NEW YORK: Companies such as ConAgra Foods, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble are enhancing their approaches to shopper marketing, increasingly seen as a key channel to engage consumers.

ConAgra Foods has adapted its strategy to reflect the growing importance of new media, and also emphasises building long-term relationships as much as proving short-term payback.

"We work across digital, and bring the marketing and merchandising agenda together for execution," Rachael Norton, ConAgra's vice-president, shopper marketing, told CPG Matters. "It may be a solution, not so much a brand focus."

The complexity of the modern path to purchase means more in-depth alliances between retailers and manufacturers are required, she added. "Our dialogue with retailers has changed. We can talk about what marketing is best for them," said Norton.

Elsewhere, Tide Dry Cleaners, Procter & Gamble's fledgling dry cleaning network (currently comprising six sites in Kansas and Cincinnati), was recently named as a "best-in-class" shopper marketer by specialist industry title The Hub Magazine.

Alongside offering 24-hour access, a transparent pricing structure and drive-through valet service, the firm has used technology from P&G's Tide laundry brand in the cleaning process.

"Our close relationship with consumers and our focus on consumer-driven innovation has allowed us to better understand the needs of the dry cleaning customer," said Aaron Eisel, director of marketing at Tide Dry Cleaners.

Coca-Cola's refreshments arm in the US is also pursuing a highly coordinated model covering this discipline, demonstrating the central role of shopper marketing in a broad range of processes.

More specifically, its 30 customer-facing teams are now "cross-functional" and manage the entire relationship with consumers, Mel Landis, chief retail sales officer at Coca-Cola Refreshments, said.

"So not only now that we sell a new item in, but we're responsible for how we get it there. We're responsible for ensuring where we place it on the shelf, we're responsible for ensuring that the shopper marketing, and the programs, are set up to pull it through," she added.

However, Kat Kozitza, director of interactive and direct marketing at grocery chain Supervalu, warned the high number of "points of integration" between brands and retailers still posed certain problems.

"We try to do them all with great rigor and zeal, but as a consequence we often overlap," she said. "The focus necessarily becomes just getting the program launched by the right dates, and sometimes that means we have to spend less time on the areas like alignment, collaboration, and insights."

Data sourced from CPG Matters, The Hub Magazine, Seeking Alpha, Retail Wire; additional content by Warc staff