Published on: October 21, 2008by Michael Sansolo
We Baby Boomers may be forgetting lots of things, but our cultural icons endure. You, too, may remember Charlie the Tuna, Starkist’s cartoon spokesfish, who was always trying to class up his act. As we found out in every commercial, Charlie’s self-improvement program never worked because Starkist didn’t want tuna with good taste; they wanted tuna that tasted good.
The question is, do shoppers agree?
At the Natural Products Expo East Show last week in Boston, Kevin Coupe and I heard the answer clearly as “Yes.” And honestly, it was a little surprising. After all, the talk is obviously all about economics these days and we walked into the session we were running fully expecting some anxiety about whether shoppers would spend extra for the natural lifestyle. Instead, we heard the opposite. And traditional retailers and suppliers would be well served to listen.
What came across in the session and aisles of the show was a conviction that shoppers understand real value and that, in the end, will keep them buying natural foods. They talked about how the best argument for their products remains strong: money spent on food should be about getting the best food possible.
It’s an argument worth hearing in many ways because value isn’t a synonym for cheap. In fact, it is far more complex than that.
For instance, the business section in Sunday’s New York Times profiled Apple computers in the midst of articles on the economic meltdown. The Apple article posed the idea that the economic storm may not hit Apple as hard as others. Despite noting that Apple’s stock is down 51% and the analysts are breathlessly awaiting today’s earnings report from the company, most still rate the stock a “buy.” The reason is that Apple’s value is its premium products and that computer buyers of all sizes and types might see quality as the most important value today.
Or consider the creative ads being run by Boar’s Head meats, which Kevin talked about a few weeks back. Boar’s Head tackles head on the paradox of value with a suggestion to consumers who are cutting back on costs by brown-bagging lunches. Boar’s Head suggests they spend a little of that savings on better lunch meats, which of course they claim to offer.
In other words, value doesn’t only mean cheap. And those are words worth repeating.
Tasting good, as Charlie the Tuna always found out (and, by the way, Charlie is still around), matters more in tough times. There is nothing less valuable to a shopper than buying something on special only to have it disappoint. Likewise, there is no greater value than to see a purchase used to its fullest and maybe beyond expectations.
This is why the natural food folks have such a good argument to make on their seeming lack of concern about the economic pressures facing consumers. For an industry that built its image on selling what is billed as better products meant to be consumed and enjoyed slowly and carefully, value is self-affirming. One retailer Kevin and I talked with added that this is a great time for his store because it helps him make the point of the value and importance of family meals.
Say it again: value doesn’t equal cheap. Value means value. But someone’s got to tell the shoppers.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com .
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