Limited Editions Tantalize Consumers

May 05, 2011
Bernice Hurst

Many of us love anything special and can be tempted to try something
new if we believe that it is, in some way, exceptional. But does that necessarily
encourage us to stick to a brand, manufacturer or retailer once we’ve
tried the special thing? Achieving a balance of curiosity and loyalty in consumers
is perhaps one purpose of limited edition products.

Recent special edition launches
include: dark chocolate caramel covered digestive biscuits (vaguely similar
to graham crackers, but round) from United Biscuits-owned Mcvitie’s; fat-free
blackcurrant yogurt from Rachel’s
(recently sold by Dean Foods to French-owned Lactalis); and ketchup with balsamic
vinegar from Heinz (available through Facebook).

Discussing Mcvitie’s, FDIN (The Food & Drink Innovation Network)
explains that "Limited edition variants such as these bring excitement
to a category and will drive incremental sales for retailers." Adding,
to emphasize the point, Mcvitie’s suggests, "Retailers should
make sure they stock up on the full Mcvitie’s portfolio in order to take
advantage of the extra sales generated by this exciting event."

Some promotions
are announced as limited editions without definition of time or quantity but
Heinz reportedly had just 3,000 bottles of its ketchup with balsamic vinegar
on offer through Facebook (in addition to another million being sold through
more conventional grocery channels, according to Marketing magazine).
Not only is the ketchup the first variation on its original flavor, it is also
said to be the first time a food product has been sold through Facebook.

While those
products were available only in the U.K., Campbell
introduced two limited edition "artisanal" soups to ten American
cities at the end of 2010. Just-food reported that Sun-Ripened Yellow
Tomato soup and Harvest Orange Tomato are "made with tomatoes, which the company
uses in its V8 V-Fusion vegetable and fruit juices." The soups would be
available as long as supplies lasted, according to the report.

And finally, rather
than tampering with a highly successful product, Coca-Cola is marking its 125th
birthday with limited edition packaging. Eye-catching perhaps, but as a means
of inspiring loyalty or attracting new customers (other than those wanting
to collect the bottles, cans or fridge magnets), perhaps not that inspiring.

Discussion Questions: What are the pros and cons of limited-edition products in the food space? Can limited-edition products build brand loyalty?

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10 Comments on "Limited Editions Tantalize Consumers"

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Fabien Tiburce
Fabien Tiburce
10 years 18 hours ago

In the movie “fight club,” the character played by Edward Norton takes a critical look at what he considers a material society and its “unlimited limited” products. While I don’t share that character’s inclination to be punched in the face for entertainment, I tend to agree with him on this point. I mean, do you really think that a widely successful “limited edition” would stay limited for long?

I look at limited editions as a chance to try something new, on a small scale. A “limited edition” is meant to give a new product a shot without betting the farm on it. It avoids such fiascos as “new Coke.”

Ryan Mathews
10 years 18 hours ago

First of all it’s hard to be loyal to anything which is, at its core, ephemeral.

The notion of limited editions is not new. Ben & Jerry’s has used it successfully for years now. The idea is obviously to shine a spotlight on existing SKUs by shining a spotlight on the SKUs with limited availability.

The upside is it works.

The downside is that if customers get too attached to one of the limited availability SKUs they can get angry when it goes off the market.

I think the success of he strategy also depends on the category. Can’t see limited availability diapers or canned creamed corn making a big splash but it clearly does work in categories as diverse as cream and condiments.

One note on the Coke strategy. It’s clearly aimed at the collector market more than at enticing new customers to the brand.

Ben Ball
10 years 18 hours ago

“Limited editions” have a definite place in hard lines and durable goods. The purpose is to own (or often collect) something unique or, at minimum, a “discernible cut above average.”

Limited editions in consumables is nothing more than a fancy name for “in and out” line extensions. The old “new flavor of the month” strategy in a fancier package. Not saying that is a good or bad strategy — just naming it for what it is.

Al McClain
Al McClain
10 years 17 hours ago

Limited editions work, to a point. The upside is they sell more product and add a little excitement to a brand or category. The downside is they eventually wear on the consumer, as there are more “limited” and “exclusive” offers and items than they can handle. We received a postcard recently for Bloomingdale’s that screamed ‘PRIVATE SALE’ in letters so big that you knew the sale was far from private. And, there is the old Jay Leno joke about “this offer good for McDonald’s customers only” and what an exclusive group that is. Point being, anything can be overdone, and limited editions sometimes are.

Larry Negrich
10 years 16 hours ago

Seems that when a test product or product variant doesn’t achieve legs of its own it becomes a “Limited Edition.” And when the product under the Limited Edition promotion becomes successful, it is stocked year around. Curious….

Paula Rosenblum
10 years 16 hours ago

I think it’s weird in the food space.

I mean, it’s either cruel to put something out and then take it away, or just dumb. If people like it, they’ll consume more of it. If they don’t…what have you accomplished exactly? Strange concept.

With the exception of Girl Scout Cookies–because like Easter Eggs, they come around every year.

Tony Orlando
10 years 15 hours ago

Limited edition items are simply test markets for companies.

If the product succeeds, than it becomes a staple on the shelves. If not, than it was simply a limited edition item.

No harm no foul.

Ralph Jacobson
10 years 15 hours ago

Limited editions, whether truly rare or, more likely, “limited” to ten million units, do have intrinsic value to consumers and collectors. With the proliferation of junk collecting shows, including “American Pickers,” “Storage Wars” and “Pawn Stars,” the fact is that classic, collectible food products are desirable, regardless of how truly limited the production run.

Jerry Gelsomino
10 years 8 hours ago

In a world filled with product sameness, limited edition to club members is a great way to connect with your favorite customers. It makes them feel special, and in turn they stay close to you waiting for the next exclusive you make available to them. I think it works in every product category.

Graeme Spicer
Graeme Spicer
9 years 11 months ago

I tend to agree with Paula Rosenblum from RSR on this one–limited edition items in fast fashion and some other retail categories make a lot of sense to add cachet and excitement to a brand. H&M’s successful collaborations with Cavalli, McCartney, Choo and others comes immediately to mind.

However, they need to be used sparingly in food–hooking a consumer on a consumable item that you no longer make available for consumption could be risky. πŸ™‚


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