Training - Not Just a Value-Added Service

{mosimage}Today, the choice of products and services within the foodservice industry has never before been more prevalent. Manufacturers have stressed innovation as a means to create differentiation while meeting the needs of the customer and ultimate consumer. This innovation has resulted in a record number of new or improved products reaching the consumer through all types of foodservice outlets. What was once a 25-year average life cycle for most products in the food industry has, in many cases, decreased to single digits. Many new products ride brief trends such as low carbs or new flavor profiles, only to give way to the next "hot item" shortly after introduction.

Added to this, the food industry has never been more competitive. Whether it be retailers, distributors, foodservice operators, manufacturers or even associations representing specific categories, companies have been given a wide range of choices in products along with substitute products where each promises a unique offering that elevates one food or non-food category over another; all with the common goal of best predicting and meeting the ever changing consumer. Success is measured by profitable sales. Sales are dependent on the understanding of the products, uses, and benefits at the distributor, operator, and consumer levels. Training and education is critical.

Yet, due to the shorter life span of products and the need to bring to market at a much quicker pace, we oftentimes see items that are introduced with little or no support in the way of education and training. If the distributor does not know how or why to sell a product and the operator doesn't understand the usage or benefits, the consumer will never experience this product—at least within a foodservice setting.

The manufacturer of that product can thus plan for an early exodus. Research has provided us with annual reports on new product introductions within each category. While this number continues to grow, the studies do not reflect the number of failures in the marketplace. Sadly, the percentage of new product introductions that do not realize success is very high. Equally as sad, many of these new products would have achieved success given the appropriate training programs to both the distributor and operator customer.

Common sense dictates that with the DSR having hundreds of incentives and spiffs offered for new product sales, few will decide to promote a product they know or understand little about.

Mistake number one: little educational support given to the guys and gals actually in the field selling the product. Secondly, operators must have a very good understanding of why one product will be better than another product whether it be for reducing costs in the kitchen or improving margins on the menu.

Mistake number two: little training support given to the ultimate user of the product. Even the consumers must be given some degree of education—possibly through the waitstaff—on why this product is such a good option and one that results in repeat purchases.

With this in mind, let's agree on one thing before going further: education and training regarding products and uses will make or break the long-term success of that product or its positioning.

The Web: A Cost Effective Training Vehicle
The Internet has provided food distributors, manufacturers and associations with a powerful tool that will efficiently, effectively, and economically reach the desired target audience. While we can say that competition has never been as fierce, we can also say that there have never been such a wide choice of tools that can be used to best reach the intended target markets. The Internet offers food companies not only a valuable marketing tool but certainly also an excellent vehicle for training and education.

Using technology to teach DSRs, brokers, manufacturer representatives, or operators (front and back of house) about products or services has been common since the days of 16 mm film loops and Kodak slide shows. Today marketers and trainers are looking to the Internet to provide "Anytime, Anywhere" motivational and educational communication. Some, however, have been deterred by one or several of the prevailing myths about e-Learning. Foodservice distributors oftentimes believe the expense of set up may be too costly, e-Learning may be too difficult to track, users can "beat the system" by cheating, or perhaps distance learning is simply not considered interesting or fun.

Next week's column will look at the various myths that are associated with e-Learning.

Tom O'Connell is president of Marketing Concepts, Inc., and a member of the ID Editorial Advisory Board. O'Connell has 30 years of experience in the foodservice and food processing channels. Prior to starting Marketing Concepts more than 13 years ago, he was vice president of marketing for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, creating innovative marketing programs for generic promotion. Prior to that, O'Connell was service as vice president of sales for a major food processor. Through years of experience and hundreds of key contacts within the industry, he has gained an expertise in the food industry that has earned the respect of distributor, operators, and manufacturers alike. As president of Marketing Concepts, he is responsible for overseeing the management and execution of a unique firm that offers strategic direction, business development, market research, and marketing direction/execution. O'Connell, who coordinated the execution of ID Update 2003, has earned several awards from the industry for his unique programs, tactics, and overall thinking, has served in an advisory capacity to numerous foodservice associations.
Jon Aleckson, President MPI and WebCourseworks

If you have marketing questions that you'd like to address to Tom O'connell, please send them to The Editor.


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