Campbell Soup Carves Out New Category Sections
In Center Store of Supermarkets 

By Jack Grant

The time constraints and limited cooking skills of many consumers have prompted them to find meal solutions via foodservice, whether in the grocery store or from restaurant take-out. Now Campbell Soup Co. is fighting back to regain those sales in the Center Store of supermarkets. 

The maker of the iconic brand of soup has launched easy and convenient restaurant-inspired sauces and mixes, some featuring international flavors, to encourage a return to home cooking. Its Skillet Sauces and Slow Cooker sauces have entered the fray in the last year to win back shoppers.

The next challenge for Campbell was helping its retailer partners to find the logical place to position the new products in the planogram and onto the shelf. 

“Product innovation is critical, but insufficient,” said Russ Onish, the company’s Vice President of Shopper Insights and Category Solutions. “The category and shopper must be considered up front. The product has to be in the store and the retailer needs justification for where it goes and how to bring [the category] to life.”

Campbell and its trading partners could not easily identify an obvious location within Center Store for these products. The result was inconsistent placement within Center Store, poor shelf visibility and incongruous comparisons. This presentation confused shoppers, Ornish reported, and detracted from the company’s proposition to retailers.

“From a product perspective, it’s great to be differentiated,” he added. “But being on your own island is challenging. It’s preferable to have some neighbors. We experienced the pain of category homelessness,” he explained in a presentation at a marketing conference recently in Chicago.

So Campbell chose to “reframe” the opportunity. To understand the broader competitive landscape in Center Store, the company turned to Vision Critical, a provider of a virtual shopping application. The technology works much like online shopping interfaces except that consumers are presented product options on a simulated interactive shelf that mimics the same section in an actual store. Participants simply scan the shelf by navigating with their mouse to see the products and the shelf set.   

In this virtual environment, consumers evaluated a broad array of product, including dinner sauces, soup, boxed dinners, and salad dressing. They were asked to group these various products in a way they found most appealing.

The research technique was also open ended. Consumers could describe – in their own words – what drove their decision to group certain products together.  Was it by flavor, by occasion, or some other way?

Ornish said the research yielded positive and interesting information. More than 90% of respondents suggested bringing cooking sauce products together in the store. Other findings included:
  • 72% said they would buy this type of product in addition to other food.
  • 50% said they would buy this type of product instead of take-out meals or quick service food.
  • 67% said they expected to shop the category once per month.

This research inspired the concept of a new dedicated dinner sauce section within Center Store that shoppers could visit to help prepare a home-cooked meal for the family.

“It was about getting money that was leaving the store,” Onish said. “It became a platform to sell more chicken, beef and pasta.”

The section included mainstream Skillet Sauces, Indian sauces in jars, and Mexican and Asian sauces such as Thai green curry foil pouches. 

“Retailers were eager to learn about this,” Onish said. “They were selling whole bunches of product that could fit this definition of meal sauces and meal starters.”

More recently, Campbell launched a line of Slow Cooker sauces to capitalize on the popularity of slow cookers and further encourage home meal preparation. The line includes some international varieties, such as Sweet Korean BBQ. In addition, Kraft Foods introduced a line of nine Recipe Makers sauce products that help consumers prepare a home-cooked meal using the sauce mix in the Recipe Makers pouch with other fresh ingredients.

Retailers needed to figure out where they would find the space to display these new items and what belongs where. Campbell offered a meal-starters category as the “core set” under the section header, “Dinner Made Easy.” The section includes dry mixes and seasonings, boxed dinners and marinades. The company provided guidance on the correct natural adjacencies of the products.

Safeway, Walmart, Meijer, Winn-Dixie, Wakefern, Supervalu, Hy-Vee and HEB are all building out a section for these products based on Campbell’s recommendation, Onish shared. For some retailers, a four- to six-foot section is assigned to meal starters or to meal starters and dinner sauces.

“We used digital virtual-store technology to illustrate categories, assortments and shelving options,” Onish explained, adding that the sales force was equipped with a stand-alone iPad app for internal and external communication. “It was highly interactive. We made it fun.”

It helps to work with research suppliers that offer innovative technology, multi-faceted methodologies and strong analytic interpretation, he added.

CPG companies should think broadly and holistically about consumer needs, he advised. Campbell set out to understand consumer behavior within the lunch and dinner domain.

“We can reframe opportunities and reinvent mature categories seeking growth. We are capturing more meals at home with the family and selling more,” he said.

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                                                                               September 2013