Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sara Lee’s bread is making less dough

Somebody doesn’t like Sara Lee. It almost seems unfair. After finally recovering from the low carb diet craze of the 90s, the company is feeling the squeeze from private label, especially in the bread aisle. Thanks to the recession, customers are shunning name brand loaves (and cakes) in favor of cheaper private label starches in order to stretch their grocery budget. Sara Lee must also compete with price-slashing name brand rivals.

Not to pick on Sara Lee – other packaged-food companies are getting pinched – but you have to wonder whether Sara Lee fully understands the customer motivations and behaviors played out at the shelf that might be causing sales to plunge. The company knows profits are down, but competitors Kraft and Kellogg are turning in respectable numbers as shoppers trade takeout for meals at home. Does Sara Lee know why buyers are reaching for the doughy store brand whole wheat instead of Sara Lee’s innovative Soft & Smooth loaf? Does the company understand on a volumetric basis those who have come to the store fully intending to buy the brand, but then bail in the swirl of the last three feet? And why they bail? Is it price, promotion, packaging or an intriguing blend of yes to all that? Or maybe is it some other lure or allure?

Sales are an important, obvious, but crude measure of how shoppers interact with brands. If companies hope to stop the slide toward private label, they need to be where the in-the-moment calculations of the shopper occur. They need to take hold of the in-aisle thinking of shoppers who buy the brand, don’t buy it, and most tellingly, the ones who intended to do so and then decided in favor of another.
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