The combination of branded products with branded ingredients can create consumer pull
Most beverage ingredients are nameless, faceless items on a nutrition label – at least as far as consumers are concerned. But some ingredient companies have made a point of courting consumers as well as manufacturers, branding their ingredients in the hope that they will become part of a beverage product’s identity.
Sweeteners are perhaps the most well known of these ingredients – beverages containing NutraSweet benefited from its publicity in the ‘80s, and Splenda is having a similar run today. Consumer advertising, including television spots for table-top versions of Splenda have helped the sweetener become an integral part of new diet products such as Diet Coke Sweetened with Splenda. Coca-Cola’s advertising for the product even makes use of the little yellow packets to show its importance.
Co-branding isn’t an easy proposition, but with today’s focus on functional beverages, some nutritional ingredient companies are finding it worthwhile to invest in the consumer side of the marketing equation. The Solae Co., based in St. Louis, is currently running a consumer campaign to create awareness for its soy protein and the products that include it.
“The Solae TV advertising campaign was implemented to generate consumer awareness of the Solae brand and connect it to commercial products in the marketplace where consumers could turn to get great-tasting products that offer health benefits,” says Jean Heggie, marketing leader, North American food at Solae.
The company has created a full slate of promotions, including Web site programs, print advertisements, satellite media tours, publicity initiatives, sampling efforts, retailer trade shows and “health influencer” communication. And it has partnered with its finished product customers for mutual support.
“We still consider the Solae brand in the early stage of development,” Heggie says. “So we feel it is imperative that in our communication, we connect it to products in the marketplace that consumers can go out and buy.”
The company teamed with General Mills, based in Minneapolis, to create 8th Continent Soymilk, and advertising for the product prominently features Solae as the protein ingredient.
“Food companies today appear to be very receptive to considering co-branding partnerships, particularly if the message supported by the co-brand is complementary to the host brand,” Heggie says. “In our case, we are communicating a message of great-taste and better-for-you nutrition with our Solae brand.”
The combination of flavor and nutrition is an important part of the Solae consumer communication.
“We believe it can provide consumers taste assurance – which, in soy-based foods, is a big hurdle. For instance, we know taste perception is the No. 1 barrier to trial for soy-based foods, and with a branded ingredient such as Solae, we can help communicate a more positive taste message – more positive, for instance, than what might be conveyed with ‘generic’ soy,” Heggie says.
“Additionally, the Solae brand is unique in the fact that it has years of nutrition research backing it. This aspect, and the brand itself, adds credibility and trust to the nutritional promises made by the host product.”
Jeff Hilton, president of Integrated Marketing Group, Salt Lake City, says there is a delicate balance to communicating ingredient research to consumers. “The language you use to talk to consumers is different,” he says. “[Manufacturer] partners will be interested in the technical aspects; consumers are interested in ‘What’s in it for me?’ – a feature-benefits focus. Consumers really care about making sure the health benefit comes through if it’s a functional ingredient.”
Hilton has worked with natural products companies to create co-branded marketing campaigns and says that the segment has begun to embrace the concept during the past several years. In the more mainstream market, he points to both Splenda and Solae as companies that have successfully taken on consumer marketing.
“The thing that most companies underestimate is how much money it takes to drive that kind of awareness,” he says. “I think that Splenda is an example of somebody who’s done it right because they had millions of dollars to put behind it. Most companies don’t realize the amount of frequency and reach you’ve got to build to get a consumer to where they’ll say, ‘I have to pick that up,’ or ‘I have to look for that.’”
Zeroing in on consumers
Glanbia Nutritionals, Monroe, Wis., has taken a more targeted approach in marketing its whey protein ingredient to consumers. The company’s CFM whey protein is especially appealing to athletes and the body building community, and because those consumers are more interested in the details of the ingredient, Glanbia has created promotional efforts specifically for them.
“This year, we launched a Web site specifically for those people – the sports enthusiasts, body builders, strength athletes – to educate them on whey protein in sports nutrition products,” says Kelly Czerwonka, marketing manager at Glanbia.
The company also uses public relations strategies to get the word out to body building publications, and this spring attended the Arnold Classic, a body building trade show, in conjunction with a customer that uses CFM in its products.
CFM stands for cross-flow microfiltration, the method by which the protein is extracted. Czerwonka says the Web site, sportsprotein.com, provides information on the differences between CFM protein and proteins that use an ion exchange process.
“There’s a large difference in the protein that results, and there’s a good discussion on the Web site about that,” Czerwonka says.
The site also tells consumers where they can find products containing CFM. “We don’t sell direct, but we have listed our customers products. And a lot of customers put CFM right on the label,” Czerwonka says. “It helps both of us. It helps create consumer pull for our customers’ brands.”
For the more general population, Glanbia also has had customers make use of its TruCal calcium ingredient. TruCal is 100 percent natural milk calcium containing 24 percent calcium and 13 percent phosphorus, which the company says is a formulation that makes it conducive to bone growth and increased bone density.
TruCal is a promoted ingredient in an orange juice available in supermarkets in Wisconsin, and Czerwonka says the retailer has used in-store promotions and other marketing materials to communicate the value of dairy calcium.
She also indicates that the same nutritional research that sells Glanbia’s ingredients to customers can be used to reach consumers, but in different ways.
“We’re one step removed from the consumer, but we still need to be thinking of them all the time,” she says. “Even within our b-to-b customers, we talk to marketing people and R&D people, and they want to see different parts of the research.”
Co-branding, of course, can’t work for every ingredient. Commodity ingredients, those without compelling scientific support or ingredients not protected by intellectual property rights are weak prospects. Czerwonka says Glanbia’s value-added positioning is what makes it possible to connect with consumers.
“We’re a solutions provider,” she says. “We don’t have commodity ingredients, we have high-end ingredients that are really more solutions. There are some good reasons someone would choose Glanbia Nutritionals products, and those are things like functionality.”
For companies – finished goods and ingredient companies alike – that want to pursue a consumer marketing angle for their ingredients, a few things should be kept in mind.
The ingredient brand and the finished product brand should support each other’s positioning, Heggie says. “A co-brand that is relevant or reinforces the positioning of the product will be most effective.”
In addition, she says, any functional claims should be backed by research, and co-branding should offer incremental marketing value to the host brand. “Can it offer the potential to enhance the image and consumer awareness of the host brand?” she says. “At the Solae Co., we spend a lot of time with our branding partners, and potential partners, understanding their marketing plans and challenges and determining where we can implement programs complementary to their plans.”
Hilton adds that it is important to ensure that all points of communication with consumers carry the same message. “Fully integrated marketing activity is really important,” he says. “Your brand image, in the mind of the consumer, is a combination of all kinds of impressions and exposures they get, all the way from your ads to what they read in the newspaper. So the more you can make sure all your marketing messages are consistent and integrated, the better result you’ll have.” BI