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Once upon a time, mass marketers, such as the consumer product goods firm General Mills (GM), only pursued ideas that could earn them at least $50 million. But the rules of the game are changing, and today, even Betty Crocker (a GM brand) wants access to niche markets.

Only 1 percent of theU.S.population suffers from Celiac disease, a condition that damages the digestive system when patients ingest gluten. Approximately 12 percent of consumers say they want to reduce or eliminate gluten, a wheat protein, from their diet. Furthermore, the most frequent customer inquiries that GM’s customer relations department receives pertain to food allergies, mostly tied to gluten in products. The solution thus seemed obvious.

Using online marketing, GM is targeting this niche market effectively and inexpensively. First, it has purchased Google search terms such as “gluten-free birthday cake mix” and “gluten-free dessert mixes.” Second, it has sent hundreds of gluten-free product samples to bloggers who write about Celiac disease. Third, it advertises in gluten-free lifestyle magazines and sponsors booths at Celiac Disease Foundation meetings. None of its promotions include traditional media like television, newspapers, or mass market magazines.

At the same time that it saves on advertising, the gluten-free Betty Crocker products earn a premium of approximately $2 compared with traditional Betty Crocker mixes. The market for gluten-free products may be small in comparison with the larger markets that General Mills normally pursues, yet in the current competitive marketplace, the frustrated sufferers of Celiac disease may prove to be the brand’s most loyal customers, finally able to enjoy a bit of cake on special occasions.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is General Mills changing its usual strategy to target consumers who are sensitive or allergic to gluten? 
  2. Why did General Mills not decide to use traditional advertising?

 

Ilan Brat, “For General Mills, Wheat-free Items are Tricky to Make, Cheap to Market,” The Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2009.

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