Food Marketers Pitch ‘Strong Women’ Products

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Luna's Origami Woman

(WOMENSENEWS)–Nicole Kidman portrays a strong-willed janitor in the movie “The Human Stain.” Angelina Jolie swaggers around as a silver-spandex-clad swashbuckling archeologist in “Tomb Raider.” Then there’s “Charlie’s Angels” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

As take-charge women loom ever larger in the popular imagination, two food companies–Clif Bar Inc. and Stonyfield Farm–are making special efforts to hitch their products to that same cultural ideal.

In 2003, 58.6 percent of all women said they worked at eating a well-balanced diet, up from 51.4 percent in 2000, according to New York-based Simmons Market Research Bureau. In the same three-year period, 54.2 percent of women said they were self-assured, confident and secure, up from 52 percent in 2000.

Marketing to women with a strong self-image has been going on for some time, said Lisa Finn, the editor of Marketing to Women, a newsletter published by New York-based EPM Communications, Inc. “It can be effective and resonate with women depending on how it is done. It has to be subtle, showing a women in a position of power where she is respected.”

‘Super Woman’ Image Emerged in 1970s

This kind of marketing effort began in the 1970s and 1980s when the image of the “super woman” first appeared, said Martha Barletta, president of the Chicago-based market research company, The TrendSight Group. “It was about the same time women began working more and marketers recognized it.”

As a result there were a lot of ads aimed at the woman who could have it all and do it all. Enjoli perfume had one of the more memorable jingles of the era, with a woman singing, “I can bring home the bacon . . . fry it up in a pan . . . and never, ever let you forget you’re a man . . . ‘Cause I’ma WOMAN . . . with Enjoli.”

That kind of ad typifies what Barletta calls the “aspirational phase” of marketing to women 20 years ago, when companies appealed to women who saw themselves as juggling traditional gender roles with new demands in the workplace.

Now, that “do-it-all” female consumer is no longer assumed to be so prevalent. Some companies think it’s time to appeal to women in a way that treats them as more confident, less striving; strong.

Origami for Today’s Woman

The current phase of the trend is exemplified by the “origami” women that Clif Bar Inc., based in Berkeley, Calif., puts on the wrappers of its Luna nutrition bar for women, which the company began producing in 1991. These are stylized representations of contemporary, on-the-go women. They are symbols; not models of the perfect body, face, hair style or outfit.

Luna spends a lot of time conducting focus groups to get the pulse of the market, said Luna bar brand manager Rosa Pina. “Women are drawn to the idea of empowerment. They like the idea of trying to find more choices and tools to make their lives work and a lot of our marketing programs are focused on that.”

The focus groups also revealed the female consumer’s appreciation of Luna’s socially conscious contributions. The company’s partnership with The Breast Cancer Fund, in particular, was seen as appealing to women.

A “Strong Woman” Authority

If anyone understands the “strong woman” appeal, it’s Dr. Miriam Nelson, author of the Strong Women book series, which promote the benefits of strength training. Her books have been on The New York Times’ bestseller list and she has extended the franchise to a Web site–strongwomen.com–and a newsletter that goes to 25,000 women in 79 countries.

“Strong woman means different things to different women,” said Nelson, who is also the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “I see it as women who are physically as well as emotionally and spiritually strong, and I think the reason it resonates so well with women is that we all want to be strong.”

The popularity of the strong-woman concept can also be seen in the Strong Women Summits that Nelson has begun running with Stonyfield Farm, the Londonderry, N.H., yogurt maker.

The first of the summits–last November–was held as a fundraising event for the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, where Nelson is an associate professor of nutrition. It was aimed at the female consumer who is interested in the healthy mind, body and spirit, said Jennifer Konstantakos, a communications manager at Stonyfield Farm. More than 400 people attended the event, which was sold out months in advance. Two more are scheduled for 2004 and will continue to benefit the Friedman School.

The summits are one aspect of Stonyfield Farm’s effort to reach female consumers by backing educational events about health, nutrition, and fitness. It is one of the “wellness tools” the company offers, in an effort to align its corporate image with the idea of women taking good care of themselves and their communities. Tapping into the new vogue for life balance–versus juggling and doing it all–the summits are promoted as a way for women to explore new ways to reduce stress while dealing with the aspects of a modern life.

“We anticipated there was a need for women to gather and share experiences,” said Konstantakos. “Now 21,000 people are on the waiting list for these summits to come, so we have tapped into a market. There really is a need to empower women and to bring them together to enable them to hear stories of other strong women.”

Summit-logo

It’s an important market for Stonyfield, which counts the “woman on a mission” as its primary consumer, with women representing the majority of its buyers.

In marketing its yogurt products, the company targets women who are health conscious but also interested in supporting causes with their purchases. The company uses only all natural and organic ingredients and all of its milk comes from family farmers who have pledged not to use the synthetic bovine growth hormone, rBGH.

Konstantakos believes more of such marketing efforts–that emphasize the idea of women hardy enough to take care of themselves, their community and even further reaches of the world–will emerge in the industry.

“I think you are going to see more and more of this emerging. There is a need to meet the emotional, health and nutritional needs of women, specifically. I think this is a powerful market that people are discovering.”

Marianne Sullivan is a New York-based free-lance writer who writes frequently on economics and finance.

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