Food Forum: Shades of green

By increasing the number of green brands in mainstream aisles retailers can win over more “light green” shoppers.

By James D’Agosta

Picture a refrigerated case tucked into the furthest corner of the store, aisles from the main dairy case, packed with a national organic yogurt brand and other organic yogurts. While you’re at it, put private label and all other organic dairy products in that case, too.

Makes sense, right? Doesn’t make sense to me, either.

The fact is, organic yogurt and other dairy products earned their way onto dairy’s equivalent of Main Street by getting it right: Offering a good value relative to price, and delivering great taste to increasingly health conscious shoppers—people who want to do better for their families, but do not want to alter their shopping patterns.

Our consumer research found that last part critical when it comes to green products in general.  Grocery shoppers and purchase influencers said again and again, “make it easy for me to go green, and I’ll go.”  The hypothesis proved right when our new Marcal Small Steps brand gained immediate acceptance upon introduction last year. In my mind, the biggest key was buyers who accepted our premise that even though Marcal now “looked green” (the fact is, we’ve used recycled paper for decades), stocking it in the paper goods aisle, not a specialty section, would boost velocity. Indeed, it did.

To me, it makes for a strong argument: For the right green brands, asking shoppers to move just six inches down a mainstream aisle, instead of six aisles away to a specialty section, can bring new interest to even staid categories. This placement will generate incremental revenue and give your customers compelling reasons to remain loyal, while growing your banner’s green reputation.

Who is this elusive green consumer? We have identified three categories. Fifteen percent of shoppers can be labeled “deep green”—strongly committed to an earth-first lifestyle and the products that support it; consumers who regularly shop organic and natural retailers and maybe the green section. At the other end of the spectrum, another 20% are “never greens”—green neither today, nor ever, for a host of reasons.

That leaves 65% to a segment dubbed “light green”—primarily comprised of moms who prioritize family, budget and environment in precisely that order. She cares about the planet, but feels it’s simply too big for one person to tackle. Generally speaking, she may be unaware of green entries in staple categories.

She is, in effect, a green shopper waiting to be made—and kept in grocery—if you make easy for her.

Green success in staple categories lives at the intersection of the Four P’s: Price, Performance, Planet and Placement. Price comes first. Green brands that are priced at a value, and refrain from asking consumers to pay more for the privilege of helping the planet, eliminate the first barrier to success. It is important to reward consumers and send the right message to light green shoppers.

Next, a product must meet or exceed performance expectations. There are no Mulligans, no do-overs for products that simply don’t function up-to-par, no matter what environmental benefits they may deliver. Liquidators’ pipelines are packed with evidence.

Price it right, build it to perform, and she’s poised to choose “better for the planet.” But retailers should beware of brands that don’t keep their environmental promises or wrap themselves in green marketing with no real benefits because they risk creating a legion of green skeptics.  Instead, seek brands that link usage to tangible outcomes. For example, we demonstrate the direct impact that choosing 100% recycled paper goods has on saving trees, right on every label.

Those first three P’s are the responsibilities of manufacturers. The final P—placement—is the retailer’s call and that’s where the rubber really meets the road.  Green manufacturers share responsibility here, too, in wrapping products in contemporary graphics that call out green benefits, but look like they belong on shelves alongside mainstream, non-green brands.

Make the right shelf set choices, placing green brands that deliver for your light green shoppers right where they expect to find a given category’s products, and I strongly suspect you’ll see positive results. Safeway, for one, is showing just how with its own Bright Green brand.

If retailers help light green shoppers feel good about their choices they’ll be rewarded the best way shoppers know: with their loyalty.

James D’Agosta is senior vice president of sales at Elmwood Park, N.J.-based Marcal Manufacturing.

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