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New Products Case Study: Scotts Bird Seed

Driving Growth in a $2.2 Billion Market

This historical new products case study finds relevance with today’s consumer. Wild bird feeding, always a popular hobby, appeals to consumers who are spending more time at home these days.

Wild Bird Feeding Market Poised for Additional Growth from New Products, Case Study

Wild bird feeding has been growing 1% annually in the US in recent years, with sales projected at $2.2 billion in 2021.  Food represents more than 75% of this market, and feeders make up the rest.  This low-key hobby may be poised for additional growth with the increased time and money many US consumers are spending on home landscaping improvements given COVID impact.

There are many benefits from wild birding. In the words of Dave Whitley, CEO of Global Harvest (the world’s leading wild food manufacturer in revenue):

“Once you start doing it, it’s hard to stop,” Whitley admits. Describing all the birds fluttering about his property, he says, “It’s like Snow White at my house.”

Wild Bird Food New Products Case Study 

This case study focuses on the new wild bird seed products that we worked on with Scotts in 2006.  In 2005, ScottsMiracleGro acquired the Morning Song brand, the leading player in the then $700 million wild bird food category. In general, there hadn’t been a lot of innovation in the category prior to that point.  Working with Scotts, we sought to identify the most relevant new products. The team also identified retail sub-brand name alternatives as well as positioning areas.  The goal explicitly was to have at least 8 to 12 new product ideas for quantitative testing.

New Products Work Approach: Consumer Needs Understood

New Products Case Study: Scotts Bird Seed

The effort began with a review of available research and reports, along with management interviews and work sessions for hypothesis development.   This was followed by in-depth-interviews with target consumers.   We found three distinct segments of consumers in the research:

  1. “Avid Birders”
  2. “Casual Birders”
  3. “Sporadic Feeders”

Each of these had different motivations for birding, intensity of commitment, and time spent. For instance, “Avid Birders” spend the most time, get the greatest enjoyment, and are motivated by connecting with nature, personal enjoyment and are animal enthusiasts.  “Casual Birders” share many of these motivations, but spend less time and are less committed to birding. “Sporadic Feeders” have a more limited set of motivations and are not as able or willing to commit to the activity.

With COVID impact and the category’s growth potential, consumers who are spending more time in their yards and at home in 2020 are most likely “Casual Birders.”    Reinforcing these less-committed consumers in their new hobby presents a major opportunity for bird food brands. 

Understanding Consumer Motivations for Feeding: Critical to New Products Case Study

New Products Case Study: Scotts Bird Seed

We also understood the main reasons consumers give for feeding wild birds, and the language they use to describe this. Interestingly, we did not find important differences by region, despite conducing the research in three markets: Boston, Atlanta and Chicago.  The motivations included four major reasons, with consumer verbatim quotes illustrating these reasons.

  • Reason for feeding #1: To feel part of nature
    • “It makes life more enriching…the natural world.”
    • “It’s giving back to wildlife.”
  • Reason for feeding #2: Enjoy watching the birds
    • “It brightens your day.”
    • “I’m doing nothing but being entertained.”
    • “I like to have them come and I enjoy watching them.”
  • Reason for feeding #3: Responsibility/duty/feel compassion
    • “I feel they need the food. It’s hard.”
    • “It’s like an obligation now that I’ve started.”
  • Reason for feeding #4: Teaches kids to do the right thing
    • “It sets an example for my kids. They can be involved and responsible.”
    • “It’s a topic of discussion and brings enjoyment and cheer…there’s laughter around the squirrel antics.”

Benefit Areas for New Products Development

From these efforts, 31 new products ideas were identified through ideation sessions in five areas for consumer lab optimization:

  • Food convenience
  • Performance/quality
  • Treats
  • Durables convenience (including feeder)
  • Packaging innovation

The new product ideas were then translated by a professional copywriter to consumer language stimulus for testing.  Structural packaging illustrations were also developed when needed.

Unmet Needs Around the Process: Additional New Product Opportunities

We also understood the specific unmet needs in three major steps of the process: (1) purchasing the food, (2) storing the food, and (3) transporting food to yard and filling the feeder.  For instance, unmet needs in transporting and filling included:

  • Food spills when carrying out to feeder or filling feeder
  • Large bags are too heavy to carry out
  • Small bags won’t sit when propped up on ground
  • Need to improvise scoops with old measuring cups, and make multiple trips
  • Small seeds spill out of the feeder

To attract the more casual users, new products should address the convenience barriers that exist in packaging and feeder filling today.  Challenges around purchasing and getting to the home are addressed by home delivery in 2020 for many consumers.

New Products: 13 Concepts Recommended

The results included 13 new product concepts that were optimized with target consumers.  These included six ideas in mixed bird food, six bird treat ideas, and three other ideas. 

For example, one of the ideas focused on plumper, richer sunflower seeds in the blend, meaning the consumer would attract a wider variety of birds.

The product was a blend that uses a higher-density black sunflower spec from North/South Dakota growers.  Technically, the R&D team considered this easy to deliver and near term.  The primary drivers of appeal included: attracting a wider variety of birds, attracting new birds, and a blend with “premium” Dakota sunflower that makes the difference (reason to believe).  The key product features included:

  • the very best sunflower seed available
  • plump, premium grade A
  • more nutty nutrition inside each shell
  • excellent mix of seed
  • 99% pure bird food…no fillers.

New Product Concept Example

New Products Case Study: Scotts Bird Seed


It’s exciting to have a variety of birds at your feeder, especially when a new type of bird shows up. And studies show that sunflower seeds draw a wider variety of birds than any other single seed.

With Scotts, you’re providing 99.9% pure bird food…no fillers. We start with an excellent mix of seeds, designed to attract a wide variety of birds. Then we add the very best sunflower seed available. We work directly with growers in the Dakotas to get only plump premium Grade A sunflower seed, with more nutty nutrition inside each shell.  So, you may see varieties of birds at your feeder you never saw before.

It’s amazing to see the variety…the colors…the different behavior patterns of birds. And Scotts Bird Food with premium sunflower seed help you attract that variety.

Consumer response to the concept was highly favorable, feedback included:

“They took the time to find the best sunflower seeds-like Starbucks”

“You’ll get more variety”

“You’ll attract more birds”

“This paints a picture that they know what they’re doing”

After this, Scotts moved forward with the new products, using the Scotts Morning Song name.

More recently, Scotts exited the wild bird food business in 2014, selling Morning Song to Global Harvest.  This was likely in part because it was found that the wild bird food sold by Scotts Morning Song between 2005 and 2008 was tainted with pesticides.

This case represents a fairly typical situation where a firm makes an acquisition of a brand and/or technology and is looking to rapidly expand the new product offering to drive growth.   

Additional new products resources and case studies are found on our new products resources page.  Or reach out today to begin a collaboration by contacting us.