Mercurylab/Go Forth! | Mercurylab in the Veneto, Italy (Part Four): The Allure of Presentation

September 05 2014

We all know know that there is an art and craft to effective merchandising display. I was really struck by the divergent displays I found on a quick hit and run trip to Italy. The Veneto is a hotbed of medieval towns and cities, Palladian architecture, and extraordinary masterpieces by Giotto and Tintoretto. It’s also an incredible place to experience truly divergent approaches to merchandising presentation, ranging from controlled vintage to sleek contemporary Italian design.

Cases in point:


An up-to-the-minute gourmet shop built on top of a wine cave built on top of exposed medieval and Roman streets in Vincenza. The prepared food was incredibly light and offered an alternative to a conventional pasta lunch, the product selection a sophisticated mix of carefully chosen artisan made foods, and the display a contemporary approach in its repetition, form and colors.


An osteria in Verona. Osterias serve simple, well-prepared food, and can be known for their wine list. This particular osteria utilizes the complete vocabulary of what was considered by Americans in the 1950s to be the ultimate in traditional italian restaurant design, including checked tablecloths and wine bottles covered with candle wax. The atmosphere is personal and welcoming, reflecting the sense of being invited into the owner’s home. And you could easily buy a bottle of wine to take with you, reinforcing the idea of taking Italy home with you, no matter where you live.


A historic candy shop in Verona, displaying traditional glass jars and product design associated with the past.


A local fashion designer in Verona, one with a quirky Italian aesthetic perfect for a girl from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her collection encompasses natural fibers and simple shapes for the bookish girl — slightly boyish, referencing school uniforms, but with sleek and natural details.

All are strong local brands with clear and successful brand messages.

The fate of Brooklyn’s Great GoogaMooga: A food festival not in the making

May 22 2013

        Image via Brooklyn.GoogaMooga.com

After what was reviewed by many as an event failure last year, the 2nd annual Great GoogaMooga festival took place in Prospect Park in Brooklyn this past weekend with promises of several improvements meant to alleviate many of last year’s problems. While promoter Superfly was not at fault for the rain that caused the cancellation of Sunday’s programming, the fact that the event was not called off until hundreds of people were already in line and waiting to enter was frustrating for attendees and vendors alike. The one hundred-plus food and restaurant vendors were left “holding the bag,” with their already prepared foods and lots of it, after preparing additional offerings rather than running out of food as they did quickly during GoogaMooga’s first year. The vendors immediately put out a ‘cry for help’ in New York Magazine by mid-day Sunday (check out the power of social media here), collectively asking the public to patronize their restaurants instead, as their booths had been washed out. The management’s gross incompetence and level of brand mismanagement will hurt the future of GoogaMooga. 

On the other hand, Williamsburg’s weekly Smorgasburg Food Festival has been very successful, offering a variety of local treats in an outdoor setting. Although the food is expensive and lines are long for the most popular offerings, people are willing to pay for the overall experience—unique, artisan, locavore eats in a fun, sunny weekend setting. They do lots of things right, and establishing a sense of community is one of them. Smorgasburg began as an offshoot of the popular outdoor weekly market The Brooklyn Flea, and has expanded in an organic way, rather than starting big. People have watched Smorgasburg grow, and are committed to supporting the local New York based food artisans.

Ultimately, the problem with GoogaMooga is that the promoter failed to fulfill the brand promise, and didn’t come close to delivering what they had committed to, with a resulting damage in brand identity and equity. In its first year, attendees faced food and drink shortages, overcrowding, and frustratingly long lines. In its second year, GoogaMooga put its consumers last, and they felt it. 

 

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The Foodie's Delight

January 29 2013

The Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco just wrapped up it’s annual three day food wholesale extravaganza, where 1,300 new and established food producers show off their latest and greatest for buyers, and where the food world gets a jump on the 2013 market trends. Some of the projected trendy foods for the upcoming year include smoke-preserving, gourmet popcorn (although we've been eating this one for years), and barrel-aged hot sauces. Products like these are often produced in small batches and made with high-end and specialty ingredients. Americans are spending more on food, and there is a growing market for locally-made, "handmade" products. In NY, this trend has been ably represented by the almost twee, fetishized Brooklyn artisan food movement. 

How does one roll out a small-batch, personal food idea in the gourmet food market? Venues that provide exposure to reach the consumer willing to cough up the dough for specialty items include farmer’s markets, food festivals, independent gourmet groceries, and—if you’ve really hit it really big—Whole Foods, who try out artisan foods on a local and regional trial basis. There are also small-scale distributors that base their business around getting these specialty products out of their respective cities and beyond their local cult-following. Mantry.com, for example, sends a monthly curated selection of specialty food items from all over the country in one small, fancy wooden crate. Sending a nicely presented container or unique, beautifully packaged foods is a wonderful gift idea. And they’re all pretty. Aesthetics and packaging play a large role in this new food movement—if we’re paying top dollar for a jar of lavender honey, we want it to look like we did so.  

So what's the take-away? While locally-made food is on trend, actually getting it out into the marketplace and onto consumer's tables is a long road. The brand story has to be completely aligned: taste, presentation, the name of the product or line of products, identity design, language and more. That is the front end piece, and many artisan food producers have a neat handle on this part of their business. The harder part, as always, is delivering the product for a price that consumers can stomach, and rolling out the brand into enough markets where one can sell a sufficient amount of units to break even, and ultimately, make a profit. The practicalities of margins and making money are always the issue when you are operating outside the mass market, no matter what arena you are in. 

USDA data showed that in 2010, Italians spent 14.4% of their income on food, whereas Americans only spent 5.5%. It seems that this number is rising, so there is clearly room in the market for new tastes and new trends. Pass the smoked pickles, please!

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