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Connecting With Consumers' Psyche Through Targeted Retail Distribution

NEW YORK -- Each one of us has fond memories of our childhood and the favorite foods we consumed in the home. The emotional connection that is made between a parent and child often is transmitted through the very same process whereby a mother feeds her child in its infancy. Between the mother and child is a food source of some type -- either the mother's own milk or a prepared product in the home.

The association of these tender moments of childhood with a specific food product or dish is known as "imprinting" as discussed by Claude Rapaille, the French psychologist turned consumer packaged goods consultant.

Many of us still seek the very foods we grew up with and this reinforces a positive psychological connection that goes beyond fuel for bodily function. In fact, much of the consumption of food products in this era of abundance -- for the developed world at least -- is to satisfy both psychological as well as physiological needs. As the saying goes, distance makes the heart grow fonder. That is why being far from home brings with it the desire to connect with a favorite food product. Growing up in a Mexican household and living in Miami means that I pay particular attention to Mexican restaurants or specialty products on the shelves -- and why I go out of my way to find authentic Mexican food in Los Angeles and Chicago.

There are certain companies who have not only internalized the concept of imprinting, but who also have capitalized on this phenomenon in a special way. Among the most notable is Nestle which, as a multinational company based in Switzerland, developed an enormous product line that is very well suited to enable the connection with one's heritage. For those growing up in Latin America, products such as Chocolate Abuelita, La Lechera and Carlos Quinto, conjure up memories of one's childhood along with their pleasing sensation on the palette. When migration occurs and we find ourselves far from home, these products become instruments of emotional reconnection -- a proxy to being at home with loved ones.

For a company like Nestlé to capitalize on such products' brand identity and emotional equity, marketing science can enable the connection. The first order of business is gaining an understanding of the consumer from the point of view of his or her heritage and the products they are connected with emotionally. Heritage products can vary significantly by country-of-origin, certain products that are ubiquitous on the shelves in one country can be virtually unknown in another country within the same region. Therefore, country-of-origin factors prominently in the distribution strategy. Furthermore, the connection to imprinted products occurs particularly among migrants who either left their country at an age old enough to remember, or who live with an extended family who seeks out such heritage products.

Acculturation, or the degree to which a consumer has adopted the culture of their present area of residence, also factors prominently in this approach to product targeting. Furthermore, relationships with retail chains, independent grocers and distributors brings into play a host of additional challenges prior to capitalizing on the products' emotional benefits.

The challenge becomes simulating the socio-cultural environment in a manner that enables marketers to anticipate the product's potential within a region, metro area, store trade area or footprint of a particular retail chain. By attributing Geoscape Hispanicity segmentation in a multi-dimensional framework, including country-of-origin, life stage and consumption potential, companies like Nestlé can deploy highly-specific product marketing and distribution strategies that both resonate with the consumer and deliver on their demand at a store-level.

Convenience is a way of life today. For Latino consumers, convenience stores have always been the spontaneous resource for addressing immediate needs both while on the go and while preparing the next meal at home. It is an enigma to me that c-stores have yet to fully tap the potential they represent to acculturating Latinos and other members of our culturally diverse community. Perhaps it is for want of methods to operationalize consumer insights that enable the connection with consumers at both practical and emotional dimensions.

As bestselling author Eckard Tolle indicates, instinct is how the body reacts to an outside stimulus and emotion is how the body reacts to a thought. While hunger is an instinct that can be satisfied by a wide variety of food stuffs, the emotional connection with a food product can help satisfy a consumer both physiologically and psychologically.
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