Choosing the Right Target Market for Your Specialty Food Product

Almost before you do anything else in creating your business and selling your food products, you need to identify WHO your target market, or your audience, is. Ask ten business people the question “who is your target market?” and eight of them will say something to the effect of “everyone can use my product or service.” That answer makes me want to scream because it indicates that either they really don’t know what they’re offering OR they’re (pick one) too lazy, greedy or fearful to create a useful client profile.

Everyone is NOT your target market and you need to choose who IS before you start making a lot of your other business building decisions. This is one of the benefits of running your own company. YOU get to decide with WHOM you want to work and sell to. Pricing, what your packaging will look like, the design of your logo, web site and marketing materials all depend on who your buyer(s) are.

Think, for example, how Mercedes markets its cars vs. how Chevy markets its trucks. Very different target audiences. Your product is no different. Is this an item that you see on your average grocery store shelf or is it a better fit for high-end gourmet specialty markets? Is your product gluten-free, sugar-free, or otherwise a good fit for a group of “special needs” consumers? Nothing is wrong or better about any of the answers you come up with; it’s a matter of creating a niche for yourself.

When I started my company, I decided to focus on serving the needs of business clients. Sure, I had a great-tasting cookie, but again, it wasn’t my intention to become “the next Mrs. Fields.” My goal was to work directly with business people who wanted to show appreciation for their clients or members. My definition of business clients was primarily those in the corporate world, although I also included associations and not-for-profit organizations. I was creating a gifting product, more than a common food item.

With that information, I could choose packaging that fit the needs and would be attractive to that audience. I could create a web site that would speak to them in a language they could relate to. I could write copy for and design marketing materials that made them comfortable with my company and confident that I would serve their needs.

Think what would have happened if I’d made all those decisions BEFORE I knew to whom I was talking! Let’s say your favorite colors are pink and purple, so you decide to create packaging in those colors. You use a funky typeface for the logo and wording. You design a cute cartoon character as your “mascot.” And you write a brochure highlighting the taste and nutritional benefits of your product. Then you send those brochures out to construction companies to encourage them to buy your product for holiday gifts to their clients. Um, putting all those elements together is not likely to work.

But, if your target audience is moms of toddlers and you’re promoting your product as great for birthday parties, then you have a much better match and are more likely to succeed.

Even your pricing will be affected by the target audience, and we’ll talk about that in more detail in another article. But suffice it to say that if you want to sell your food product to a grocery store, such as Publix, Kroger or Safeway, your pricing model is going to be different than if you are selling directly to the end user.

Do you see why and how deciding on the target market has to be first?

Now, I hear you, sitting there saying, but EVERYONE loves my hot sauce, granola, green onion chips. I can’t narrow it down to one target market. Yes, you can and you must, if you want to succeed. You don’t necessarily have to make it as narrow as saying women with blond hair, between the ages of 25-35 who go to spin class three times a week and drive BMWs.

So, think about how you see your product being used. If your product is a steak sauce, then obviously meat-eaters is a good start in the narrowing process. That vegetarians might possibly use it on potatoes is fine, but you are not going to focus on them. Keep going. Do you see men who consider themselves “grill-masters” buying this product? Where would they purchase it – at Wal-Mart or from a Williams-Sonoma catalog?

Confession time! Had I known better, I would have narrowed down my targeting even further and chosen one or two specific industries on which to focus. Doing this would have allowed me to even more specifically customize my marketing efforts for them, which in turn would build the business faster. As it turned out down the road, some of those industries kind of identified themselves when I started seeing more and more clients coming from them. And even then, I didn’t start niche marketing to them right away. Geez, I was a slow-learner. Learn from my mistakes, and narrow down your target market!