Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy

Category Defining Moves

Are you leading or following?

How many of you have heard of the ‘Cruyff turn’?

If you’re into football, you probably know what it is.  If you’re not into football, you probably haven’t heard of it.  But you may have heard of Johan Cruyff, the Dutch footballer who gave it its name.

The Cruyff turn is a piece of skill Johan Cruyff executed in a 1974 World Cup game between Holland and Sweden.

In the 24th minute, Cruyff had control of the ball in an attacking position.  He was facing his own goal and was being marked tightly by the Swedish defender, Jon Olsson.  Cruyff feigned to pass before dragging the ball behind his standing leg.  He turned 180 degrees and accelerated away.  Leaving Olsson wondering what on earth had just happened.

It was the first time a move like that had been seen in a major football match.  It was a defining move.  Something that has influenced the way football has been played ever since.  It is one of the first pieces of skill any young footballer learns.  If you can play football you can do a Cruyff turn.  And if you can’t do the turn, now might be the time to stop playing.

Why are we talking about this?   Well, in our industry, we often see a lot of firefighting.  We are all in a race to hit the numbers.  Each year.  Each quarter.  Each month.  This can lead to a lot of tactical activities.  Things to protect sales – e.g. protecting SKUs in range reviews.  Things to squeeze out more sales – e.g. plugging distribution gaps or running an extra price promotion.

These activities do play an important role in hitting internal numbers.  They are things that deliver sales in the short term.  But they are rarely things that drive category growth in the long term.  They are not things that get more users into a category.  Or get them to use a category more often.  Or get them to spend more per usage occasion.

To drive real category growth you need to do something different.  Different to what the category has done in the past.  You need to make a category defining move.

So, what do we mean by a category defining move?

It is something that is focused on driving category growth.  It is something that is central to your category strategy.  If you could only do one thing to drive category growth, this would be it.  It is about creating a fundamental shift in the category.  It is something, that if it succeeds, would make the category look very different in a few years’ time.

Importantly, it is something that often takes time to take full effect.  It often starts with a small change (e.g. a new type of product).  Then it slowly gathers momentum.  Until you walk down an aisle and see that many of the category rules have been re-written.

So, what do we think are examples of category defining moves?

The move to microwaveable pouches in rice.  The old rules… Big packs.  Quite a long time to cook. Hard to portion – has anyone ever cooked the right amount of rice?  Washing up.  The new rules… Smaller packs.  Ready in 2 minutes or less.  Portioned.  No washing up.  Good for the shopper – a much more convenient product that they are prepared to pay more for.  Good for the category – a significantly higher cost per serve.

The move towards quality of ingredients in ready meals.  The old rules…Processed food.  Sold in black plastic trays with a cardboard sleeve.  A basic set of recipes (lasagne, cottage pie).  Eat them because they are easy.  The new rules…Higher quality ingredients.  Transparent packaging.  New and different tastes and flavours.  Eat them because they are good.  Good for the shopper – higher quality food.  Good for the category – addressing a number of key shopper barriers and ability to charge more (£8 Bigham’s meal anyone?).

The move towards craft in beer (& in alcohol more generally).  The old rules…Mainstream beers.  Similar tastes.  Sold in big cases.  Deep discounts.  Don’t worry about where the beer comes from or how it’s made.  The new rules…(Super) Premium beers.  Different taste profiles.  Sold in single cans or bottles.  Promoted little, if at all.  Origin and how it is made important.  Good for the shopper – better products, more choice.  Great for the category – generating interest and selling bottles at 3x the price of mainstream.

These are just 3 categories.  We could have highlighted a lot more.  Some categories are a long way down the path – like rice.  Others might just be starting down the path – the move towards cold in tea & infusions?

Any of these moves take time.  Every footballer wasn’t doing a Cruyff turn the day after they saw him do it for the first time.  Just as every shopper didn’t suddenly switch to microwaveable rice the day after it was first launched.

But if you don’t make the move, you will never see the change.

What is your Cruyff turn?

On a separate note, our monthly article in The Grocer goes out in tomorrow’s edition .  There is a link to it on our website…

Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.