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How to Predict the Next Big Threat to Your CPG Brand

Jun 16, 2021

Written By

Fred Gammon & Danielle Muller

As a busy brand director, you’re just trying to survive the day-to-day. You’re putting out the fires in front of you, grasping for increased efficiency and profit, monitoring your immediate competition, and making incremental product changes in response to their moves. And we know it’s a ton of work.

But while you’re (understandably) stuck in the weeds, the world is changing rapidly. It doesn’t take much for a competitor to completely disrupt an entire food and beverage category, leaving your brand in the dust.

Revolutionaries don’t usually announce themselves until they arrive.

If you don’t want to be blindsided by a revolutionary new product or a consumer trend that rocks the market, you need to think like an army commander. Look for threats to your brand not only right in front of you (your in-category competition), but also from behind, below, above, and beyond the horizon.

By anticipating change from a 360-degree view, you can be the change agent that makes your brand better, bigger, and stronger — not just a reactionary to that change.

Cautionary Tales from Two Blindsided Food and Bev Brands

What happens if you don’t look past your immediate surroundings for the next threat? Consider two cautionary tales:

The Country’s Top Beer Brand Nearly Missed the Spiked Seltzer Wave

Alcoholic seltzers are so pervasive there was actually a White Claw shortage in the summer of 2019. And the fizzy drink’s popularity has only ramped up from there. In fact, while beer sales decrease, hard seltzer continues to eat up market share.

It’s safe to say hard seltzer is totally rocking the alcoholic beverage category. But it doesn’t seem like Anheuser-Busch saw it coming, even though they’re the makers of the nation’s top light beer, Bud Light.

White Claw was the first household name in hard seltzer, leaving Anheuser-Busch in the awkward position of responding to the trend instead of setting it. Sure, they released Bon & Viv, but White Claw is still number one. Despite their powerful position in the market, Anheuser-Busch was too late to the spiked seltzer party.

Frozen Meal Brands Didn’t Account for Evolving Consumer Tastes

Back in the day, frozen entrees — like those popularized by Stouffers and Lean Cuisine — met a particular user need: Convenience. Aside from pricey takeout, there wasn’t really another option for a quick, in-front-of-your-TV meal. As a result, frozen meals were once a $9 billion business.

Then suddenly, there was a fresh, healthy revolution. Instead of turning to frozen dinners for last minute meals, consumers turned to meal delivery services. Hello Fresh and friends meet two (and likely more) user needs: Convenience and freshness. Frozen food brands plummeted.

So what was Nestlé (parent company of both Stouffers and Lean Cuisine) doing while meal delivery kits were on the rise? They could’ve been highlighting the fresh ingredients in their frozen meals, but they were probably reviewing Banquet’s newest offering instead of stepping outside of their own category to see what was up with consumers.

How to Anticipate Change to Capitalize on Trends Before the Competition

You can’t control larger societal trends. The fresh craze was probably always going to divert some consumers from the frozen aisle, regardless of Lean Cuisine’s reaction. Still, understanding how to anticipate and adapt to all kinds of change will help you position your brand ahead of fads — and your competition.

Know Where to Look for Change

The first step to safeguarding your brand against future market share encroachers is understanding where change originates. You can’t be on the lookout if you don’t know where to look, right?

Change is sly — it happens fast and manifests in many ways that can affect brand performance. Consider some of the diverse avenues for change:

  • Science and technology innovations can lead to better food formulas or newfangled delivery systems.
  • Economics and supply chain issues often change the cost of goods, or result in product shortages — both of which affect the food and bev market.
  • Demographic changes in birth rate, family units, household size, etc. can completely shift consumer needs and preferences.
  • Consumer trends and whims disrupt food and beverage categories all the time. Just consider how the adoption of meat alternatives has transformed grocery store protein sections.
  • Updated health and nutrition guidance alters consumer behavior. The prevalence of information on probiotics, fiber, omega 3, and caffeine (to name a few) have all boosted or depressed brand prospects in many industry categories.

The takeaway? Change will enter your brand’s world from unexpected places. It’s not just about reviewing your category or refreshing your packaging. It’s about keeping your eye on every possible change agent — even the less obvious influences.

Know Your Real Competition

It goes without saying that you’ll keep tabs on your competition and conduct regular SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analyses. But here’s the problem: Your most formidable challenges probably aren’t going to come from your established, well-known competitors.

Often, it’s an unmet consumer need that drives change. If you can look past your rival brands directly to your consumers — you know, the people actually buying products — you can attempt to predict what they really want. Then, you can be the first to give it to them.

In a way, innovation is another one of your competitors. Sure, your competition will release new products or update existing items, but what will really get you is complete departure from these expected changes — aka innovation.

Remember when Daisy innovated the delivery system for their sour cream (translation: they put it in those squeezy tubes instead of in a tub)? That was a game-changer, reinvigorating the boring, static sour cream space.

TL;DR? Get Out of Your Own Way

If you only take one thing away from this article, make it this: Look past your day-to-day tasks to see what’s coming. Get out of the weeds of your own brand or you’ll never see clearly what’s beyond the horizon.

How, you ask?

When banks are worried about hackers, they set up a team to ‘mock hack’ their bank. They find their own weaknesses. You should do the same with your food and bev brand. Mount an attack (full circle on the war metaphor) on your own company. Just think of the cool ideas you could come up with if you tried to best your own products.

Make sure you schedule time — like actually put something on your calendar — to do this. Otherwise, be honest, it probably won’t happen.

There’s always someone or something in your orbit who could undermine your brand. If you can manage to anticipate their attacks and widespread change outside your own office walls, you’ll strengthen and expand your brand beyond expectations.

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