Spirits, seltzer and sales: Food marketing students offer insights on industry challenges

In the WMU food and consumer package goods program, 97% of students are in fulfilling jobs within three months of graduation. Many students graduate with a job offer in hand because of their experience with relevant industry projects during their college careers. When paired with co-curricular involvements, leadership experiences, internships and other experiential learning activities, WMU students are the first picks for employers who are looking for team members who can hit the ground running with both industry knowledge and a work ethic that is unparalleled.

Two recent projects looked at maximizing the sales of spirits and hard seltzers at Meijer and Target, respectively. 

Food industry professionals who provided feedback on the presentations were toasting the student teams’ depth of analysis, category expertise, and comprehensive recommendations.

“Industry partners are vital to the success of our food marketing students and program,” says Dr. Russell Zwanka, associate professor of marketing.  “Our partners are there with us the entire semester, offering data, insight and direction.  This type of industry engagement is what makes our WMU food and consumer package goods program so special.”

Meijer project: Spirits and shopper opportunity

The team of Shayna Krawczyk, Abi Main, Maddie Paciorek, Mark Taylor and Madyson Woods, told a compelling story with data on how the spirits category could be maximized to reflect trends and future growth areas for Meijer. The plan calls for an analysis of consumer data, market data, financial data and productivity data.  

Portrait of Shayna Krawczyk

Shayna Krawczyk

The team’s SWOT analysis highlighted that Meijer already has several advantages, including a deep assortment of spirits, a growing reputation as a destination for spirits and a brand blocking shelf strategy that appeals to shoppers. Among other suggestions, students recommended these areas to consider as a result of their analysis: 

  • Visibility and location of spirits.
  • The trend of more home consumption due to COVID-19.
  • Spirits’ appeal to those who are conscious of carb and sugar intake from alcohol.
  • The rise of casual consumption of spirits overall.

“Our team began our analysis of the spirits category at Meijer by taking a deep dive into how consumers make decisions, says Shayna Krawczyk. “With data backing us up, we were able to better understand consumer behaviors, which gave insight into how to move forward in our category business plan. This project has shown us that every detail makes a significant difference in driving category growth. When I'm walking through a grocery aisle now, it's hard not to think about all of the strategies and tactics in place throughout the store.”

The student team’s strategies involved decreasing shelf space for the already-declining value tier of spirits and focusing on premium brands, including a chilled section.

Portrait of Maddie Paciorek

Maddie Paciorek

Additionally, they proposed a spirit club, which would promote larger bottle sizes, give discounts for multiple bottle purchases and offer mixers and other products that would be valued by shoppers. The spirit club could be built into Meijer’s existing mPerks platform. 

Lastly, students brainstormed a number of options to create more excitement for the category, including better physical presence for display of spirits, options for subscription services and featuring popular types of spirits such as tequila, whiskey, bourbon and rum.

“We used Shopper Intelligence data and a variety of Nielsen reports to help us determine our strategies and tactics, says Maddie Paciorek. “We also reviewed Mintel reports to identify current trends in spirits, and our data supported these trends. This project enabled me to improve my skills in analyzing and understanding data to develop a comprehensive presentation. Also, by presenting to industry professionals, I built confidence in my public speaking skills.”

The bottom line: These strategies should see the spirits shopper coming back time and again, satisfied and enthusiastic about the Meijer shopping experience. And food marketing students walked away with valuable skills and connections.

Target project: Hitting the bullseye with the growth of hard seltzers

An unstoppable force in the area of alcohol sales—that is what hard seltzer is in today’s market.

Getting the opportunity to research this category for Target were students Mara Collins, Olivia Harning, Eden Schmidt, Riley Sibley and Katelyn Wandel, who put together a plan including SKU rationalization, product adjacencies, and a competitor analysis leading to a re-positioning of the category at the retailer.

Portrait of Katelyn Wandel

Katelyn Wandel

The team’s SWOT analysis pointed to key areas where Target would position itself as a leader in hard seltzer sales. Among the items considered were:

  • Demand for healthier alcoholic beverage choices.
  • Consumer demand for new flavors and the buzz around seltzer.
  • COVID-19 impacts, which caused hard seltzer sales to spike.
  • A fast-growing market.
  • The same prime demographic of Target shoppers (millennials) also lead hard seltzer sales.

With an expected compounded growth rate of 16.2% from 2020 to 2027, this is a category that many stores will be investing in during the coming months and years. Why could Target have outsized success with seltzer? Because of the demographics of its core shoppers and an existing track record of strong seltzer sales, Target could become a dominant player in this area. Target had more than $1.3 million in hard seltzer sales of the $2.35 billion total for U.S. multi-outlet sales in 2020.

Based on their research, the student team recommended several strategies to position Target for success. First up, having less assortment would bring better consistency, allowing the retailer to focus on top sellers. Better positioning of products and signage for seltzer figured into how Target could deliver on shopper expectations that their visit will be an experience versus just a trip to the store. 

Portrait of Olivia Harning

Olivia Harning

The team also recommended continuing to offer Target Circle deals and extend offers to be used for other options besides only in-store purchase, where legal or applicable; featuring alcohol and hard seltzer sales on Target’s social media through user-generated content with an emphasis on drinking responsibly; and expanding online purchase and in-store pickup to the alcohol category.

“Hard seltzer consumers align well with Target’s shoppers, and this has led to it becoming the top beer segment in sales at Target,” says Katelyn Wandel. “Ultimately, our team recommended that Target continue to focus on the top hard seltzer brands that are driving the majority of the segment’s sales, while still offering some additional hard seltzer choices to provide the variety of products Target is known for.”

Olivia Harning agrees, adding “Adjustments to store displays and aisle configuration will help drive sales by supporting the one-of-a-kind shopper experience Target promises, which resonates well with key consumers.” 

Cheers to another great semester of learning from experience, solving the real challenges that companies are grappling with!