Market Intelligence: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

May 1, 2006

Over the ten years that I’ve been in kosher/Jewish marketing, I’ve received dozens of phone calls from brand mangers, manufacturers, importers and the like asking what the kosher consumer would think of this new product or that.

“Will the consumer purchase our item if we make it dairy?

“What about if we create a single serve or a family pack?”

“Do you think Passover can use another cake mix SKU?”

Strangely enough, I give most of these calls the same answer–why not ask the consumer?

The Jewish consumer is chock full of very valuable information, yet is the last place brand mangers turn to learn about the market. Unfortunately, there are many examples of projects which have been turned on their heads because the consumer didn’t buy in to them.

Take Stella D’oro cookies for example. A number of years ago the brand team decided it would begin to introduce dairy ingredients into some new products and reformulate older ones as dairy as well. For the previous 40 years kosher consumers had come to rely on Stella D’oro to be their pareve cookie brand. Now what were they to do? Well, they stopped buying Stella D’oro; they simply had no need for it. Yes, they may be very delicious, high quality cookies, but these consumers bought them to serve after meat meals (kosher households don’t mix dairy and meat and thus won’t serve a dairy dessert after a meat meal) and now that was gone. So following a consumer revolt, and the resulting slower sales in kosher/Jewish neighborhoods, 13 months later Stella D’oro returned to pareve status to the delight of Jewish homes coast-to-coast.

What could have averted this 13 month debacle? Surveys and focus groups are the easiest, quickest and simplest way to gauge the consumer. I’ve heard many times that “There is no way to study the Jewish consumer” or “Kosher consumers are hard to find, there’s no way to survey them.” In fact there are a number of ways to do this quickly and very inexpensively.

This past spring Joseph Jacobs Advertising, the decades-old Jewish marketing firm, founded the Jewish Consumer Advisory Panel (JCAP), a 500-plus group which has signed up to be the voice of the Jewish/kosher consumer and to be available to reply to on-line studies and surveys. The JCAP consumers have already been instrumental in one brand’s decision to create a new product line, and have informed another manufacturer of its displeasure with some if its production and marketing plans.

Qualitative research, such as use of focus groups, is another research tool available to brand teams. Taking ten or so consumers, putting them in a room and eliciting their thoughts, can be very eye opening to even the most seasoned marketing manager.

I recently ran some groups for a one of our largest Jewish targeted clients, and during the second of a set of four, the vice president of marketing sat there staring through the one-way mirror, amazed at how little some of these Jewish consumers knew about his decades-old brand.

These research projects can be cost-saving too. Last year I convinced a client to test a new product concept on four groups of kosher-keeping housewives. With less than eight weeks to go before the targeted product launch, we spoke with nearly forty women over two days and learned some of the most interesting things about this new product, most of which no one else had thought of. Overall the concept tested well, but we learned that consumers may have issues with the packaging and that the mix of varieties in the line wasn’t perfect. Just a few days of work, along with a modest budget, saved the client hundreds of thousands of dollars in a potential failure. Not surprisingly, the project went back to the drawing-board for redesign.

There is one other, very quick place to look for initial thoughts on product ideas and kosher consumer acceptability — the OU. Your rabbinic coordinator is also your consumer and he can help direct you to professionals who can give you further guidance.

Overall, the people who are best equipped to answer questions about marketing plans are the people who will be most affected by them – your consumers. Why not ask them?


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