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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Recently, Jelly Belly released the first beer flavored jelly bean. The flavor is well-timed, with craft beers making a comeback and our obsession with unusual ingredients and flavor combinations at an all-time high. Judging by the amount of foodie blogger reviews, the launch seems to have worked, everyone has at least tried it, but does the jelly bean having staying power?

It may not matter.

While companies can get an initial boom in sales after launching something buzzworthy, the goal of products like Jelly Belly’s draft beer jelly beans, Coffee-Mate’s Abuelita Mexican Chocolate creamer, cappuccino-flavored Lay's chips or Heinz’s Jalapeño Ketchup may be in the name of free marketing.

“Crazy things like beer flavored jelly beans are often done as much for buzz, social impact and the perception they give the brand, as they are for sales,” says Ethan Decker, Ph.D., vice president of Insight and Strategy at The Integer Group.

But what makes us buy these products? Why would a group of people unlikely to buy non-alcoholic beer actively seek out a non-alcoholic beer-flavored candy?


Phrases like “limited edition,” “exclusive” and “for a limited time only” have a profound effect on us.

In 2012, Heinz proved this with the company's new balsamic vinegar ketchup. “They launched it on Facebook first as an exclusive, which was trendy and hip to the foodie craze," says Decker. "It blew up [on Facebook] and did well enough that they actually got real retail space.”

Never mind that all ketchup is vinegar-based and the company only had to change the type of vinegar used. We were all really just chasing an exclusive.

“We all have a natural fear of scarcity,” Decker says, “When you do an exclusive or a limited – it will instantly hit that fear which is almost hardwired into us.”

Even if you’re not really interested in the product or the flavors, rumors swirling about a product’s short shelf-life may be enough to get you to buy the product. After all, you don’t want to feel like you’re the only one who missed out on an experience.

It’s All in the Wording

How things are worded also influences what we buy.

“Descriptors help sell products,” Decker says. “Peaches versus ripe Georgia peaches, lobster versus Maine lobster, coffee versus Arabica coffee, for example.” Small differences in wording can make a huge difference on the retail shelves.

And there’s science to back it up. A study by The Cornell University Food and Brand Lab found descriptive labels increased sales by 27% as well as consumer’s attitudes toward food products and restaurants.

Design Appeal

But wording only goes so far, the other half of the packing battle is in the design.

“You want the product to have a distinctive look," Decker says. "You want it to feel nicer, to feel exclusive.”

Take the Heinz balsamic ketchup bottle, for example. The traditional Heinz ketchup bottle has been around almost as long as anyone can remember. It’s iconic. Bright red ketchup behind a simple white and green label. It’s also boring. So when Heinz launched its balsamic vinegar addition, the company changed the label to solid black with a silver outline.

It isn’t a big change, but it is enough to make it stand out from the other ketchups in the aisle. And enough to make you feel like you’re buying something nicer, maybe even something better.

Making a Game of it

You may not see food shopping as a game, but your subconscious might. Hunting down new recipes, seeking out products advertised on TV, checking aisle end caps at big box stores for the new items—in a way, we’ve kind of turned our weekly shopping trips into a game.

“Everything is a sport,” Decker says. And the goal of the game is to win the product before the store runs out. “It’s similar to why you get people getting trampled on Black Friday, the fear that it is going to be gone,” he says.

It may not be the case for everything you buy, but when it comes to these new, highly marketable products like draft beer Jelly Bellys -- the game is afoot. When you’re seeing something advertised, it’s new, it promises to break your boredom, you’re going to want to go out and hunt it down, and that can be more fun than actually trying the product.

Social Influence

Of course, we should not ignore social media’s impact on the foodie culture. A 2012 study by the consumer research firm The Hartman Group and the marketing agency Publicis Consultants USA found nearly 50% of people learn about new food from social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, while 40% pick up new recipes and food products from apps, food websites or blogs. The study also found 47% of Millennials use social media while they’re eating at home.

This culture of sharing everything we buy and eat gives manufactures a heap of new ways to learn about what we like, implement those ingredients and put the new products in front of us. Take the “suggest ads” on Facebook, for example. If you spend enough time sharing, liking and commenting on foodie articles, you’ll start seeing targeted ads toting products with trendy ingredients.

And since you’re sharing, liking and commenting on those articles, you’re not only helping with a company’s marketing efforts, you’re also talking to your subconscious. The more you see a new product being purchased by a friend, the more likely you are to want it yourself.

--Written by Angela Colley for MainStreet