charlie bigham cottage pie

Ready meal makers should avoid machine-piped mash. Instead follow Charlie Bigham’s lead with a homemade look

Shoppers in supermarkets are talking on their phone. They’re listening to music, chatting to a friend or family member, burbling to their baby or racing round the store in their precious lunch hour.

I’ve interviewed hundreds of shoppers at point of purchase across all the multiples and categories for numerous food brands. Here is a collection of methods that I’ve seen work on shelf to catch the eye of these busy, distracted shoppers.

Have a window in your packaging. It’s the surest way to customers’ hearts – they love to see the product. They are deeply suspicious of imagery – “it’s never as big as it looks in photos on the pack”.

Spend big to make sure your food photography is mouth-watering. Take a look at Wahaca’s rebranded soft taco meal kits to see beautifully filled, Instagram-ready tacos. If you’re using line drawings or poor images of your healthy snack, prepare to have customers dismiss it as “rabbit food that won’t taste good”.

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Be bright to get noticed. Use distinctive colours by variant to help shoppers spot, identify and remember you next time. Going for a ‘health food’ look might imply you taste ‘too healthy’, i.e. like cardboard.

Don’t over-package and leave space inside your pack – they’ll spot it. Shoppers poke, shake and press packs to work out what’s inside. They weigh them in their hand to feel what they’re getting.

Use evocative, descriptive language. See: “sweet ancho and smoky chipotle seasoning with a honeyed habanero salsa”. Are you hungry now?

If yours is a ready meal, go for the homemade look. Not machine-piped mashed potato, but that ‘roughed up with a fork at home’ look. Charlie Bigham’s gets this absolutely right for its discerning affluent consumers.

Combine fast-growth, fashionable and healthy ingredients. Pip & Nut’s coconut almond butter has a huge following. Oh, and oats get all the votes.

If your products are vegan or gluten-free, make sure you say so on the front of pack.

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Clean ingredients lists, please. Steviol-glycosides confuses – back on the shelf you go.

Watch how your price per 100g compares with your competitors. Shoppers are adept at spotting who is really giving the best value. There are too many premium brands out there who assume that just being premium is enough. It isn’t. It merely rules out shoppers who might actually like to buy the product – it’s about value these days at all price points.

Think about your sizing. Shoppers hate waste – and often worry about using up a kilo pack of peanut butter or being overly tempted by it. Make your product the right size. Millennials with Pip & Nut coconut almond butter positioned on their office desks badges them as environmentally concerned.

Innovate carefully. Winterbotham Darby’s Tear & Share Camembert Bread was an instant hit in the summer – sufficiently interesting to take as a gift to a barbecue, but also an easy answer on Friday nights for tired mums.

Tessa Stuart is a shopper point of sale research consultant for leading food brands