Donna Berry 2019CHICAGO – A panel of marketing executives discussed bringing a brand’s promise to life during a webinar hosted by the Chicagoland Food and Beverage Network (CFBN) on Dec. 8. The experts addressed how their brands have evolved during COVID-19 to stay connected with consumers. They shared approaches to help strengthen loyalty to established brands while developing an allegiance with consumers to new products during a time void of in-person sampling.

“The importance of building strong connections and interactions with consumers is even more pertinent in the changing world our companies now find ourselves in,” said Alan Reed, executive director of CFBN, a startup, nonprofit organization that brings industry executives together, provides a forum for collaboration and support, and better connects the 4,500 companies in the industry throughout Chicago to drive innovation and growth in the region. “With new brands on the market, new products, new ingredients, and the changing norms of retail, foodservice and direct-to-consumer interactions, innovation is more important than ever.”

Susan Seams, senior director-experience planning for the Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., said experience planning is new for Kellogg. It’s all about bringing meaningful and memorable food experiences to the consumer across media, multicultural, content, social, influencer, shopper, promotions, ecommerce, philanthropy and owned channels. 

“(With the pandemic) we had to sharpen our brand-value proposition,” Ms. Seams said. “It’s not just about lower cost. It’s about giving more to the consumer. They are looking for brands they can trust to fill their pantry.

“We had to think of new ways consumers could experience our brands, too. We had to deliver entertainment value.”

Kellogg Minecraft cereal and Rice Krispies Treats HomestyleThe company partnered with mom bloggers and influencers to offer suggestions on how to use products such as Fruit Loops, Eggos and Cheez-Its for art projects and solving math problems during quarantine. New forms of favorite cereals include bars made with either Froot Loops or Frosted Flakes. The two cereals, along with Apple Jacks and Corn Pops, were enlarged into snack size pieces and bagged into individual snack packs. The Tony the Tiger variety — Tiger Paws — features a flavor similar to Frosted Flakes but in a paw-shaped cereal bite.

For breakfast entertainment, there’s new Kellogg’s Minecraft Creeper Crunch Cereal, which features cinnamon-flavored bites and green square marshmallows that mimic the video game’s pixelated block look. The company also is introducing Rice Krispies Treats Homestyle, which is inspired by a homemade recipe. The individually wrapped treats are 50% larger than the original and contain extra marshmallows.

Ms. Seams said the company quickly became very agile as it reimagined production for the new forms and sizes. This was done mostly remotely, as the company was determined to breathe new life into its established brands.

Rachelle Radcliffe, director of brand development, KeHE, Naperville, Ill., a nationwide retail distribution network for natural, organic, specialty and fresh products, said KeHE is always foraging for innovation, as new products is its brand promise. The pandemic may have slowed things down at first, but fortunately the company already had invested in an emerging brands program prior to the pandemic. The new KeHE elevate program is designed to support retail partners by nurturing brands and to maximize their growth and success potential in the marketplace.

“We look for brands that are purpose-driven, have high-quality ingredients, are innovative in their category, represent a future trend, have a unique taste profile and will appeal to consumers at the shelf,” Ms. Radcliffe said.

“We look for brands that are purpose-driven, have high-quality ingredients, are innovative in their category, represent a future trend, have a unique taste profile and will appeal to consumers at the shelf.” – Rachelle Radcliffe, KeHE

Simple Mills, Chicago, has three brand promises. The seven-year-old company uses only clean whole foods in its baked foods and baking products. This is communicated on the front of packages.

“We also deliver nutrient density,” said Michelle Lorge, vice-president of marketing. “And third, we promise our products are delicious.”

The high-growth health and wellness brand, however, learned that during the pandemic, it had to do more. Ms. Lorge said the company believed it had an obligation to assist with hunger and fresh food supply chains issues. And as a health and wellness brand, it had to better support its employees mental and physical health. That’s part of the brand’s promise.

“We also had to explore alternative avenues for sampling,” she said. This included partnering with various shopping and delivery services to include a snack sample pack.

“People buy from people they like,” Ms. Radcliffe said. “Consumers want to feel like their values align with companies they support. They are doing their research on it.”

This includes transparency on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.

“We want to make sure our work is representative of our audience and market,” Ms. Seams said. “If our talent is represented, our consumers are going to see that.”

Simple Mills bars

Ms. Seams explained how Kellogg recently partnered with the Association of National Advertisers, New York, to use its new metric: Cultural Insights Impact Measure. It is an index that identifies the impact and effectiveness of cultural insights in ads and programming and how these have the potential to affect sales lift.

“We want to make sure that our media is delivering to the right audiences,” Ms. Seams said.

Ana Ferrell, vice president and head of global marketing for specialty ingredients, ADM, Chicago, explained that it’s a new world for food and beverage marketing, one she believes offers so much potential. This is especially true in health and wellness, where companies such as ADM are heavily vested.

“There will be no such thing as feeling like we’re in a comfort zone,” Ms. Ferrell said.

Mr. Reed concluded the panel discussion by saying, “We’re embracing the challenge. Nothing can hold us back. We will be better (in 2021) at meeting consumers’ needs and expectations and delivering on brand promises.”