As food brands wrestle for leading market positions new research suggests the consumer will be tempted by, and differentiate between, brands that add 'utility'.
Every consumer has found her or himself in the supermarket aisle staring at the shelf and assessing the pros and cons of a host of products that are moderately similar, but that also have some marked differences.
Researchers at the University of Chicago suggest that the ultimate decision is based squarely on the consumer's ability to differentiate between brand attributes that add utility, called complementary features, and those that do not, called non-complementary features.
"Most prior studies have examined a scenario in which alternatives are differentiated primarily on non-complementary features, such as size, colour, shape, and flavour," says lead researcher Alexander Chernev.
He suggests that choice is further moderated by the "complementarity of the features differentiating choice alternatives".
How a consumer chooses a brand will not only relate to the size, colour et al of a product, but will be "more pronounced", more competitive, in products pushing similar features.
For players in the highly competitive food industry, today marked by squeezed margins and growing consolidation, the ability to leverage a brand from the competitor plays a pivotal role in grabbing, and keeping hold of, market share.
A recent report from UK's food campaigners, the Food Commission, pitches food advertising (brands rely heavily on this to shift market share) expenditure at $40 billion (€34.7bn).
Full findings for the consumer brand study are published in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.