Micro markets were a central topic at the recent NAMA Show in Las Vegas, NV, from March 21 to 23. One of the benefits repeatedly mentioned was that micro markets allow for a greater variety of products, which draw in a larger consumer base than traditional vending. However, there is a challenge. How does a micro market operator choose what to include in the micro market to keep this expanded customer base coming back, especially with many consumers clamoring for healthier products? In order to find a solution about what to carry in the micro market, it is important to understand the mindset of the away-from-home shopper.
Three types of consumers
After attending several educational sessions at the trade show and speaking with operators, it is clear that when looking for grab and go items in a micro market, consumers fall into one of three categories. We will call those categories traditional, traditional-healthy and healthy.Traditional
These consumers prefer traditional products such as the candy, snacks, bars, etc. traditionally found in vending. They likely made purchases from the vending machine before the micro market was installed and enjoy the micro market for its ability to include multiple flavors of their favorite convenience products.Traditional-Healthy
The traditional-healthy group are those consumers who say they want healthier items, but when the micro market sales come in, still buy mostly traditional products. These consumers might be the most interested in line extensions of familiar items that meet a new wellness trend, such as snack items with more protein or smaller calorie packs, but it will vary by location.Healthy
The healthy consumer is called such, because they are looking for convenience items in the micro market that are good-for-you or better-for-you. These consumers likely did not shop at the traditional vending machine often but are interested in the expanded variety of micro markets. The challenge for operators is that what the healthy consumer considers to be healthy is highly individualized. Fresh food, clean label and products that meet various popular diet trends are some of the favorites of this type of consumer.
Evolving health and wellness need
While currently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the midst of redefining the term "healthy," it is still a current term used by consumers. A panel of nutrition activists, dietitians and industry food experts shared insights about "healthy" during the second day of the NAMA show. One panelist, Diane Striegel, MS, RDN and director, sales planning, foodservice at Mondelēz International, reported that 52 percent of consumers changed their views on healthy eating. That was an 8 percent increase from previous research, according Striegel. "It is not a trend. It is a change," she said.
The other panelists agreed, believing that the need for operators to meet the healthy-eating goals of micro market consumers will not fade. The trick will be in balancing the items considered healthy with traditional items so that operators will remain profitable.
Secondly, operators face a challenge in choosing items that meet all the different definitions of healthy. To illustrate this challenge, Striegel described how health and wellness consumers have their own food pyramid now, not the one from years past or even the current My Plate initiative. "Today's consumer considers if an item is 'good for me,'" said Striegel about consumers. They don't care about whether the item is healthy or good for anyone else, she continued. This creates a very personalized diet need and product evaluation by each micro market consumer.
To drive success at the micro markets, it's imperative the operator identify the overlap between the consumers. Opt for products that meet two or even three of the categories to maximize the micro market product mix. Also consider products that are desirable for different reasons and at different times of day, such as to satisfy a sweet tooth or to meet the mid-day slump.
Meeting multiple consumers types can be difficult. However, by understanding the types of consumer and how they are making purchasing decisions in the micro market, operators can better create profitable product mixes.