Nonfoods Talk: Looking inside the box

A marketing gimmick shows that creating the right mystique can grab consumers’ attention and more sales.

By Seth Mendelson

I got a neat product in the mail recently.  Some edgy marketing company sent me a wooden box containing a $50 bill. There was no clear way of opening it, short of using a sledgehammer, to get to the cash. A note, accompanying the box, strongly suggested that if I called the company I would be given the clues necessary to open the box and get to the bill.

After spending about 45 minutes trying to open the box by myself, I caved in and called. Within about a half hour, after listening to the mandatory sales pitch about how using the company’s services would dramatically increase my own company’s sales and profits, I was told the way to open the box. Moments later, I was $50 richer and smarter in the knowledge that even I could be bought.

This may be a stretch, but I am drawing a connection to the nonfoods category in grocery stores. As the box shows, anyone can be won over by the right gimmick or tool. As supermarkets struggle to win consumer loyalty in their general merchandise and health and beauty care aisles, it is becoming increasingly clear that they have to do more to convince shoppers to buy their nonfoods items at grocery stores.

Of course, retailers cannot start handing out cash to their shoppers, but they can take certain measures, including more aggressive couponing, pricing and advertising, to make consumers aware that they have many of the same GM and HBC items being sold at mass merchandisers and drug stores.

The way I see it, everyone has their price and they all can be convinced to try something new with the right message or messenger. But it is very important to create a certain level of intrigue, perhaps even mystery, to get the average consumer to be adventurous, even if that means simply walking down the nonfoods aisle in a supermarket.

The onus is on grocery retailers. While suppliers can definitely help, it is becoming very clear that most vendors are content to concentrate on other, more friendly retailers for their product placement. Grocery stores, many nonfoods suppliers eagerly note, simply do not want to play the game to capture more GM/HBC market share and sales.

So retailers have to do this alone, at least for now. While some supermarket executives believe that nonfoods is not worth the amount of space it needs to be successful, there is a lot of information in the marketplace that shows it can help round out the shopping experience and add a lot of profits to the financial ledger.

Grocery retailers need to understand that nonfoods can help their bottom line and their image with their shoppers. To grab the consumer’s attention, grocery retailers need to show consumers that the supermarket is the most convenient place to purchase their nonfoods products, as well as a place with great selection of the best-selling merchandise and a convenient location.

Creating excitement in the aisles, primarily through in-store promotions and merchandising techniques, can grab the shopper’s attention and get them to add nonfoods to their shopping lists. Cross merchandising can also help.

But that is not enough. With Walmart, Target and the national drug store chains kicking up their own merchandising and marketing strategies in nonfoods, supermarket chains must start taking their promos to the next level. Like the wooden box, grocery merchants need to develop ideas that will get consumers interested and willing to take a closer look at what they offer.

If they do this right, grocery retailers can start to regain sales in the nonfoods category. Remember, in the end, it all comes down to showing consumers that they can benefit by not only seeing inside the box, but by truly reaping its rewards.

Seth Mendelson can be reached at 646-274-3507, or at

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