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How To Use Competitive Analysis to Win at the Shelf

Jane Ko
June 27, 2023
min read

In today's highly competitive food and beverage industry, brands must find ways to maintain their competitive edge, embrace innovation and satisfy ever-evolving consumer preferences. Whether a startup striving to establish a presence or existing brand expanding or differentiating their product portfolios, it has become more crucial for brands to conduct a thorough competitive analysis to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and untapped opportunities. However, success hinges on more than just analysis—it's about winning at shelf, where brands must stand out.

The shelf is where brands ultimately compete, and it requires a strategic approach that starts early in the planning and design stage. It's crucial to evaluate what sets your brand apart in this critical retail space.  Using a unique approach that incorporates both conventional and unconventional tactics, we explore five essential steps for brands to conduct a comprehensive competitive analysis. This strategic approach empowers brands to make informed decisions, thrive in a constantly evolving market, and standout on the shelf.

1. Assess the Marketplace

To conduct an effective competitive analysis, food and beverage brands must begin by assessing the marketplace. This involves identifying key competitors, their products, pricing strategies, marketing tactics, and target audience. A thorough examination of competitors' websites, social media presence, and advertising campaigns can provide valuable insights into their positioning and messaging.

Furthermore, analyzing customer reviews, feedback, and ratings can shed light on their strengths and weaknesses. By leveraging online platforms, review aggregators, and social listening tools, brands can gain a comprehensive understanding of the competitive landscape and identify areas for improvement or differentiation.

2. Analyzing industry trends

Food and beverage brands need to be aware of industry trends and what is driving growth in the market. Consumers are increasingly health-conscious, environmentally aware and open to trying new and unique flavors. Analyzing these trends can create opportunities for brands to innovate and offer products that cater to these shifts in consumer behavior. For example, with the increasing popularity of international cuisine brands have introduced unique offerings like exotic spice blends, ready-to-cook meal kits inspired by global recipes, and unconventional beverage flavors to capture new market share.  

3. Go Beyond the Desktop Analysis  

While desktop analysis provides valuable information, it's crucial for food and beverage brands to go beyond this approach. In-person experiences can reveal unique insights that cannot be captured online. One effective method is to physically walk through the retail environment to understand how consumers see and interact with products in-store.

Observe product placement, packaging, and any promotional materials utilized by competitors. Pay attention to how consumers engage with these elements and make purchase decisions. Though less conventional than other tactics, this exercise can help identify strengths, weaknesses, and potential opportunities of the actual product which can be used to find new ways to differentiate.

4. Purchase and Experience It  

To truly understand the competition, food and beverage brands should experience their products firsthand. This involves going through the entire purchase process and assessing the at-home consumption experience. By doing so, brands can gain invaluable insights into the complete customer journey across the senses and potentially identify areas where they can enhance their offerings.

During the purchase experience, take note of the ease of finding the product, checkout process, and any additional incentives or promotions offered. Once at home, evaluate the packaging from opening to disposal, and product attributes like visuals, smells, taste, quality, and overall satisfaction. This hands-on approach allows brands to identify potential gaps and improve their own products to meet consumer expectations.

5. Staying agile and open to new ideas

Finally, brands need to be agile and open to new ideas to succeed in a competitive market. Analyze the industry norms and identify areas where competitors might be falling short or where customer needs are not being fully addressed. New technologies, ingredients, and packaging solutions are constantly being developed, and brands that are open to experimentation and adaptable to change are more likely to thrive. Successful brands are not afraid to take risks and disrupt the market with innovative products that cater to ever-changing consumer preferences. By addressing these gaps, brands can carve out a unique positioning that sets them apart from the competition.

Conducting competitive analysis is necessary for food and beverage brands to stay ahead of the curve and thrive in a constantly evolving market. The key to success is to stay nimble and innovative, and always put the consumer's needs first. Going beyond desktop analysis and incorporating in-person experiences gives brands valuable insights into their competitors' strategies and consumer interactions. Experiencing the purchase and consumption process firsthand helps identify areas for improvement and differentiation. By consistently analyzing industry trends, staying attuned to consumer behavior and tastes, and being open to new ideas, brands can differentiate themselves, stay relevant and ultimately win on shelf.

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