Food In Canada

The Point of Difference: How to Stand Out from Competitors

Birgit Blain   

Products Packaging Specialty Foods Bake & Snack Food Beverages Confectionery Health & Wellness branding product development

point of differenceRECIPE TO RETAIL: Part 15…

With the glut of food products in North America, it’s not easy to stand out and be noticed by consumers. Powerful global giants who shout the loudest get the attention. Where does that leave smaller brands?

Marketing experts preach that brands need a “point of difference” (POD) that sets them apart from their competitors in order to improve prospects for commercial success. Take note that the point of difference must be meaningful to the target customer.

Sharpening the point

A POD can be based on various aspects of a product such as features, benefits, ingredients, manufacturing process, packaging and price. Then there are “intangible” points of difference that cannot be perceived by the senses, such as brand prestige and social missions. They have a psychological effect that makes buyers feel better in some way.

Satisfying an unmet consumer need is a powerful POD, although challenging to achieve. It is often associated with game-changing innovation but may require considerable consumer education.


When deciding on a POD, more is not necessarily better. Having more than one can dilute the key message and reason to buy.

Is it dubious?

Brand owners often “grasp at straws” to find a differentiator. A POD is questionable when there is no noticeable improvement in taste, added benefit or value compared to the competition. Untruthful and misleading claims that do not comply with food regulations are frequently made.

Examples of questionable or poor points of difference:

  • A “quality” statement: not only is “quality” widely used, it’s meaning is subjective.
  • Gluten-free honey: honey does not normally contain gluten.
  • A special packaging feature that does not perform as promised.
Is it too different or ahead of its time?

I’ve heard brand owners say “there’s nothing like this in the market today”. But sometimes there’s a reason for that. It could be a novel taste that consumers aren’t ready for; an expensive manufacturing process; or an ingredient that’s difficult to source. Truly unique products often have a slow rate of trial because consumers don’t understand the benefits.

Put your POD to the test

Use these 10 questions to gauge the strength of your point of difference. The more “yes” answers, the better.

☐ Does the POD deliver a superior taste experience compared to competitive products?

  Does it solve a common problem or pain point that no other brand does?

  Is difficult for competitors to duplicate?

  Is it simple for the target customer to understand?

  Does it motivate the target customer to purchase the product?

  Are claims compliant with Health Canada food safety and labelling regulations?

  Is the price within the range of competitive products?

  If it costs more, is the target customer willing to pay the premium?

  Does the POD apply to a portfolio of products?

  Is it sustainable and profitable for the business over the long term?

The right mix

A POD on its own is not enough to optimize sales. Taste is of primary importance to consumers, followed closely by price, and then features, benefits, consistent quality, food safety and effective packaging.

Points of parity, which are the opposite of points of difference, also factor into the mix. It means that product attributes that consumers expect, must be equal to or better than the competition.

Having the right combination of all these “ingredients” is part of the foundation for building a sustainable brand.

To identify your point of difference contact Birgit Blain, packaged foods specialist. Birgit’s experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice®. Connect at or learn more at

© Birgit Blain

This article appeared in Food in Canada magazine.

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