Looking outward and listening to your customer should always be at the top of your priorities list if you want to to be successful in the food industry today. Looking at many of the food giants and top players – several are losing market share due to lack of active listening to the ever-changing consumer. Getting a food item on the retail shelf is only a piece of the puzzle. Getting it off the shelf is actually the biggest challenge. Convincing a customer your product is better than the dozens of other options is the most difficult part of the process, and being able to recognize who your specific customer is and actually listening to that customer will make a vast difference in your success.
Doing It All:
In the early days of Bobo’s, I was a true entrepreneur. In other words, I did it all myself. This allowed me to listen much more closely to my customers and have the advantage of hearing firsthand what products they wanted to see on grocery store shelves. By doing all my own demos in the grocery stores I gained a ton of face time with all types of consumers. Everyone has an opinion and as an early business owner, listening to each and every opinion is key.
Understanding Your Customer:
One thing I learned that stands out in my mind…customers expect consistency. When they find something they like and spend a little extra for it, they expect the same thing when they come back for more. Even if it tastes better than before, or the quality of the product is somehow improved, they expect it to be the same as before and want the product to invoke the same feeling it did the previous time.
Incorporating Feedback: The Do’s and Don’ts
Listening to consumers is also the key to successful product innovation. It’s important to focus on addressing consistent product feedback since it would be impossible to incorporate every single idea or preference. I was told at least once a demo that Bobo’s were too big, so I came up with the half-size version, the Bites. Product innovation requires manufacturing changes like purchasing and creating new equipment and providing adequate staff training, so this process is much more involved.
Flavor innovation however is a much simpler innovation we can incorporate. We love hearing new flavor ideas from fans and I have always considered those flavors when creating something seasonal or holiday. Hosting social media contests or polls is also a great way for sourcing flavor ideas and concepts.
Don’t ever ignore any customer feedback. It might not be pertinent or true to your company values, but always take a second to hear them out. Embrace all feedback, but know when to move on. Sometimes you come across an unexpected audience for your product so don’t overlook them as they have the power to become a niche audience that further propels your brand forward. For example, breastfeeding moms have reached out to us in very large numbers due to oats helping with lactation. We could have never anticipated this, but it gave us a new, engaged community to market to.
On Dealing with Growth:
Bobo’s gradually morphed into a “real” business after the first few years. Home kitchen baking pans, saran-wrap packaging, distributing out of my car, hand-drawn marketing signs….all this had to change to meet demands of the stores and the customer. The home-baked look and feel of the brand was appealing but people also want to know their products are made in a food-grade kitchen and that there’s a shelf life on the product. Coping with growth for any brand means finding a balance between product integrity and industry standards, and ensuring that neither is taking a backseat as sales increase. If you are able to listen to what the consumers love about your product and keep that in mind while you change the process, you will find growth comes easily.
Remember to always embrace your consumer, as they are the key to your success. No matter how great of a product you have, ensuring you maintain the customer relationship and constantly listen and adapt is key.