Manufacturers, retailers distributing greater control to consumers

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 22nd August 2008

An array of food and beverage manufacturers are now looking to consumers to provide ideas for new products and flavours as the internet opens up greater opportunities to connect with consumers. And it is not just manufacturers offering consumers with greater control over what they eat and drink, with retailers also seeking increased customer involvement.

Mountain Dew 

Mountain Dew, a popular beverage owned by PepsiCo, has recently announced a new beverage called Mountain Dew Voltage following an online voting process. The “DEWmocracy election” was a contest between three potential Mountain Dew flavors – Mountain Dew Revolution, Mountain Dew Supernova and Mountain Dew Voltage – that were created by consumers.

In October 2007, consumers began participating in a series of interactive games at to develop every aspect of the three “candidates,” including the colour, flavour and name. The three products were then produced and released for a limited time a couple of months ago with a consumer vote on their favourite to decide which product would be mass-produced.

In all, 350,000 votes were registered, with Voltage winning the count. Consumers are now to play a major role in the marketing of the product.

“Through this groundbreaking promotion that attracted more than 1.6 million to our site, we gave consumers unprecedented control over the brand and they delivered by developing three terrific products,” said Frank Cooper, VP of portfolio brands for Pepsi-Cola North America. “In many respects, Voltage is the ‘People’s Dew.’ Consumers designed every aspect of the product, actively campaigned for it and finally elected it the next line extension.”

The concept not only provides great market research to the company but also encourages greater loyalty and connection to the brand. If consumers have gone out of their way to vote for Voltage then it clearly has a strong appeal to them.

Kettle Foods 

Kettle Foods, Inc. runs an annual “People’s Choice” campaign in which consumers can purchase and vote online for the new chip flavours they want Kettle to introduce into the market. The campaign, which exists almost exclusively online, marries consumer engagement, public relations and product development into one program that to date has been executed with astonishingly low input costs. Among the returns on this nominal investment have been more than 11,000 new business leads, more than 7,000 new flavour suggestions, and 75,000 unique Web site visits.

“‘The People’s Choice’ promotion taught us that it is essential to be authentic to your brand,” said Michelle Peterman, vice president of marketing, Kettle Foods, Inc. “Kettle Foods is a smaller company with a beloved brand. We capitalized on those qualities, which ultimately allowed us to fill a gap in our product offering, generate valuable earned media and foster significant brand engagement.”


UK potato crisp manufacturer Walker’s has just launched a similar promotion, with the “Do Us A Flavour” campaign. Consumers simply need to send in a new flavour they would like to be able to purchase and the winner will receive £50,000 and 1% of sales.

Kettle, Walker’s and PepsiCo are just some of the companies seeking a competitive advantage through the marketing ploy, with retailers adopting similar tactics to ensure consumer involvement with their brand is heightened.

Convenience Stores

Fred’s Minit Mart, an American convenience store, recently announced their self-branded fountain drink line (Minit Mix), which involves the company changing the way they sell their beverages.

Minit Mix machines offer sixteen different soft drinks, flavour syrups on demand and “pellet” style ice. Customers can choose between PepsiCo, Dr. Pepper and Coca-Cola products and mix them with the four flavour syrups available: vanilla, cherry, raspberry and lime. Other flavours are on the horizon, and will change to reflect customer preferences.

The concept has reportedly created a buzz with Sprite with lime, cherry Coke and Fanta with vanilla some of the more popular creations. “Minit Mix lets our customers decide what’s best rather than trying to sell them on our bottled drinks,” claimed Jerry Goff, Director of Operations for Fred’s Minit Mart. “You decide how much ice, how much flavour-you make every drink your own creation.”


American supermarket operator ‘Stop & Shop’ is testing a new program that appears to bridge the gap between pre-made and homemade meals. With vital ingredients assorted in special refrigerated sections, ‘Choose & Cook’ claims to provide consumers with the capacity to make homemade meals within twenty minutes.

Under Choose & Cook, shoppers can choose from a selection of entrees, sauces, side dishes and fresh vegetables – all located in a single Choose & Cook refrigerated case in the select stores. The consumer can simply choose to purchase matching ingredients – the items are colour coded based on six recommended combinations like ‘Shrimp Pad Thai’ or ‘Sirloin Beef Teriyaki’ – or ignore the recommendations and mix ingredients to create their own unique meal.