Wake up dairy’s ‘wow’ potential

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Wake up dairy’s ‘wow’ potential

By Carolyn Schierhorn - 12/11/2017

Many food retailers are devoting more time and space to their fresh departments today, as consumers turn away from processed food and begin to buy non-food and shelf-stable food items online. But the produce, deli and “grocerant” areas have been grabbing most of the attention in this realm.

While it may be viewed as a high-traffic department, dairy, in contrast, is rarely a focal point of retailer ingenuity. Dairy tends to be a commoditized category that is often taken for granted, observes Julie Quick, Plano, Texas-based Shoptology’s senior vice president for insights and strategy.

The merchandising of dairy products has not kept pace with product innovation, she says. For example, the dairy field today includes many varieties of flavored cow’s milk beyond chocolate and strawberry, including blueberry milk, banana milk and such seasonal options as pumpkin spice milk and mint chocolate chip milk as well as traditional eggnog. Retailers could differentiate themselves by offering samples of distinctive store brand milk flavors and directing shoppers to the flavored section of the milk case.

It is widely recognized that consumers are eschewing soda pop for more healthful beverages and prioritizing on-the-go convenience. But when was the last time you saw individually portioned containers of milk in any flavor cross-merchandised in a beverage cooler case at checkout?

“More and more shoppers, including women, millennials and children, are looking for something other than a carbonated product; it’s really a time for dairy beverages to have their moment,” Quick points out.

Found alongside cow’s milk in most dairy cases, non-dairy milks such as soy milk and almond milk are not just consumed by the lactose-intolerant, but also by the growing number of vegans and flexitarians who are trying to reduce their consumption of animal-derived products. Recently, there has been an explosion of plant-based milks, including cashew milk, rice milk, flax milk and hemp milk. Retailers with many college-age and millennial consumers could offer and leverage an assortment of vegan milk products and drive trial through sampling.

In 2009, a white paper titled “The Future of the Dairy Department is Now!” decried the lack of imagination used in marketing and merchandising dairy items.

“In today’s dairy case, shoppers lack emotional engagement, have difficulty finding items, and hurry through the aisle to replenish planned purchases. … In many stores, dairy is merchandised in a linear fashion down one side of the aisle, physically separated into two sections for whatever reason, or doesn’t stand out visually like other departments such as produce,” the white paper stated. “From this perspective, dairy is treated as another ‘center store’ category rather than as a leading fresh-food department.”

In the eight years since Rosemont, Ill.-based Dairy Management Inc. issued that white paper, not much has changed in dairy merchandising. Many good ideas in the document have not yet come to fruition.  For example, retailers could boost dairy sales by prompting customers to slow down and browse secondary dairy displays such as an “On the Go,” “Breakfast Solutions” and “Proactive Health” refrigerated cases.

It’s time for retailers to wake up dairy’s “wow” potential by championing the freshness and diversity of these products with effective, eye-catching signage; telling the stories of the farmers who produce the products; offering ideas as to how dairy products, from plain yogurt to cottage cheese, can be incorporated into different meal occasions; and pointing out the many health and wellness attributes of dairy items.

In January 2018, Store Brands will begin a monthly series of “Focus on Fresh” feature articles, which will cover dairy as well as produce, floral, bakery, deli, meat and seafood, and other departments typically found on the store perimeter. We welcome your suggestions of innovative ways to market and merchandise fresh and fresh-prepared food. If you have tips for showcasing unsung categories like dairy products, please share them with us.

Schierhorn, the managing editor of Store Brands, can be reached at [email protected]


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