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What You See is What You Eat -- The Growing Influence of Food Marketing

We've all been influenced by them -- those late night ads for brand new types of burgers or the campaigns that tout the benefits of the latest dietary trend. As fads and trends come and go, food companies are finding that it's critical to stay on the competitive edge.

So how do they do that? The fact is, food companies spend tremendous amounts of money on marketing. And they will continue to do so as long as consumers are bombarded with choices.

Charles Mallowe is an administrator at Saint Joseph's University's Academy of Food Marketing in Pennsylvania. He explains that food companies face new challenges, while food marketers now have new opportunities.

"They have opportunities like developing marketing plans and analyzing operations that will allow food stores to compete and survive in the future against competition which was non-existent 10 or 12 years ago," he points out.

To address this new challenge, food companies employ a large number of people to come up with creative ways of pitching their products to consumers. And as competition for consumer dollars intensifies, those companies will be looking for the best and brightest talent that they can find.

Wanted: Next Generation of Food Marketers

Cameron Johnston is vice-president of marketing for Sun-Rype Products Ltd. He thinks that this talent will be found in the next generation of food marketers.

"While the future looks neutral overall for food marketers in general, it is particularly positive for the next generation of food marketers," he says. "This is due to the fact that this sector has not attracted its fair share of new talent in recent years/decades. Young grads have opted instead for the perceived excitement of fields like technology or finance.

"This has created a gap for the next generation of food marketers who have grown up in a new world with new technologies. [They] will be able to apply their life experiences and knowledge of technology to better market products to their generation," continues Johnston.

In its simplest form, food marketing is all about selling products to consumers and having those consumers think of a particular name when they are shopping -- often referred to as "branding." Branding is often what makes consumers purchase one product over another.

Skills Required in Food Marketing

According to Johnston, food marketers "seek to understand consumers' needs and develop comprehensive ways to meet these needs and do so better than the competition."

So where do the best and most in-demand food marketers learn to do that? Earning a degree in marketing or an MBA is a great start. But that is often followed by years of retail experience.

"Increasing market competition has caused retailers to compete aggressively for top management talent for both retail store positions and professional positions at headquarters," explains Ernie Monschein. He is executive director of the Food Marketing Institute.

"The smart retailers have arrived at the conclusion that without strong management at retail, they are at a competitive disadvantage. There are virtually unlimited opportunities at the retail management level. [And organizations typically view this level] as the feeder of top talent to the rest of the organization."

In addition, the latest generation of food marketers must understand new technology, recognize and capitalize on trends, and be willing to explore unconventional delivery systems. They must also recognize the need to speak to a consumer who is intelligent, well-informed and dollar-conscious.

"If there is an overall increased demand for food marketers, I would hypothesize that it is being driven by aging boomers retiring from the field and not enough new talent being attracted to it in recent decades," Johnston says.

"This, combined with the change in needs that include technology-based marketing, an understanding of emerging media, etc. could create a supply-demand imbalance that will grow before it diminishes."

That change in needs may cause certain fields within food marketing to experience more growth than other areas.

Changes in Food Marketing Strategy

"Anything to do with product and consumer information that can be used to develop strategic marketing plans and allow companies to see exactly what appeals to the customer will be in demand in the future," predicts Mallowe. "Future food marketing professionals will have to deal with information developed from scanning data and tracking surveys."

John Lord is a food marketing professor and chair at Saint Joseph's University. He agrees with his colleague about the changing face of marketing in general and food marketing in particular.

"Marketing is marketing, whether you are marketing highly indulgent foods or healthy foods; just the messages are different," he explains.

"Marketing, however, is changing. The increasing fragmentation of both the population and the media have forced marketers to reduce their reliance on traditional marketing. [They must now] embrace what might be termed 'guerilla' marketing, using events and sponsorships, product placement and the Internet in place of measured media spending.

"Food marketers must be [aware] of the changing demands of the consumer, and create the products and the marketing and distribution strategies that are effective in getting these products to the consumer. The old ways don't necessarily work anymore."

And how come those old ways don't work? One reason is that consumers possess better knowledge of products and ingredients, and how those relate to their own health and wellness.

Focus on Healthy Foods

"There is a lot of growth in companies and segments of the industry that focus on health and wellness," confirms Johnston.

"It is changing the types of products consumers want, who they want to buy them from, where they shop and how they want to be marketed to. It is driving the need for changes throughout the industry, from the marketing and research field, through to how manufacturers market to the retail sector.

"Moving forward, there is also expected to be tremendous growth and new opportunities driven from the aging baby boom population and manufacturers and retailers that sell products that appeal to this group.

"While it's too hard to pick any individual diet trend or fad, the unmistakable, underlying current has for many years been pointing to general health and wellness and how consumers of all ages live healthier, longer lives."

Lord, too, sees a bright future for those considering a career in food marketing.

"The bottom line is simple: regardless of how the meals are sourced or where they are purchased or where they are consumed, people have to eat. So the industry will always be substantial and significant and will always need good people."


Food Marketing Institute
An organization for food marketing professionals, includes statistics as well as sections for consumers
Includes resources, career information, industry links, and more
Resources and articles on new food products and trends

Grocery Manufacturers Association
Lots of great information about the food retail industry

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