and Save-on-Foods in the West, for example. And at some supermarkets, they succeeded in landing in the main condiments aisle, alongside such multinational brands as Pastene and Bertolli – bringing them out of exile in the overly specialized organic or health aisles.
In the three years since the change, sales have gone up 67.9 per cent, without traditional advertising.
"Marketing budgets are small … we do a lot of sampling, but we don't do a lot of advertising," Ms. Bélanger said. "We depend a lot on shelf placement."
Maison Orphée's case reflects an increased emphasis on what is known as "shopper marketing," or marketing to people as they shop, at the point when they are on the verge of making purchasing decisions.
It is an old concept, but has come increasingly into vogue as packaged goods companies look for better ways to reach consumers in an ever-noisier environment. A study by Deloitte and the Grocery Manufacturers Association in the United States found that in 2008, 29 per cent of manufacturers and 60 per cent of retailers surveyed had "significant shopper marketing organizations (more than 20 people)" – a massive jump from just a year earlier, when only 6 per cent of manufacturers and none of the retailers reported programs that large.
These types of shopper marketing programs can be very complex – with in-store displays designed specifically to catch shoppers' attention or even to convince them to use a product differently – but it can also be as simple as ensuring that a product appears in the right place on a shelf so that shoppers consider it.
"It's tougher than ever to do marketing at point of purchase. The product has to be media in itself – it's very, very important to work with packaging," said Claude Auchu, partner and creative director of design at lg2. "There's a lot of information when you go to a grocery store. … You need to be really striking, because seven times out of 10, people remake their choices while they are at the shelf."