Lost Food Stories

These guys get my award for best commercially available pickle. They’re from Manitoba and besides what’s in the jar, I like how they sell themselves. The man wearing the double breasted suit on the label is clearly a man of honour. In fact, he is Manny Finkleman, son of Samual Finkleman, Elman’s founder.

I know all this not because they are my friends but because I went to their website where I knew I would find the whole story. But how many people do this?

Stories are the marketing strategy of the decade. Stories sell things and they’re a natural for the food biz. They do a great job of conveying the passion behind a product or company. As the writer of stories, I’m just sorry they get lost on the way to the grocery shelf, as they invariably do. The very person I wrote for, the consumer, rarely gets to know.

What typically happens is something like this:

1. The producer makes a product then has some marketing materials made. For sure a sell sheet (this tells the retailer about the line, what sizes, and how much) but the package could also include a glossy page with a glory picture of the product and the company story. Put aside the multi-nationals and think about companies with smaller feet and bigger hearts. Their story is very immediate. They have an inseparable tale of their beginnings and a passion.

2. Now it’s time to sell. The product and print material are in the hands of the salesperson. Maybe the salesperson is the owner who made the pickles (or whatever), maybe the pickle maker hired someone to do sales, or maybe the owner has a distributor who does the selling. This sales person shows the retailer the great new product and the retailer, wanting to keep customers interested, says sure to a few cases. Everything has gone well except that the lovingly made print material is forgotten, shoved aside. The buyer went for coffee leaving the staff to put the product on the shelf. Most of the time these people aren’t paying attention to the product, it’s just a jar or a box or a bag to fit in with the other jars, boxes and bags.

The story is lost.

3. By the time the retail customer comes trolling the grocery aisles – in a rush, in robot mode (marketers say we purchase the same 185 products over and over) – they’re hardly paying attention to the pickles. If a shopper does register them, do they whip out their phone to read the company website where the story also lives? Ha. It’s 6:30, tired people just want to get home. They buy the other pickles, the ones they’ve seen on the billboards since they were six.


What’s a writer, a marketer, a food producer, a wholesaler, a retailer to do? How are we supposed to get the story to the consumer? Well, we could train the floor staff to know and care about food, then they can pass on the back stories. You’ll notice this approach in specialty food stores like Dean & Deluca and natural food stores like Choices Markets. Story is part of a product’s value – how it’s made, where it’s made, what motivated the maker. Food tastes better when it’s personal. Anyway, stories, even the marketing kind, are an oral tradition. We need people on the floor to pass them along.