Get to know The Hartman Group all over again…or for the first time

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Normally, each week we write about emerging trends in food and the food industry. But this week we need to tell another story. Our story.

Our tale, like that of the consumers and food and beverage culture we study, is also one of evolution.

In 1989 we started out as a small market research firm assessing the consumer potential for products in the “green” marketing space, which, at that time, was modest and nascent. “Sustainability” was not yet a household word. It became clear that the most interesting part of that space to consumers was the rapidly growing natural/organic food and beverage marketplace. And as some of you know, natural was an important driver in supplements (VMHS), so that is precisely where we spent much of the 1990s, tracking early adopters both quantitatively and ethnographically. During this decade, we would stitch together these various pieces into the quilt that would be the broader health and wellness market.

The 1990s were also the period in which organic sales took root and took flight. Before the end of the twentieth century, we said that the prospect of strong growth was on the horizon for the organic industry. It was indeed true: around 2000 the organic category was firmly entrenched in consumers’ households and lifestyles, and a major shift was underway that would forever change the food industry.

At the time, though, our ethnographic research told us this was something bigger than just organic. We quickly followed this trend into the heart of America’s grocery stores. We followed shoppers in-store and studied their pantries in-home to find that consumers were responding to food and beverage companies’ higher-quality product offerings as stores began to convert into an emerging premium marketplace, category by category.

We became experts in why these changes were happening and in the tactics food companies could use to reach these lucrative consumers, folks willing to pay 2-3x category average unit pricing for a suite of emerging benefits the mainline industry largely ignored. Additionally, we explored a cultural shift in how consumers shopped, in particular how food procurement was no longer just a functional task but one that had experiential and aspirational emotions attached to it.

Then, ten years ago, we got a call from the CMO of a major American food holding company. Its brands had been iconic fixtures in American homes for decades. But it was now starting to lose households across many of its businesses. The leadership team was concerned that their brands didn’t know how to connect to changing consumer preferences. They wanted to inject change to align the company with long-term trends in food. And they believed we had a better grasp of these trends than the established consultancies they traditionally worked with.

It was our first foray as strategy consultants. Until this point, we were a group of social scientists and consumer researchers focused exclusively on primary consumer research. So we had lots of homework to do on the industry and how it worked. We had to learn how a brand manager makes decisions, the operational realities of incremental tactical changes vs. major reformulations or brand-extension launches, the difference between marketing strategy and business strategy, the constant tension between R&D and marketing, etc.

A small core team focused on this protean consulting work back then, sharing out learnings with the rest of the organization. Our analysts found heightened motivation as they rolled up their sleeves to help today’s brands adapt to a rapidly shifting food culture. By 2011 we had learned enough to form a separate consulting division that offered strategic and tactical advice to drive growth in today’s food marketplace. From information to advice. It was a big shift. But advice had always been in our deliverables. We had always advised, even when we weren’t asked. It’s why people kept coming back to us. We offered more creative and more consumer-centric tactics than our competitors. The trick now was to offer compelling growth strategy to focus our tactical acumen toward driving topline growth, competitively.

Today we no longer have a separate consulting division. That’s because consulting is now fully integrated into all our work. While consumer research is still a vital part of our projects, we now have a special focus on offering sound advice. Advice to improve innovation. Advice to contemporize brands. Advice on white spaces to launch new businesses in. Advice on how to rebalance portfolios for twenty-first-century food culture.

We do this work through workshops and in-depth consulting engagements — and much more.

So if you thought you knew The Hartman Group before, take a moment to get to really know us now. We want to help grow your business, not just inform it.

We invite you to explore our work and thinking. Then, let’s have a conversation about how we can put it all to work to help grow your business.

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FOOD SHOPPING IN AMERICA 2017

As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.

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