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Marketing’s role in menu R&D

A look at the fundamentals of marketing and how they can impact the development of new menu items. Plus: the lifecycle of a new menu item and how to manage it.

The menu R&D team is a multi-disciplinary group composed of operations managers, food technologists, culinary professionals and marketing/consumer behavior specialists. The knowledge base of each of these menu R&D stakeholders is necessary to support a sustainable process for menu innovation and develop profitable foodservice strategies in today’s competitive environment. The marketing and consumer behavior specialists keep the menu R&D team focused on the consumer’s wants and needs; they help shed light on new and emerging trends, identify new market segments and help the team understand repurchase intent. In a nutshell, they define “products” that have value for a particular group of customers. 

Fundamentals of marketing 

We often equate marketing with advertising. However, marketing consists of a wide variety of activities performed continuously. The American Marketing Association describes the marketing process as planning and executing conception, pricing, promotion and distribution of ideas, goods and services in order to satisfy objectives.

For effective marketing, it is key to understand your customers, and to do this it is necessary to collect and disseminate information about customer needs and your competitors’ capabilities. This is referred to as market research.

Through years of market research, experts have determined that, in general, the consumer goes through a multistage purchase decision process involving:

  1. Recognition of a need or  problem (healthy lunch on the  go, for example)
  2. A search for information to  satisfy that need
  3. Comparison of collected  information to determine the  best value
  4. Making the actual purchase decision
  5. Post purchase behavior

It’s important to keep in mind that there is a feedback loop in the purchase decision process, because customers learn from their post-purchase behavior, and their subsequent recognition of a need or problem is affected by what they have learned. If a customer makes a purchase decision that proves satisfactory, that customer is much more likely to repeat that purchase decision. Unfortunately, when needs are not satisfied, the customer rarely tells the restaurant.

There are four controllable variables in marketing: product (delivers value to the customer); marketing communications (most often advertising); price and distribution.

But not all variables are under your control.

Uncontrollable factors include:

  • Social (demographics—the aging population, for example)
  • Cultural (attitudes and beliefs)
  • economic (cost of gasoline)
  • Technological (innovative packaging, sous-vide cooking)
  • Competitive (you name it)
  • Regulatory (food safety standards)

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