The Digital World Changes The Way That Food Company Product Managers Operate

Food purchase changes mean that product managers have to change
Food purchase changes mean that product managers have to change
Image Credit: Wade Brooks

Let’s be straight about a few things: the world in which we live is currently changing. A lot. Nowhere is this more evident than perhaps when we take a look at how consumers go about buying food. This used to be a simple task: people jumped into their cars with their food shopping list in hand and drove to the local grocery store and got what they needed. However, with the arrival of that internet thing, this is all starting to change. People are now starting to shop for food online. What this has meant for food company product managers is that their world is changing. Case in point. People who are shopping online tend to just buy exactly what is on their shopping list. Nothing else. This means that product managers have to come up with ways to change their product development definition so that they can convince them to add last minute items that they may not have been planning on buying. How are they going to do that?

How To Get People To Shop Like They Used To

The fact that people shop differently when they are shopping online than when than when they are in a grocery store is a big problem for product managers. Specifically, the product managers at Hershey have encountered the problem that since a lot of the purchases of their product are done on the spur of the moment while a customer is waiting in the checkout line, this simply is not going to happen when somebody is shopping online. In fact, 56% of shoppers always or often purchase a snack when they are waiting in line. In order to attempt to get people to behave more like they used to, Hershey is trying a novel approach.

When you show up at the store to pick up the products that you ordered online, Hershey will cause an offer to pop up on your smartphone app suggesting that you add something extra to your order. The goal here is to find a way to mimic what customers experience when they are standing in the checkout line. Finding ways to get customers to continue to make impulse purchases is only one of the challenges that food company product managers are currently facing. They also have to deal with competition. In addition to the traditional competitors that they have always been facing, food companies now have to deal with a rash of new internet startups. What make these new companies such a threat is that they can quickly build a large consumer following without having to have a large marketing budget. Likewise, newer brands that are showing up with more healthy options tend to be more popular with online consumers.

One of the most important things that product managers need to understand is that how people shop for food is getting ready to undergo some significant changes. In order to deal with these changes, product managers are going to have to take the time to create new e-commerce strategies and to investigate new technologies. While they are doing all of this, the experience of shopping for food is likely to shift dramatically for their target customers. The changes that are going on in the food industry are unlike any that have every happened before. What the consumers are asking for is the ability to purchase anything, anytime, anywhere that they so desire.

What The Future Looks Like

So what’s the big hurry here? Don’t product managers have as much time as they need in order to run some experiments and find out what works best? It turns out that they actually don’t. Just in case anyone has missed it, Amazon purchased Whole Foods awhile back. What this represents is a major move into the food sales market by a very big competitor. What this means for everyone involved in the food industry is that they had better come up with some clever online strategies very quickly. Right now online food sales only represents 4% of total food sales. However, the experts predict that by 2021 it will represent 8% of a very large market. If product managers can get people to buy their food products, then that will look pretty good on their product manager resume.

Change is a very big issues that all food company product managers are having to deal with. Back in the old days, when food was only being sold in physical stores, food company product managers had some real power. In stores, the food companies could control whole aisles in the store and they were put in charge of prime shelf space. They paid for this access by funding expensive advertising displays that were in the store and which were used to attract shoppers. However, now everything has changed. In the online world, everything is more level. Newer firms are making use of the internet as a quick and easy way to get their products in front of potential customers. This has proven to be very successful for the newer trendy food companies.

Product managers realize that they have a real challenge on their hands. Since online shopping tends to be so list driven, it can be very hard to get customers to purchase something that was not originally on their list. Product managers are trying out a number of new technologies in order to find the best way to make this happen. One company is attempting to reach out to customers who own virtual reality (VR) headsets. The thinking is if they can make the shopping experience a virtual reality experience, then customers could open candies and see inside and might be more tempted to make an impulse purchase. Another firm is working with a wide variety of food companies to come up with ways to put samples of their products into customer’s deliveries in order to encourage future purchases. One of the keys to online marketing success is to get customers to sign up for automatic reorders. Product managers are trying to get people to do this by offering lower prices if people sign up for automatic reorders.

What All Of This Means For You

As boring as the world of food sales may sound, it turns out that it is a huge market. This market is at the start of a revolution that promises to completely change it from the ground up. What is happening is that more and more customers are starting to order their food online. This means that the product managers at food companies who sell their food in traditional grocery stores are having to rethink their product manager job description and how they market their products.

What product managers have discovered is that when people are shopping for food online, they do so with lists. This means that they are less likely to make impulse purchases and so those types of foods are going to have to create ways to get customer’s attention. Novel concepts like pop up ads that appear when a customer is picking up their groceries represent one way that product managers are trying to get people to buy more food. In the end, what the consumers are asking for is the ability to purchase anything, anytime, anywhere that they so desire. Amazon has moved into the food business via their purchase of Whole Foods and so this has motivated everyone to get their online strategy finalized. The old days when the food companies controlled how a grocery story was set up are now gone. Product managers are going to have to get creative and find ways to convince their customers to select their product when they are shopping online.

The good news is that the world of online shopping is just getting started. The rules have not yet been written and so this means that product managers still have some time to get things right. However, when it comes to online food purchases, the competition is going to be tough and product managers are going to have to get creative. They can win this battle, they just need to make sure that they take the time to fully understand what their customers are looking for when they are shopping online.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How important do you think showing a picture of what the customer would be buying is when people are shopping online?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As product managers, the one thing that we’d all like to have is more customers. We dream of the day that we’ve created a product development definition that will cause our customers think about our product and then as quickly as they can take action to get their hands on it. These hopes and dreams are no different for product managers who work in the restaurant industry. These product managers have the same set of things that they want. A little while back they thought that they had found a way to make it happen: create mobile applications to support their restaurant! Well, good idea, but it came with some side effects that nobody had counted on…