Particularly in a time where snacking has become a way of life it has become harder than ever to differentiate and grab consumer attention as the globe’s $123.3bn snacks sector morphs.
One in five Americans now graze on snacks throughout the day, in place of three square meals. US kids eat 4.1 snacks a day and teens eat 3.8. And this serial snacking trend has started to redefine the US food market, opening up opportunities, and challenges, for snack makers.
So, when I saw that General Mills had launched Nibblr (its take on subscription snacking) my eyebrow twitched, for two reasons: Firstly, the model was inextricably like Graze.com, a five-year-old UK subscription snacking service that has just expanded into the US. But secondly, the timing meant that both were going head-to-head to woo Americans into home and office, delivered-to-you snacking. How exciting.
Could this become the new Pepsi versus Coke? The new Lay’s versus Pringles? Perhaps it could…
Anything you can do, I can do better
Let’s set the scene. You’ve got General Mills, a full giant that pulled in net sales of $17.8bn in fiscal 2013 battling it out on home turf against Graze.com who for the same year generated sales of $65m.
But just because it's a well-established food specialist and snacking mega brand with a bucket load more marketing muscle and cash, I don’t think that spells a sure win for the company.
Graze.com has an innovative, passionate and hungry team ready to drive forward a business model they have created from scratch.
I’m not saying General Mills lacks innovation, passion or even hunger, and it almost certainly has a creative team behind Nibblr – but to fail would be somewhat less important for them. If everything were to fail, there’s just the small back up of a multi-billion dollar snacking, cereal and food empire.
But is passion and hunger enough to drive Graze.com into the psyche of Americans? That’s no sure bet either. It’s definitely going to take some hard work.
Subscription needs service, and good service
The foundation to a solid subscription snacking business is the former – subscription. It needs to function logistically. The next thing it needs is the latter - service. This isn’t just about getting a product on shelf and hoping for footfall, this by definition is more intimate. Service is a two-way relationship between company and consumer; it’s about engagement.
Subscription and service are the two very concepts that Graze.com was founded on; the founding principles of the company. This, as far as bets go, puts them in the running for short-, mid- and long-term success. Yes, ahead of snack titan General Mills.
Now, I don’t think General Mills is set for failure. I’m sure it will do very well, fueled by R&D experience and NPD know-how. But the company is a good few steps behind Graze.com in the concept of subscription snacking.
It’s quite invigorating to see a small start-up hungry to take on a multinational. We've seen evidence of underdog brands taking on market leaders in the past - just look at Chobani.
Graze.com’s CEO made clear that the company was not afraid of competing against General Mills. Its CEO and management are the company founders - the people who designed the business; the eager innovators; the thought-leaders.
For these reasons, if I were betting peanuts on who will triumph in US subscription snacking, I’d put a pile on Graze.com.
Kacey Culliney is a reporter for BakeryandSnacks.com and she has been writing about the global food sector for several years.