It may seem unfair that taste and product quality aren’t always the keys to the success or failure of a product, but that’s often the case. In a crowded marketplace, it’s often many other factors — price, packaging, advertisements — that get someone to pick up a package in a grocery store and try a new product. Having a consumer try a branded product and become a fan of that brand takes several different factors.

Of course, some of the most powerful advertising is word-of-mouth recommendation. MBA Poultry has used that positive message to full advantage with its Smart Chicken line of products, which are sold by approximately 2,500 retailers in 46 states.

“The Smart Chicken brand would not be where it is today if it were not for our loyal customers spreading the word about the ‘best tasting chicken’ they’ve ever had,” says Don Straight, vice president, sales and marketing for the Waverley, Neb.-based company. He adds that, while the chicken primarily sells itself, MBA Poultry often sends out field sales teams to perform store demos and consumer education.

“We actively educate our customers,” says Straight. Smart Chicken is air-chilled and antibiotic free, and the point-of-sale materials the company uses explain the difference between its product and other items on the shelf.

“We find that people are very aware of what they consume, and more people are switching to natural and organic alternatives,” Straight says. “A knowledgeable, health-conscious consumer is our greatest ally.”

Cooking demonstrations at grocery stores has also been a popular method for Esposito’s Finest Quality Sausage Products, located in New York City. David Samuels, proprietor, says that the company also re-designed its packages to reflect a more “Old World” theme. To make things even easier for consumers, the company also color-coded its sausage varieties, so consumers can simply pick out the “red label” or “blue label” package on their trip through the supermarket aisles. Samuels compares it to the way different types of milk have different color caps.

“I know my daughters drink the blue milk and my son the yellow,” he explains. “I don’t remember if it’s whole, 1 percent, 2 percent or skim I’m supposed to be buying, but I know the color and so do they.”

Esposito’s has also worked to expand its brand recognition among its foodservice clientele.

“We offer to pay for our restaurant customers to re-do their menus and list our sausage not as ‘sausage’ but as “Esposito Sausage,’” he says. “This has consistently proven to be one of our best brand awareness strategies.”


Unconventional marketing

For the creative marketer, there are plenty of ways to get the word out on a product. Chicago’s Papa Charlie’s Italian Beef launched a number of brand-strengthening strategies to further boost the company’s revenue. Papa Charlie’s frozen beef is available in supermarkets in the Midwest as well as bulk superstores like Sam’s Club and Costco.

Much of the company’s strategy came from co-branding opportunities. Papa Charlie’s partnered with 164 Wendy’s restaurants in Illinois to offer Papa Charlie’s Italian Beef sandwiches as branded items.

“The timing was right for a Papa Charlie’s-branded Italian beef sandwich on Wendy’s menus,” says Joseph Hall, president/CEO. “Our partnership with Wendy’s is a great fit, because both brands stand for high quality, great value and delicious taste.”

The company also became “The Official Italian Beef of the Chicago Cubs™,” and Papa Charlie’s beef sandwiches are available at Wrigley Field, including a 2-foot-long Italian Beef sandwich that can feed two to four people. As a result of the company’s efforts, retail sales revenue has increased by 34 percent over the last 18 months, and foodservice sales revenue has increased by 19 percent.

Esposito’s Sausage has also found new ways to get its sausages to its customers. Hot Italian and Sweet Italian sausages are among the company’s top sellers, with the Sweet Sausage with provolone Cheese and Parsley as one of the favorites. Its all-natural line of chicken sausages is becoming a staple in many New York hotels.

Esposito’s has been able to reach customers and grow its customer base thanks to and its Gourmet Food Web site. The company joined the site in the beta rollout and became the first fresh meat provider in the program.

“We knew the demand for us to start offering our products for delivery nationwide was there, based on the continued growth of phone calls and e-mail requests from former customers who had moved away and could not find quality sausage like they used to,” Samuels says. The process took about six months to get approved, but it gave the company an immediate vehicle for national online sales and shopping.

“While we could have launched our own e-commerce Web site (which is coming for us in November), we knew the Amazon brand was trusted for credit card payments, customer service and quality of products offered,” he says. “All of those aspects were important for us, since we value the same qualities.” Esposito’s has also sold sausages through eBay.

One of the keys to Esposito’s success on Amazon has been its customer service, as Amazon customers have the ability to rate a product after purchasing it and won’t hesitate to give out harsh criticisms for bad products or bad service. The company has earned five-star ratings, thanks to the preparations it took before joining the program. Samuels says his employees experimented with different types of containers, ice packs and heat levels until they found the right combination for shipping, and they sent test packages to friends and family across the country to make sure the products could withstand the rigors of package handling.

“Despite all our planning and belief that we were ready, these Amazon 6-pound and 4-pound orders at first were taking us more time than the 600-pound wholesale orders,” Samuels recalls. “Within the first dozen or so orders we got into a groove and have stayed efficient ever since.”

Once a brand has some loyal consumers behind it, some processors have expanded into other areas that would be of interest to their consumers. Such a move could lead to new sales, or it could further cement a consumer’s loyalty to a certain product. Having made its mark in the natural/organic market and a health-conscious customer base, MBA Poultry has further expanded the Smart Chicken brand into Smart Living, a lifestyle program that it developed in 2005.

“The goal of Smart Living is to help people develop a healthier, more satisfying lifestyle,” says Straight. “Smart Living is a lifestyle that we encourage, and many of our own associates actively participate in it.”

The program’s Web site,, is accessible from Smart Chicken’s site, Far from being a site about dieting, it provides tools to help consumers examine their habits, diet and ultimately their lifestyle as a whole, Straight says. The site includes articles about healthier lifestyles and tips to help consumers with their goals.

“Smart Living is based on the idea that health is not solely based on nutrition, or what you eat,” he adds. “To achieve total optimal health, one must focus on what we call the “Five Links” to smart living: emotion, interaction, fitness, faith and intellect.”

MBA has been careful with how it has managed the Smart Chicken brand. Straight says that new products, such as its Ground Smart Chicken and Ground Boneless Skinless Breast Fillets were in testing for almost two years, and adds that the company doesn’t have any issues with taking its time.

“We want to ensure that all products meet the high standards we have set forth with the Smart Chicken brand,” he says. “It ensures the final product was produced the right way from egg to shelf.”


Above and Beyond

Through belief in the idea that one must give something to get something, Esposito’s Sausage has been an active contributor to charitable endeavors.

“If a customer says they are sponsoring the local church supper or the Food Bank of New York needs some product, we are there with our product immediately,” Samuels says. In many cases, those charities or events show their appreciation for donors by including the company in the donor list. “I think that goes a long way in the hearts and minds of people to see that you give a little something back,” he adds.

The company also welcomes each first-time online customer with an Esposito-branded item, such as a cooler bag.

“All our items feature our bright pink pig prominently, so they are easy conversation starters. These conversations more often than not lead us to a new customer referral,’ Samuels notes.

The best way to get the word out about a product of any kind, Straight notes, is to find the one thing that makes a company different from the rest.

“Ask yourself, ‘What is it that makes my product better than those that will be placed next to it?’” he says. “We are always looking for new and exciting ways to further differentiate our products from others, and we will continue to raise the standards against which all others are measured.”