Consumers Crave Connection
Shared by Deb Collins Monday, March 21, 2011

This weekend, the LA Times featured a story called “Wares with a back story.” This article told about two girlfriends, both crazy about fashion, yet feeling disconnected to the volumes of quantity-produced clothing sold in stores and online.

In response they created a website, Of A Kind, that sells a limited number of hand-picked designer’s wares. Each product has a story behind it; what inspired the designer to create it – family history, their materials and tools, or their own narrative. The goal of Of A Kind is to present one-of-a-kind products that have meaning for the designer and ultimately, the consumer.

Another site, Significant Objects, pairs yard-sale items with authors, who write a story – truth or fiction – and then the objects are put on sale on Ebay to raise money for charity. These items become much more valuable, as evidenced by sales of about $200 worth of ‘stuff’ selling for $3,000.

And remember the J. Peterman Company, featured in Seinfeld, with Mr. Peterman as Elaine’s boss? This is an actual company, that features a whimsical travel-themed story for every product. They also feature curious “one of a kind” items with historical and usage information.

All of this is a picture of shifting consumer behavior; consumers are looking for connection to the things we purchase and consume. Now called “affinity shopping,” consumers want to know more about the back story of what we purchase. We want connection, relevance and meaning to how we spend our money.

Big companies are ramping up their stories to provide meaning to their products too: Starbucks has always been a master at giving meaning to their coffee –  where their various coffees come from and how it’s made. Domino’s has been running commercials where the staring role is a tomato in a field. It’s not a new approach to marketing, but it seems to be increasingly relevant in our mass-produced, technology-fueled global-shopping mall world.

That said, does the history and story for a restaurant provide a deciding factor – besides good food and good service, of course – for choosing to eat there? Does the rich history of a building where a restaurant is located, information about the local farmer who supplies the recipe ingredients or the backstory of how a talented pie-maker started her own successful restaurant matter to you?

I love the Marie Callender’s story:

Young MarieMarie Callender’s was founded in Long Beach, California in 1948 when Marie was encouraged by her husband, Cal and son, Don to roll her prodigious pie-making skills into profits. She sold the family car for $700 and  used the funds to rent a converted World War II Quonset hut that became the site of the first wholesale Marie Callender’s bakery. Marie removed the seats from a 1936 Ford sedan to make room for stacks of pies to be delivered to local restaurants. All three family members worked 13-hour shifts to fulfill pie orders that swelled to 40 per day.

Marie BuildingBy 1950,  the business had grown to 200 pies per day…a volume which necessitated the purchase of a truck and a mixer. The first Marie Callender’s pie restaurant was built in Orange, CA. The retail business’ (between the wholesale location in Long Beach and Orange, CA) sold only whole pies that were made fresh daily, priced at 95 cents a piece, making thousands of pies per day. Marie Callender’s introduced other menu items such as hamburgers, ham stacked sandwiches, salads and chili and her famous cornbread and soups by 1970. Standard restaurants featured a fully stocked bar (called a saloon!) and introduced the salad bar which made Marie Callender’s Restaurant and Bar famous. Today, Marie Callender’s has over 135 restaurants in 10 states. Many of Marie’s current menu items are inspired by the original recipes Marie herself developed.

The Marie Callender’s history is certainly a very important part of the thinking here at Heilbrice, with all that we create for them. This history is one of the key points that makes them unique and authentic. Our retro-inspired graphics, ingredient shots, preparation images and incredible food photography convey the tradition of Marie and her recipes, their warm, familiar dining atmosphere and satisfying comfort food.

For me, the Marie Callender story gives extra value to eating there, beside the great food and of course, incredible pie. Partnered with my memories of eating there with groups of girlfriends in high school, or as a destination dining stop on a shopping trip with Mom, it becomes part of my story. And that connection is really what it’s all about.

“Wares with a back story”, Jamin Brophy-Warren, LA TIMES, March 13, 2011