NGA Research Key Insight: Getting Social With Customers

June 12, 2017

Niemann Foods Gets Social With Customers

Social media is an increasingly important engagement tool for independent grocers.

That point is backed up by the innovative and successful efforts of independent retailer Niemann Foods — which outlined its approaches in an interview — and by the results of NGA research.

An NGA report called “The Independent Consumer” illuminates how independents can raise their games with customers. The research piece, conducted for NGA by Nielsen, was introduced at the NGA Show in Las Vegas earlier this year.

This research surveyed U.S. grocery shoppers on how they learn about information and trends related to food. The biggest percentage of respondents, 38%, pointed to online/internet as the key source. This was followed by media, 28%; print media, 15%; and word of mouth, 14%.

Consumers were asked about their use of social media for researching new products, recipes and nutrition. Among the findings:

  • Some 32% of shoppers used Facebook.
  • A total of 15% used YouTube, 14% Pinterest, 11% Instagram, and 8% Twitter.
  • Shoppers of independent stores were more likely to use Facebook, You Tube and Instagram compared to shoppers of national chains.

“Social media enables you to have face to face conversations with thousands or millions of customers,” said Nathaniel Jones, director of Consumer Engagement, Niemann Foods, based in Quincy, Illinois. “We view it as consumer engagement rather than just marketing. Social media is a platform that some retailers push to the side, but it’s where consumer attention is, so it will help you focus on what consumers want.”

Much of Niemann’s social media efforts focus on its County Market banner, which operates some 45 stores. Other retail banners that embrace social media include Harvest Market, Ace Hardware, Pet Supplies Plus, and the convenience store operation Haymakers. Facebook is the most important platform for Niemann because it attracts a very wide age range. YouTube is second due to the growing importance of video. This is followed by Instagram and Snapchat, which are advancing in importance.  According to Jones, Snapchat has an 18-24-year-old audience that will have spending power in a few years and will be cooking in their own households.

Niemann strives to showcase associates on its social media platforms. This includes pictures of employees winning customer service awards, and even personal milestones. One associate, for example, was spotlighted for achieving a rare perfect ACT test score.

Store events are regularly played up in the company’s postings. “Facebook is devoting much of its future to experience, so we’re trying to match that. If you have a Mother’s Day brunch happening at the store, maybe with an all-you-can-eat buffet, create a Facebook event around it, and announce it through Facebook Live, showing items you can pick up at the brunch.”

Similarly, a rib-fest cookout can be promoted through video, a Facebook event, or a picture of an associate smoking meat.

The retailer is especially creative with its use of video in social media. In fact, Jones gets right into the middle of the action.

He created and stars in a video series called Two Bald Guys Eat Stuff and Talk About It.” He and a marketing colleague taste foods, rank their favorites, and supply lots of banter and humor along the way. In one episode, the two take a baby food taste test challenge to figure out exactly which flavors are involved, and they even wear bibs. In another installment they engage in a three-minute corn dog eating contest and sample some unusual corn dog toppings.

Video is a family affair for Jones, whose three-year-old daughter stars in another series called Toddler Taste Test. She samples a different food item in each segment and offers her immediate reaction, typically with just a few toddler words. As she eats a bear-shaped cake snack, she laughs and comments, “Like a bear head. Has chocolate inside. I eat the chocolate. Tastes like muffin.”  Her ultimate take: “The best treat ever!” What more would anyone need to know?

Other video series feature associates taking taste tests and leading how-to segments, including Melanie from the Live Well team explaining how to peel a kiwi with a shot glass.

NGA’s research report found that Millennials and Gen-Xers are more likely than Baby boomers and Seniors to make use of social networking.

Niemann found notable differences in how various generations use social media.

“Boomers are three to four times more likely than Millennials to click on Facebook ads,” Jones said. “Millennials have ad fatigue already.”

Millennials, meanwhile, focus on quick satisfaction. “Videos have to hook them in the first three seconds. An image has to pop. Colors have to be good,” Jones said.

Niemann’s cardinal rule for all generations is to avoid being overly commercial or sales-oriented in content.

One big advantage of social media is the ability to ask questions of customers to learn about their habits, Jones emphasized.  “For example, we ask what time they eat dinner, or what are their favorite condiments on a burger.”

Social media has proven itself in Niemann’s online metrics, and there’s a relationship to sale as well, although it’s not always direct. Jones said he generally sees a bump in sales after a video that refers favorably to a product.

Retailers need to experiment with content and be honest with customers in their communications, he emphasized.

“To find success, become social, know who you are, and make sure your customers relate to associates,” he said.

The NGA research was sponsored by The Shelby Report. The consumer survey was conducted online last November within the United States. It surveyed 1902 U.S. adults 18 and over to explore their food shopping habits. NGA will further spotlight insights from the research throughout the year, including key insight pieces, profiles of independent retailers that exhibit best practices, and a webinar that will highlight key independent growth opportunities. The focus is on obtaining takeaways and action steps from the insights.

For the full report, which includes insights and methodology, visit