One of our colleagues recently told us the story of her love for Trader Joe’s. (For our non-American readers, Trader Joe’s is a US-based chain of brick and mortar retail locations billing themselves as a neighborhood grocery store offering amazingly fresh quality goods at great prices.)
Years ago, her elderly mom was fighting bone loss and losing her appetite. The family tried every trick to get their mom to drink milk (to get more calcium) but nothing worked. Passing through Trader Joe’s one day, she scanned the aisles for a sweet cookie snack that could tempt her mom to form a “milk and cookie” habit. She grabbed a box of Candy Cane Joe-Joes (Trader Joe’s private label brand version of Oreo’s, with crushed up peppermint candy mixed into the white filling).
Her mom loved them, would dunk them in her obligatory afternoon drink, and adopted Joe-Joes as her cookie of choice, but actually so did the whole family.
Actually, the tasty little cookie became a magnet for repeat visits to the store itself, because Joe-Joes are ONLY available at Trader Joe’s. While there, the family would also stock up on milk, and other groceries for their mom ... Guess which brands? Trader Joe’s own brands, of course. A habit was formed that benefited the sales of Store’s Own products as well as the overall retailer’s share of wallet.
Moments of Truth that Enable Store’s Own Brands to Perform
Long gone are the days when “Store’s Own Brands” are perceived to be the generic, cheaper alternative to major well-known brands. In fact, Forbes recently cited research from the PLMA (Private Label Manufacturers Association) shows that “40% of consumers (are) saying they “always/frequently” buy store brands … And some 25% said they plan on "buying more private label brands in the year ahead.”
Based on their positive shopper experiences with the retailer itself, consumers are trusting and trying Private Label products across multiple categories and even embracing Private Label premium brands (when priced accordingly, of course!).
What can retailers learn from the behavioral science behind the Joe-Joe's example to win in all the Moments of Truth and positively impact their own Private Label brands?
1. Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT): Before the Consumer even knows they ‘need’ your Private Label product
The hardest thing for a brand to influence is consumer behavior before awareness even occurs.
The good news for Trader Joes’ is the path to purchase, as our colleague looked for a product to meet her need, started with the awareness of the retailer’s brand appeal. Trader Joe’s brand promise equaled quality, trust, and a pleasurable shopping experience.
Behavioral science tells us that we use shortcuts to make choices unconsciously, without spelling out the factors. Unconscious associations prompt memories of emotional experiences that drive or influence behavior, and an enjoyable context (in this case: a fun shopping experience).
The key to getting mom to drink milk wasn’t in the milk aisle; Trader Joe’s in-store and advertising promotions for Joe-Joe’s cookies often feature images of cookies next to a glass of milk. The unconscious association prompts childhood nostalgia for a happy experience of cookies and milk, that built the association with Joe Joe’s.
Something for private label manufacturers to consider when building awareness for products in the Zero Moment of Truth is that often it is a function of priming – a key behavioral principle in consumer choice, in all phases of the shopper experience and the product presentation.
When Private Label Brands up their game to compete with major well-known brands, they have a choice to associate the Private Label portfolio with the retailer’s name or a separate identity. (An example of the second is Kroger’s “Simple Truth” or Target’s “Archer Farms”.)
If the choice, like Trader Joe’s, is to associate the Store’s Own Products with your retail brand, then in-context product experiences, in physical or digital e-commerce environments, can significantly impact consumer behavior.
Make sure you are attending to the total shopper experience to earn consumers’ trust, even before your products are in the consumers’ choice consideration set. And make sure the product presentation and packaging convey complimentary brand promises.
Top of the list of brand building strategies for grocery retailers, and to win in the Zero Moment of Truth, is to ensure that all elements of the shopper experience delight the consumers you wish to remain loyal to your retail operations as well as to choose your private label products.
2. First Moment of Truth (FMOT): When the Consumer is choosing
The importance of Choice architecture may be new to retailers introducing Private Label products because previous considerations were often limited to pricing and value shopping.
Joe-Joes provides some good examples of behavioral science principles and Drivers of Influence where packaging drives consumer choice.
- The product image on the box looks like the iconic Oreo’s cookie, creating saliency and familiarity… and, of course, appetite appeal.
- The red and white stripes conjure our instinctive, unconscious connection to peppermint stripes of candy canes, implying a flavor profile and taste promise.
- The product name “Joe-Joes” creates a contextual homonym for “Oreos”, which is the habitual consumer choice Trader Joe’s aims at disrupting – while also being quite playful and connecting on an emotional level.
- The Trader Joe’s branding taps into positive, instinctive, “System 1” consumer feelings for the retailer.
There is nothing “Generic” about the packaging, and the elements are all designed to stimulate and influence purchase choice.
To win at the First Moment of Truth, Stores’ Own Brands should consider the ROI for investing in design and insight validation. Costly mistakes can be avoided, even in initial NPD, by ensuring that the packaging is aiding discovery, anchoring and framing the consumer behavioral choice, and communicating the brand and product promise.
3. Second Moment of Truth (SMOT): When the Consumer tries the product and considers a repeat buy
This is a lesson for all product developers, but particularly for Store’s Own brands. There is a moment when the consumer opens the box and takes a bite of your product. This is an instinctive, visceral, emotional, unconscious moment – does the texture, flavor profile and sensorial experience deliver the promise that the package implied? Does it stand up next to the well-known brand?
What is at stake here is the repeat purchase; a suboptimal SMOT can lead to the consumer defaulting back to the major manufacturer’s brand, which is familiar and reliable. For Store’s Own brands, it can even be a factor in the consumer’s choice to return to the store for other purchases.
If you don’t take the time to test and validate your Store’s Own product’s ability in the SMOT to meet and satisfy expectations set by the pack, consumers’ unconscious, emotional responses to the product experience will derail the choice to repeat the purchase.
For Store’s Own Brand, the Second Moment of Truth it is too important to leave to chance.
Joe-Joe's met the test for our colleague’s Mom. Can you be sure that yours will too?
How can Private Label Brands Win Across the Moments of Truth?
Best practices for Private Label or Store’s Own brands include a holistic 360 evaluation of the factors that impact all the Moments of Truth. However, many Private Label Brands are playing catch-up embedding consumer insights into their product development and shopper marketing processes.
For brands aggressively introducing hundreds of Private Label SKUs to compete with well-known brands, it might be tempting to dismiss research on the shopper, pack and product experience as too expensive and time-consuming. But retailers do that at their own risk.
Research partners with deep domain expertise in shopper and product experience can provide essential insight into consumer behavior that can optimize packaging, predict purchase choices, and make or break sales outcomes for Store’s Own Brands. And the best partners can do this cost-effectively and efficiently enough for you to make evidence-based decisions about your entire product portfolio.
All this talk about Joe-Joe's is making us hungry. Time for some milk, cookies, and maybe a few consumer insights!
Michele Cerullo McCorry is a Vice President of Client Development at PRS IN VIVO. In addition to her own love of milk and cookies, she thrives on understanding shopper and consumer behavior to help brands succeed in the ever-changing, competitive climate. If you are interested in learning how PRS IN VIVO can help drive your Private Label brand development initiatives, you can contact us at Michele.Cerullo@prs-invivo.com.