When it comes to actually selling products and generating results in the marketplace, trade promotion is hugely important. For food products – snack foods in particular – you have to take a unique and specialized approach. If you’re prepared to do this, you can enjoy strong results.


You can master every step of the supply chain, but if the end consumer doesn’t end up purchasing your products, then everything else is just considered a waste of time. That’s why you have to spend some time and energy focusing on trade promotions.

Here are a handful of tips and best practices that you should find helpful:

1. Don’t use bonus packs

For some reason, bonus packs are a go-to trade promotion for snacks. However, the reality is that they aren’t all that effective. Instead, you should try one of the following: (1) percentage off, (2) buy-one-get-one, or (3) free standing insert coupons.

With percentage off, make sure you’re aiming high enough. A 10 percent off coupon on an item that costs $2.99 isn’t going to provide much lift. You’ll need to scale up to 40 or 50-percent off. Better yet, dollar-off promotions are ideal for products that are on the low end of the price spectrum.

2. Be wary of loyalty programs

Let’s be clear about one thing: loyalty programs can work. However, you must know from the start that the type of customers you attract via loyalty programs are fickle and price-conscious. They aren’t purchasing based on brand name or quality – they make decisions based on price. They aren’t brand loyal and will most likely choose the competition as soon as their price dips below yours.

If you need a bump in sales, a loyalty program can work. But it shouldn’t serve as the foundation of your trade promotion strategy. There are plenty of other options.

3. POP displays work well

Not all promotions are created equal, but the good news is that you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to snack foods. Snack items are known for being very “display-sensitive,” simply because they are easy purchases. They’re cheap, tantalizing and easy to consume.

If you’re going to use a POP display, though, make sure you’re careful with the price point. Consumer shopping patterns clearly show that shoppers are less likely to purchase “expensive” items from a display. In this case, expensive refers to anything over $5. The reason is that displays tend to surprise customers and encourage impulse purchases. As prices scale, the likelihood of making an impulse purchase goes down. Thus, if you keep the price point below $5, it’s much less intimidating and the chances are higher that a purchase decision will be made.

4. Sampling is highly effective

Sampling is a tried and true promotional strategy in the food industry. Many believe it’s because taste is such a powerful sense, but there may be an even bigger reason behind why customers make purchases after trying samples.

“Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct,” Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely says. “If somebody does something for you, you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.” In the case of food samples, all it takes is a single chip or a couple of roasted peanuts.

5. Testing and adjusting is key

Make sure you’re continuously testing your trade promotions and adjusting your strategies based on the feedback and insights you glean. You can spend months brainstorming ideas and working out deals with supply chain partners, but it’s ultimately the consumer who decides whether or not the promotion will be successful. Being ready and willing to pivot based on insights is very important.

6. Build strong relationships with retailers

Finally, make sure you’re building strong relationships with your retail partners. When you understand your retailers and they understand you, it’s much likelier that the two of you can work together to execute promotions that are profitable and beneficial for everyone involved.

On the flip side of this equation, if you have poor relationships with retailers, you’re ultimately going to take a backseat to other trade partners and your promotions will have a much higher chance of falling flat.


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