Food In Canada

Recipe to Retail (Part 2): Cracking the Competition

Birgit Blain   

Research & Development


Thousands of packaged food products are launched annually in Canada. The success rate is remarkably low. According to Nielsen, a global consumer research firm, over 85% of new products survive less than a year. That includes national brands with immense market research, R&D and advertising budgets.

There is a lot more to launching a product than developing a recipe, packaging it and slapping on a label. To succeed in the crowded marketplace it is necessary to do thorough research, analysis and planning.

Identifying competitors

Understanding the competition is crucial to a brand’s success. To define the competitive field, much can be learned from visiting a grocery store. Competitors may be lurking in multiple categories. Applying a bird’s-eye view by walking the entire store can uncover unexpected products that satisfy the same consumer needs, thus exposing potential threats as well as opportunities.


A different perspective, substitutability, factors in the consumer mindset. When faced with an endless array of options to feed their needs, it is easy for consumers to substitute products by switching to a different category. Looking at cereals for instance, growth has been cannibalized by multiple breakfast solutions. Consumers are migrating away from ready-to-eat cereal by substituting foods like yogurt, eggs and breakfast sandwiches.

Think outside the grocery store

Places to buy food are multiplying, from drug stores to gas stations and even Canadian Tire. Competitors lie in wait in any retail channel that satisfies the same eating occasions. In addition, food service establishments should not be overlooked, since they attract and feed the same consumers. To illustrate this point, when consumers are craving a snack, where can they buy it and what choices do they have? The possibilities and competitors are endless. 

Dissecting the competition

Once potential competitors have been identified, a competitive analysis should be conducted to determine points of parity (similarity) and points of difference. This includes a deep dive into the four P’s of marketing – product, price, place and promotion.

Benchmarking, by conducting blind tastings, measures product performance according to specified standards, in comparison to the primary competitors. The leading brands in the category should always be included. A good-better-best rating system is an effective way to categorize the results. Outcomes may indicate a need for modifications to meet performance standards and strengthen the point of difference.

It is advisable to engage the services of an independent packaged foods specialist to lead these exercises and analyze the data. An unbiased expert with a fresh perspective can provide guidance, valuable insights and more meaningful results.

Analyzing the competition is not a one-time task. It is important to remember that competitors are moving targets requiring constant vigilance.

In summary, applying a bird’s-eye perspective to identify competitors, followed by in-depth analysis, provides insights to effectively position your brand in a highly competitive market.

As a packaged foods consultant specializing in strategy, brand and packaging development, Birgit Blain makes brands more saleable. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice®. Learn more at

This article appeared in the print issue: April 2015 edition, Research Chefs supplement

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