A Marketing Idea That Just Plain Rocks

Tell people there’s going to be food, music and free admission and you’re not going to have a problem getting anyone to show up. I’m guessing someone on Chipotle’s marketing team said something like this when they were pitching the idea of the Cultivate Food, Ideas & Music Festival. It was certainly enough to get my family and me to Kansas City on July 18.

If you want people to be interested in your food and invested in your brand, this is the way to do it. July 18 was hot. HOT, guys. And when we showed up that afternoon there were lines, lines, lines. Obviously, the oppressive heat was not enough to keep people away from this shindig, so I was there to see food marketing at its finest.


Staying true to the name of the festival, there were bands on stage, chef demos—and I mean chefs (ahem, Graham Elliot and more), including well-known local chefs.

The local element is something that made this whole thing such a food marketing success. Local chefs, local breweries, local food companies and eateries with their booths and artisan-style products, were there putting out vibes of goodness and lending to the perception of Chipotle. Again. Food marketing genius. Plus, featuring locally known people and businesses is an instant way to get the community on board and contributing to all of those lines. That, and tents largely lettered with phrases like, “Guac From Scratch.”


In addition to like-minded brands featured at the festival in their own booths, Chipotle featured interactive exhibits to get the conversation going around food sourcing and processing—from the treatment of animals to GMOs. I think what surprised me the most is how popular some of these areas seemed to be.

Food-wise, you guessed it, there was plenty of Chipotle fare, and alongside it their newest food concepts, ShopHouse (Asian) and collaboration Pizzeria Locale.


Since my three-year-old and two nephews were in tow, we spent most of our time in the “Kids Zone.” A giant chalkboard wall, complementary organic t-shirts for decorating, an organic cotton fight (it’s exactly what it sounds like—kids throwing raw organic cotton at each other), a “plant-a -seed” booth, plus samples from kid-focused snack brands—I’ve got to say the Kids Zone had it going on. Of course, we walked out of there with coupons for free Chipotle kids meals (and they’ve already gotten two visits out of us, so well-played, Chipotle).

This is food marketing done right. Whether or not you agreed with their angle, Chipotle created an incredibly clever, attractive way to invite people to the conversation—and that’s what keeps them talking.


This post was written by Sharon Kuntz—a Sr. Copywriter at deep and a self-proclaimed foodie with more than 10 years of experience in foodservice marketing.

Ordered. Spending the day with a Distributor Sales Rep

At deep, and across all of the Marlin Network agencies, we have the ability to always continue our foodservice industry knowledge by attending frequently planned “classes” held at our very own Marlin Network University. Recently held was a session covering off on the day-in-the-life of a Distributor Sales Rep (DSR). As a follow-up to the in-class session, several of us had the privilege of spending a day with a rep to experience firsthand what the job entails.


My ride-along experience took place in rural Missouri throughout the towns of Carl Junction, Carthage and Mount Vernon shadowing Christina Hadlock. Starting out our day on the road at 8 A.M. we headed west working our way out to the furthest customer location, spending the day heading back towards home base.

As we started out sharing some topline duties of each of our jobs, I was quick to realize the level of dedication Hadlock had for her customers, a trait that only became clearer as the day progressed. Having owned a couple of restaurants herself, Hadlock had a connection with her customers that welcomed her into to these owners, operators, and directors lives. Throughout the day we visited various operations ranging from schools and assisted living facilities to family-owned independent restaurants. Regardless of the “type” of place we visited all the customers had a trust in Hadlock that came from more than a business transaction but from a true partnership. These customers looked to her for menuing ideas, product solutions, stocking guidance and more.

As a marketer in the foodservice industry, a few questions came to mind throughout my trip:

Q: What concerns do operators have in their day-to-day work? And what do operators look to DSRs for? Ordering, pricing, ideas, etc.

A:From what I can tell, all of the above but primarily, these folks are needing to keep their business going, they need support and ideas on keeping things new and relevant while not overspending on their purchases.

Q: As a DSR, what materials are most useful when going on these weekly visits?

A: Samples seemed to excite some operators but are sometimes only available after a broker visits and leaves some for the DSR to distribute. Rebates seemed to be appealing to all, but otherwise, POS materials weren’t a big draw for either the sales rep or the operator.

Q:What can my manufacturer clients do to help operators, DSRs and the workings of restaurants?

A: Menuing support, LTOs, rebates, merchandise – anything that can help the operators sell forth the products they are purchasing from your brand can help. And perhaps, that means better equipping the sales reps so they see the value in passing along these materials.

In all, this was a valuable way to see first-hand how foodservice operators discuss their orders and what role the DSR plays in that process. As an agency and client representative, if there are ways to make the DSRs job easier for handing over insights, ideas and information we should provide that to them as a partner. After all, their partnership with the owners and operators is relationship driven based on operational needs and support; food manufacturer relationships with sales should offer support to them just the same.

A special thanks to SGC Foodservice for letting members of our team tag-along with different DSRs for one-day ride-alongs.

Claire ChrismanAbout Claire Chrisman

This post was written by Claire Chrisman, Account Executive at deep—responsible for connecting brand needs to the team that can get it done.

Six Ways C-Stores Can Capitalize on Full-Service Food Movement

It’s been a tumultuous decade for convenience stores, but that hasn’t stopped their rapid growth. This is due, in part, to consumers’ growing preference for a quick one-stop shop. It can also partly be attributed to c-stores’ ability to quickly respond to changing trends.

As gas prices rose, convenience stores responded by increasing the value of in-store purchases. When pay-at-the-pump dug into their bottom line by diminishing impulse buys, convenience chains looked for new reasons to get consumers in the door.DeathtoStock_Clementine10

For many chains, that meant taking food more seriously. As consumers pull away from traditional fast-food chains like McDonald’s, East Coast-based Wawa and Sheetz have become pioneers in the convenience food space, offering made-to-order sandwiches and other fresh, delicious fare.

QuikTrip has followed suit, rolling out QT Kitchens to fill its stores with ready-to-eat options that are healthy. A stroll down a QT aisle will reveal grilled chicken salads, fresh fruit (peeled and cubed), yogurt parfaits and a variety of sandwiches featuring sliced meats and fresh greens. Customers can also choose something like a warm flatbread, personal pizza or a fruit smoothie from the made-to-order counter.

Midwest-based Kum & Go likewise is reconfiguring its locations to include full kitchens for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some locations offer a Go Fresh Market, featuring food made at the store.

More stores are sure to follow this trend because it’s a great idea for luring people inside.

From Filling the Tank to Filling the Stomach

The convenience store industry is incredibly diverse, with competitors literally around every corner. Customers can get fuel from QT, Kum & Go, Casey’s or even Walmart, so what makes them choose a particular store?

Most c-store customers are loyal out of convenience; they always stop by because they live in the area. But serving great food inspires true loyalty. In fact, 90 percent of people who consume c-store food say the taste and quality of the food are important in their choice of stores.

Convenience stores have always offered some kind of food, but most of those on-the-go staples have never been regarded as quality food. Snacks like doughnuts, nachos or microwavable burritos might curb consumers’ hunger, but to truly compete against fast food, c-stores must offer something better.

Offering quality full-service food can be a major investment, but it’s one with the potential for high returns. Couche-Tard, operating in North America and Europe, grew 54.7 percent in 2013 by capitalizing on a variety of trends, including in-store food purchases.

The key to seeing major returns is quality — and getting customers to recognize it.

Changing the Way Customers See Your Store

Over the past few years, c-stores have been getting cleaner, and their food has been getting better. While customers may grab something to eat because they don’t want to make an extra stop on the way home, they still don’t view convenience stores as meal destinations.

As more c-stores serve soup that’s made daily, great sandwiches with fresh ingredients, and flavorful pizza, consumers are beginning to come around. The trick is getting them to try it.

People don’t expect to pay premium prices for food in a convenience store, no matter how good it may be. It’s about changing consumers’ expectations and getting them onboard.

Here are six tips for establishing a successful full-service food offering:

1. Leverage major brands.

Partnering with recognizable brands is a great way to quickly gain consumers’ trust. Customers already have experience with brands like Campbell’s, Kraft, Folgers and Starbucks, and they immediately associate the brands they love and trust with quality and value.

2. Carry fresh foods.

Carrying more fresh food and food associated with healthy eating helps create a new brand perception for your store. By positioning these foods against less convenient options at higher price points, you can access new customers in other markets.

3. Provide higher-quality touchpoints.

Offering a full-service counter or delivering food to a customer’s table creates a better experience overall. Your customers will have a better sense of the service and quality they can expect, which creates a stronger tie to your brand.

4. Offer a variety of price points.

Offering more products at diverse price points attracts customers who are looking to pay for healthier foods of higher quality. You’ll be able to create more revenue and a positive brand experience that increases repeat customers and lifetime value.

5. Access the senses.

This is a simple one: cook food that smells amazing inside the store and people are more likely to buy it. According to “Smellizing Cookies and Salivating: A Focus on Olfactory Imagery,” smelling a product has a greater effect on consumer responses than imagining the smell when looking at a visual advertisement.


6. Invest in remodeling.

When c-stores invest in remodeling to look new and modern, they’re seen as a viable option for fast food. Legacy Landing in Washington, for example, has received interior design awards, taking the traditional c-store image to a whole new level.

Reaping great returns really does come down to making major changes. The c-stores that are blazing the trail in this movement aren’t the ones simply offering burgers and nachos. The pioneers — and the ones that are going to see real returns — are the ones creating a quality customer dining experience.

If you want to capitalize on the full-service food movement, develop a culinary vision for your convenience store and take action to make it a reality.

This article was written by Doug Austin and originally appeared on the Convenience Store News site.

Doug AustinAbout Doug Austin

Doug Austin is senior vice president of growth and innovation for Marlin Network, where he leads product and brand innovation sessions. For nearly 30 years, Austin has been studying the “art of observation” and filtering out the human truths. Whether digging for key consumer insights or preparing the next national retail promotion, it’s all about the ability to “hear and see” what others may not, and asking the hard questions. For more on the Marlin Network, visit MarlinNetwork.com. 

Recap of the 2015 PMA Foodservice Conference via Twitter

Last weekend, more than 1,870 people from the produce industry gathered at the annual PMA Foodservice Conference in Monterey, California.

Some top culinary trends that our team took away from the show include:

  • Farming for flavor
  • Local, local, local
  • New cooking techniques (such as charring vegetables)
  • Aromatics
  • Concept “flips” and blends
  • Increase in plant protein
  • Healthy oils

Beyond these overall culinary trends, many speakers encouraged chefs to partner directly with farms instead of partnering with local farmer’s markets and showcased tips on how to cook vegetables “root-to-stem.” Some restaurants encompassing these veg-centric trends include: Chalk Point, Pez Cantina, The Gander and The Ladies’ Gunboat Society.

In case you missed it, here’s our favorite tweets from attendees using the conference hashtag (#PMAFSC).

5 Superlative Ingredients of a Crisis Communication Plan

How Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams Is Thriving After Costly Recall

Did you know July is National Ice Cream Month? I don’t know about you, but I’ll take any excuse to eat ice cream every day for a month. And as any of my co-workers and friends can confirm, there are not many things that I get more excited about than ice cream—especially when it’s done right.

I’m an avid ambassador for artisanal ice cream, which all started when I had my first spoonful of Jeni’s Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio. With a slogan like: “Ice creams built from the ground up with superlative ingredients,” one can expect the company to take a detailed, honest approach to the creamy treat.

Beyond featuring quality, local ingredients such as Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield, Mo., I have admired the company’s approach to marketing for many years. From sharing the founder’s secret recipe with fans to telling the incredible story of their superlative ingredients, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams has captured the hearts of many foodies through its strong commitment to authencity.

The Crisis 

On Thursday, April 23, on the heels of Blue Bell’s listeria scare, Jeni’s Ice Creams announced a voluntary recall of all of their product and closing of all of their scoop shops—citing that one of their batches tested positive for listeria. In the food business, a crisis like this can make or break a company. However, if you have a strong relationship with your customers and have a smart crisis communications plan in place, a company, like Jeni’s Ice Creams, can come out of a recall even stronger.

Below are some strategic actions that Jeni’s took that every company can learn from when it comes to crisis communications.

1. Act swiftly and courageously-

Within the first 12 hours of learning about the listeria, Jeni’s made the courageous decision to pull all of their product off the shelves. They did not wait to see if the contamination was contained to a specific flavor (even though it was); they acted swiftly and out of extreme caution. Anthony Huey, president of Reputation Management Associates, told Columbus Biz Insider that listeria contamination is a big deal. “The fact that they pulled their entire inventory did surprise me a bit, but it was certainly a decision made with great thought,” said Huey. “It shows they are committed and care.” In the end, this commitment to safety lost more than 265 tons of ice cream and cost them approximately $2.5 million dollars.

2. Communicate transparently and often-

The company immediately created a microsite (jenis.com/recall) where customers could follow the story as it develops and get more information. That site houses all of their press releases—some written personally from their CEO John Lowe, and the company posted updates often. In addition, they halted all social posts unrelated to the recall and changed all of their social media platform images—including all local scoop shops—to a blank white background to call attention to the announcement. To go above and beyond the call of duty, the company also set up a communications center to field any questions or concerns about the listeria scare. All of these tactics communicate to customers that their safety and wellbeing is the company’s greatest concern during this crisis.

 3. Take care of your team-

After making the decision to close all of their shops, Jeni’s showed further commitment to not only their customers’ safety, but also to their 575 employees. Although scoop shops and kitchens were closed, the company continued to pay part-time employees 25% of their regular pay and full time employees 50% of their pay, as well as keeping insurance benefits for all employees. They slashed budgets and spending to avoid layoffs—a move that had a powerful, positive impact on how fans viewed the brand. People respect companies that take care of their own, especially in times of need.

 4. Own your mistakes, even if you don’t have to-

On May 14, 2015, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams announced that the listeria product has been eradicated and production had finally resumed. The company reopened scoop shops over Memorial Day weekend, and fans rejoiced. Unfortunately, less than a month later, they announced another stop in production due to listeria in the kitchen. All of the ice cream being served since May 22 was listeria-free. They did not have to admit something had gone wrong for a second time, but they did and their transparent act to own up to the mistake spoke volumes to fans. “It goes back to your values,” Founder Jeni Britton Bauer told Fast Company. “If you abandon those during the worst times, then they’re not yours, really.”


Source: Instagram

5. Show authentic gratitude to your fans-

About two weeks after the recall announcement, Britton Bauer posted a personal thank you to all of the company’s supporters and partners. At the end of the day, fans stood by and applauded this company for their honesty, transparency and commitment to safety. Customers were rooting for her and her company to win. In fact, many fans stood up for the company when other people left negative comments on the Facebook page. That kind of support only comes from cultivating a positive relationship with your fans long before a crisis ever hits.

When the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams re-opened their scoop shops, the lines of customers leading up to the doors speak for themselves. The final good news came last week when the company announced that the oh-so-popular milkiest and dark chocolate flavors are officially back in stock.

All in all, this recall only made the company stronger because they built their crisis communication plan from the ground up with superlative ingredients: acting swiftly, owning up to their mistakes, showing committed to their customers’ safety, communicating with extreme transparency and thanking their fans for their support. I’ll leave you with a quote on being creative in a time of crisis from Jeni herself:

“There’s this idea that creativity is about blowing it up and having no boundaries and doing something and not thinking about it. But actually it’s about doing the most you can within the box. Doing what nobody’s ever done within that set of parameters. And that sort of classic creative thinking is what we’ve been doing—finding ways to make our ice cream even better. Not just the same, but even better.”

Bethany-BellThis post was written by Bethany Bell. As the Assistant Public Relations Manager at deep food marketing group, Bell develops and executes PR and social media strategies for global food brands. Before joining deep in 2013, this Missouri State graduate was the Person in Charge of Getting the Word Out at Askinosie Chocolate, an artisan, bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Springfield, Missouri. Growing up in the coffee industry, Bell is also a strong advocate for supporting local.


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