- H-E-B took a creative approach to promote groceries and highlight its "In the Kitchen" program at South by Southwest last week, according to a press release emailed to Grocery Dive. At the festival in Austin, Texas, H-E-B hosted a fine dining experience with a surprising twist for 85 influencers and foodies.
- The dinner was held at Austin's Hotel Saint Cecilia where guests were told meals would come from "ITK Restaurant Group." What guests didn't know was that ITK stands for "In the Kitchen," H-E-B's cooking program that encourages shoppers to cook at home.
- The Texas-based grocer dished up a six-course meal including Herb-Infused Tenderloin, Raspberry Lavender Demi, Black Garlic Winter Squash Risotto and Ginger Halibut Ceviche. After guests enjoyed their dinner, H-E-B chefs walked out with baskets full of ingredients to reveal the surprise chef behind the meal.
Grocery marketing has evolved in recent years, especially with the rise of platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, and grocers are getting creative in how they target customers. H-E-B took a big chance in staging its #ITKSXSW effort and presenting to influencers at one of the most attended conferences in the country. The reactions appeared positive, and H-E-B demonstrated its ability to try something new to connect with shoppers.
Consumers are eating out more than cooking at home, according to Nielsen, and grocers are suffering because of it. But H-E-B is on a mission to inspire customers to cook restaurant-style meals at home, and the grocer used its SXSW platform to show how ingredients bought at a grocery store can still turn into a gourmet meal.
Gone are the days of circulars and television marketing, and H-E-B is among the grocers that understands this. The company invested heavily in its digital team last year with two notable hires and a new workspace for its growing digital team that would encourage creativity and collaboration. It appears that some smart moves are coming out of the space as the company attempts to reach millennials and Gen Zers who are the driving factor behind grocery disruption.
A few other grocers have toyed with influencer marketing in the past including Whole Foods, Aldi and Lidl, as well as meal kit companies like HelloFresh and Blue Apron. It could be a good approach with the right set of influencers, considering 70% of millennial consumers value peer endorsement rather than celebrity endorsement.
Grocers should be careful with a "gotcha" swap like H-E-B's at SXSW. Retailer Payless received a lot of backlash from millennials after it rebranded a former Armani store in Santa Monica with a luxury brand called Palessi. Also since influencer marketing has caught on among brands, there have been numerous corporate fails. Influencer stunts make a statement and attract social media attention, but the targeted consumers can perceive efforts to be deceitful or inauthentic if done wrong.
H-E-B already has Texan millennials lined up as loyal customers. The grocer was ranked third in a Best-Perceived Brands by Millennials list from market researcher YouGov BrandIndex. It is known for its low-priced, high-quality products and support of local education and activity groups. H-E-B’s in-store restaurant and new multilevel store are also in line with millennial demands as they seek more foodie experiences and interesting new products.