Consumer products experts Rachael Powell and Eddie Yoon live at opposite ends of the earth but share a common passion – spam.
Not the unsolicited emails that fill their inboxes, but the canned pork product once pilloried by Monty Python and now sold in more than 40 countries.
Sydney-based Ms Powell, associate director of fast-moving consumer goods at Nielsen, and Chicago-based Mr Yoon, principal of consumer products consultancy The Cambridge Group, use spam in sandwiches, casseroles and even sushi.
They are known as “super consumers” – a newly identified breed of hard-core consumers now targeted by consumer goods companies and retailers looking for new sources of sales growth.
Consumer food giants such as Campbell’s, Mondelez, Unilever and General Mills usually try to boost sales by recruiting new or lapsed users to their brands, rather than convince regular or existing users to consume more.
But Mr Yoon and Ms Powell say brand owners can get more bang from their marketing and R&D buck by targeting super consumers, who may not consume more but are engaged, passionate category or brand advocates.
Research by Nielsen and Cambridge using supermarket scan data and consumer surveys found super consumers typically represent about 10 per cent of customers in a category, but account for between 30 and 70 per cent of sales and a higher proportion of profits.
They are less price-sensitive than regular consumers, use products in a multitude of innovative ways, and are always looking for new usage occasions – swapping recipes with other super consumers – whether it’s canned pork, processed cheese or hot dogs.
In the US, for example, The Cambridge Group helped Kraft lift sales of Velveeta cheese by $US100 million ($106 million) after discovering 2.4 million super consumers were using the processed meltable cheese in dips, on sandwiches and over vegetables. Kraft came up with new product lines to encourage super consumers to use more, while retailers starting stocking Velveeta in refrigerated cabinets to boost sales.
In the $6 billion Australian snacks market, super consumers in the cracker category eat 3.5 times more than regular households, spending $69 a year compared with $19 a year for average households.
They also tend to consume more in related snack categories such as dips and cheese. This gives brand owners and retailers scope to link marketing campaigns and product placement to drive sales growth across the category.
Nielsen’s head of demand strategy, Greg Dring, says the super consumer could be a significant driver of revenues for Australian consumer brands, particularly in the current low-growth environment.
“Not every consumer is equally valuable,” said Mr Yoon, who presents the findings at a consumer conference in Sydney this week. “It’s so much easier to convince someone who loves the category to use it one more time than to convince someone who has never tried it or is not familiar with it to try it even once.”
“They are so much smarter and more articulate about the benefits of the category that not only can they drive growth but they can teach you how to convince other people to come into the category as well,” he said.
“It’s something that most people haven’t thought of, because it’s not easy to admit that the consumer is actually smarter than you are.”