The Food Industry Wars: Marketing Triumphs and Blunders

Peter A. Schneider (Associate Professor of Business and Economics, College of Saint Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ.)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Schneider, P.A. (2000), "The Food Industry Wars: Marketing Triumphs and Blunders", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 172-185.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The major problem with this book is its scope. The authors attempted to examine all the marketing variables that contribute to the successes and failures of firms in the food industry. Their stated purpose was to help executives ensure the success of their marketing efforts. However, the authors covered too much territory in too little space, often in a haphazard fashion. In many instances, they ended up barely scratching the surface or missing important factors altogether. Instead of profound lessons, the reader is left with a collection of truisms that could be found in any basic marketing textbook.

The book consists of nine cases. The case study methodology has a long and honorable tradition as both an educational tool and a means of conducting primary research. Some of the factors that distinguish a successful use of the case study methodology from an unsuccessful one are focus, consistency in setting up parameters, and style. In all three instances, the authors fall short.

Food is more than just an industry. Like health care or transportation, it is a major sector of the economy. In each product category, there are many players involved in the production and distribution of food. There are also a large number of marketing and nonmarketing variables for an analyst to consider, especially when dealing with events that took place over a period of decades. What the authors should have done is focus in on a limited number of issues (e.g. channels of distribution, new product development, product differentiation) Instead, they tackled just about everything. Each chapter could easily have formed a book in and of itself. By the time the authors introduced the major players in each section of the industry, there was very little room left to describe or explain many of the events that occurred. For example, in the chapter on soft drinks, there was no mention about the extraordinary rise of Snapple or its rapid decline after being acquired by Quaker Oats. From the perspective of a marketer, the appeal of Snapple is as interesting as that of Classic Coke. From the perspective of a shareholder, the blunder by Quaker Oats in acquiring Snapple for $2 billion dwarfs Coca‐Cola’s replacement of Classic Coke with New Coke. For some reason the authors devote a section of that chapter to New Coke, but had nothing to say about Snapple. Likewise, in the chapter on fast foods, the authors do not tell us why (let alone how to predict that) a Wendy’s campaign featuring an old woman yelling “Where’s the beef?” was a success whereas a Burger King campaign featuring Herb the Nerd was a disaster.

In order to be able to draw general conclusions or lessons learned, each case must be approached in the same manner. At the very least, the same boundaries should be drawn and the same variables examined. This was not always the case. For example, the people who run a company matter because they are the ones responsible for creating the marketing strategy. In the section on fast foods, the authors did mention colorful CEOs like Ray Kroc, Dave Thomas, or Harlan Sanders. In the chapter on soft drinks, however, there was no mention of CEOs like Robert Goizueta or Alfred N. Steele. Moreover, it is not entirely clear whether it even makes sense to lump a service industry (e.g. fast foods) with manufacturers of consumer products.

Finally, the style of the authors leaves something to be desired. In order to be effective, a case study should be written in a manner that encourages the reader to find out what happens next. Unfortunately, the first chapter rambles from one topic to another as it attempts to provide an overview of the industry. The subsequent nine chapters, which contain the individual cases, are no better, as they consist of a series of trite statements. Does any executive really need to be told that neglecting retailers or allowing a corporate image to tarnish are bad ideas? Worse, the authors did not write a concluding chapter that would have tied the cases together.

The real tragedy of this book is that the authors, who are both academics and consultants to the food industry, could have used their special knowledge and insight to tell executives for whom the book is written something that they did not already know. It may be obvious to an industrial economist as to why each case began with an analysis of market structure and market conduct. It might not be so obvious to a brand manager. Without this type of theoretical background, the reader is left hanging as to why a marketing strategy such as low prices worked in fast foods but not in soups. Unfortunately, that theoretical connecting tissue was missing and, as a result, the book amounts to being little more than a summary of annual corporate reports and articles that appeared in the popular business press.

Related articles