Lessons Learned from the Grape-Nuts Shortage

Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz about the Grape-Nuts shortage.  Yes, I’m talking about that dense and absorbent wheat cereal that, since the late 1800s, has been soaking up milk about as quickly as we can pour it into the bowl.

Now, this shortage is interesting because for the past few years, cereal demand has been plunging.  Seems that with our busy lifestyles, nobody can be bothered to sit down and chew their way through a bowl of cereal when they can grab an energy bar on their way out the door instead (especially if that cereal taxes their jaw as heavily as a bowl of Grape-Nuts does).

But things are a-changin’ with the pandemic.  Now, we can attend our morning work or school meetings and, if we have the luxury of turning off the mic and camera, navigate a brimming bowl of cereal with impunity.

The pandemic has breathed new life into cereal sales and, in the case of Grape-Nuts, led to empty shelves where fans once found their old reliable ol’ box-o-fiber.  Turns out, the Grape-Nuts production process uses “proprietary technology” that isn’t easy to scale up, which has hobbled Post’s ability to keep up with the heightened demand for the cereal.

But the other day, I saw something in the grocery store—not the typical emptiness above the Grape-Nuts label on the shelf, but several boxes of the stuff!  I swiped them into my cart.  I’m acknowledging here that I don’t particularly like the cereal, but I know what happened with toilet paper and Clorox wipes and baking flour last year, and I was not going to be a victim of scarcity.

Scarcity is a powerful motivator.  It makes us do stuff we might not normally do because we don’t want to get caught in a shortage situation.  When it comes to sales copy, the concept of scarcity is your ally.  If you aren’t using it to move people to action, you’re missing out on a critical tool.

If you get my copywriting emails, you may have seen what I’ve written about the Average Order Value (AOV) Money Close.  Scarcity is the driving factor behind it.  I first started using this Money Close in 2017, and it drove my Average Order Value up from $150 to $220 overnight.  All of that came from just adding a few lines of copy highlighting the concept of scarcity.

So how do you incorporate scarcity into your copy to drive sales?  Here are a few important steps.

  1. Let your readers know that smart people buy more.  Think about it.  Smart people don’t get caught with no Clorox wipes at the start of a pandemic.  They don’t have to wait in the cold in a line that winds around Costco only to be told that they just missed the last box, and now they are alone to face a virus multiplying before their eyes. People want to be associated with those who come out on the right side of scarcity, and you’re here to help them do that.
  1. Create urgency. Whether you’re highlighting limited production capacity or limited inventory or a limited-time promotion, let your reader know that they’re in a race against time and supply.

Here’s a simple formula for creating urgency…and then kicking it up a notch.

  • Explain that supply is limited because of ABC Reasons…
  • And because so many people are ordering the largest quantity of this product because they don’t want to run out…
  • It’s straining the limited supply even further…
  • Which means the supply is even more limited.
  1. Illustrate what life looks like without this product, or with an insufficient amount of it.

“Scientists predict that the pandemic could last for X months, and without enough of the Clorox wipes, you’ll be fumbling around for a convenient way to wipe down germ-covered surfaces while you still have months left of the virus running rampant.”    

  1. Illustrate what life looks like with this product.

“With the assurance of the 12-pack of Clorox wipes, you’ll be free to clean all of the areas where germs can accumulate (door handles, shopping carts, toilet flushers) so you can stay well and worry-free… and enjoy your Netflix while everyone else is waiting in that long Costco line.” 

And here’s another tip.  Always put the largest package in your call to action.  Remember, people want to be told what to do.  Drive them right to that 12-pack of Clorox Wipes…or that box of Grape-Nuts. Then sit back and watch how many people reach out to grab it.

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© 2020 SPG Educational Resources LLC

Stefan Georgi

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