CHICAGO — Today’s consumers may be difficult to pinpoint, but two things are evident: They interact with food in a way they never have before, and they genuinely want to be connected to a brand.
With this foundation, Joseph Bona, president of retail for New York-based CBX, dove into his workshop on foodservice design and function at the 2011 NACS Show in Chicago.
Consumers today want an “authentic food experience,” said Bona. They’re accustomed to more variety, greater selection, fresher ingredients and healthier, tastier choices. The task of the retailer is to craft a connection between their stores and their offerings. That is done through design and branding.
To do so, retailers must treat their stores as literal stages from a design perspective, while settling on a brand positioning that is at once highly relevant and differentiated from the rest of the pack.
Bona breaks it into three steps:
Step One: Capability, Opportunity & Positioning. In this step, a company must determine its own bandwidth, the opportunities in the marketplace and where the two meet.
Bona gave the example of a recent client, Arby’s. The quick-serve brand sought to reposition itself for long-term growth. Through customer research, current trends and the company’s capabilities, they created five “stories,” or hypothetical branding positions. One focused on the craftsmanship and quality of Arby’s roast beef sandwich. Another focused on customization and the guest’s ability to create his or her own experience. A third story spoke of “a better choice” and trust in ingredients.
In the end, the positioning was boiled down to a single sentiment: “The food I crave,” emphasizing the consumer’s love of Arby’s roast beef backed by those traits of quality ingredients, craftsmanship and customization.
Step Two: Curb Appeal & 360-Degree Design. Once a brand has been positioned or repositioned, it’s time to turn to the store design. It starts with curb appeal, said Bona: How do you get the customer in your store in the first place? Next comes full attention to the interior: placing product with which you want to tell a narrative of your brand up front, using ingredients as display and creating a natural flow through a store.
This step also includes touch points beyond physical design. How do your packaging, websites, social media and mobile apps tell a story that is consistent with your initial positioning?
Step Three: Stay Focused, Stay Flexible. “It’s very easy to get discouraged [with foodservice],” said Bona. “Food takes time, you’re changing people’s habits.” Particularly for c-store operators who are accustomed to easily projecting sales, foodservice requires a lot of patience. Sit tight, be consistent and stay focused on your initial brand road map.
At the same time, be flexible. The foodservice business changes at the drop of a hat, and foodservice companies must constantly be fresh, exciting and relevant. Bona points to McDonald’s and its recent nimbleness: This massive, global brand changed consumer perception of its coffee by rolling out specialty drinks, appealed to health-conscious consumers with salads and smoothies and stayed relevant with a modernized store design.
And throughout the entire foodservice design and branding process, retailers must always deliver one thing: freshness.
“Fresh is table stakes,” for c-store foodservice today, said Bona. “If you’re not fresh, you’re not in the game.”