For any manufacturing business, one of the key business goals is to increase utilisation of production capacity by increasing sales throughput. Manufacturers of perishable goods, particularly food related products, have an additional twist to the problem. Since the shelf life of the product is necessarily limited, there’s less opportunity to build stock in the warehouse in advance of anticipated seasonal spikes in demand. This means that the product needs to “hit the ground running” in terms of shop floor turnover if the manufacturer is to be able to take advantage of what may be a short, but particularly intense, spike in demand.

The winter festive period is a good illustration of the problem. In the first place, there is a short lived growth in demand for some specific products – confectionery products such as traditional German Stollen or Turkish Delight, for example, are rarely seen on the shelves outside the month of December. There’s also an opportunity for manufacturers to differentiate less seasonally specific products to give a short term fillip to seasonal demand. We’re all familiar with the major labels on sweets and chocolate which are often produced in specific formats, such as the familiar “bite sized” tubs of high street favourite brands. Brewers, particularly craft breweries, have been quick to latch on to the possibilities of “Christmas Ales”, although this does seem to have provoked a backlash among some Real Ale drinkers, a fairly cantankerous bunch at the best of times, as this article published recently in the Guardian newspaper illustrates.

Challenges and opportunities

For both larger manufacturers and small “boutique” producers, the short run nature of the seasonally related product implies opportunities and challenges in equal measure. While, in many cases, the product being manufactured can imply little or no variation from the year-round manufacturing process, there’s still a need to adapt the production line to meet even subtle changes to the manufacturing process, as well as cleaning and sanitizing before and after the changes are made. The need for seasonal product labelling will requires small batches of specific product labels to be available in exactly the quantities required on a just-in-time basis. In-house industrial quality label printers from specialist suppliers such as QuickLabel can address this problem without the need for inflexible outsourcing from printing contractors.

The opportunities provided by seasonal events can, however, be significant. It’s not just the Christmas period which gives food companies the chance to sweat the capital assets. Sporting events, such as the Football World Cup or the Olympic Games have recently given food manufacturers and distributors the opportunity for especially themed limited editions of staple product lines, Mars Bars were produced in limited edition packaging for the 2006 and 2010 World Cup Finals, for example.

Scope for imaginative marketing

The opportunity for special edition marketing isn’t necessarily limited to external events, however. Many food companies are quite capable of inventing reasons to print short run limited editions. Heinz, for example, marketed an initial run of 3000 bottles of “yuppie” tomato ketchup with balsamic vinegar exclusively through Facebook. In similar vein, HP printed labels for a “limited edition” of its familiar brown sauce, with labels designed by Paul Smith, which went on sale in Harrods food hall retailing at four times the price of the standard edition of the product. While the packaging may have gone up market, the brown sauce itself, it appears, was quite unchanged.

The prize for limited edition chutzpah, however, must surely go to brewers Diageo, makers of a certain famous Irish brand of stout, who, not content with a simple change of packaging or labelling, invented “Arthur’s Day” (first “celebrated” in 2009) as a vehicle for promoting their product. The fact that they managed to persuade celebrities, sporting personalities and statesmen as well as ordinary drinkers to participate in this paean to Arthur Guinness represents a marketing coup of truly epic proportions.

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Chris Johnson is a management consultant with a particular interest in the food production and packaging industry. He has advised many major international businesses on marketing and production issues in the UK, Australia and North America. Now semi-retired, he continues to write, contributing to a number of journals and internet sources.

He retains a close practical interest in good food of all kinds, but especially the liquid variety, an interest which he balances with frequent long walks in his native Scottish countryside accompanied by his two dogs.

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