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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Old brands, new tricks

Vicky Bullen examines how new products are helping heritage brands keep one foot in the past and another in the future


Beloved for its flagship ketchup and baked beans, Heinz has been a food cupboard staple since 1869. Refusing to rest on its laurels, the 154-year-old heritage brand continues to push for innovation. Just this year, Heinz introduced a pickle ketchup, a vodka pasta sauce, and mayoracha (a mayo-sriracha sauce).

But this was not experimentation for the hell of it, it drove hard sales and expanded Heinz into new categories. Take the vodka pasta sauce – inspired by Gigi Hadid’s TikTok recipe – it featured a tie-up with Absolut and boosted sales across the whole Heinz pasta sauce range by 52 percent – overtaking even their best-selling tomato ketchup.

It was a brilliant example of Heinz putting its FMCG heritage heft behind a new and zeitgeisty innovation to surprise and delight both new and established fans. But this isn’t an easy trick to pull off and for many brands it can seem just too risky.

Generating interest and sales of new products is desirable, but brands must be realistic about the space available from their retail partners for their product portfolio.

However, launching new products is an opportunity for FMCG heritage brands to keep up with growing competition and evolve with customer requirements, and it is possible to do so while holding onto core values and respecting brand equity.

At the start of the ‘out-of-home’ coffee trend, Nestlé worked with Coley Porter Bell to launch Azera, a premium ‘barista-style’ coffee range providing café quality coffee at home. Staying true to Nescafe’s equity Azera kept the brand relevant to existing consumers as well as a new generation of coffee drinkers. As a premium product, it was a critical profit contributor and Azera is still an established and important part of its portfolio.

Founded in the seventies, Baileys recently announced its entry into the nuts category with its latest creation, the Baileys Chocolate Nut Mix.

Understanding that its products are synonymous with Christmas, Baileys strategically entered the new category at the perfect time – it’s reported that in the twelve-week lead up to Christmas sales of nuts typically increase by 35 percent.

Some brands are hesitant to take a leap of faith for fear of damaging their brand and hard fought-heritage status but the move from Baileys is a perfect lesson in not straying too far. It’s important for consumers to be able to understand the connection between products, otherwise you risk a Colgate Lasagna situation.

The Colgate ready meals experiment ranks alongside the likes of the Harley Davidson cake decorating kit or the Cosmopolitan Magazine yoghurt in the brand extension graveyard. Once brands forget what their DNA is and try to take consumers into unknown territories, they create dissonance. No amount of heritage will convince a consumer to purchase an ill-thought-out extension that isn’t true to the equity of the brand, and which doesn’t add meaningful consumer value. When brands make this mistake, they risk damaging their reputation and their equity.

FMCG heritage brands need to find their sweet spot. A way to balance their long-standing heritage and equity, and engage new customers, or find new ways of delighting existing customers. The benefit of being an established brand is that customers come with an already-earned level of understanding, expectation or appreciation. The key therefore is to ensure that the brand extension doesn’t introduce a tension into that relationship – elicit surprise but not disgust. This is the difference between Nescafe Azera and Colgate Lasagna.

Heritage brands become heritage brands because they know how to respect their equity and stick around, but that doesn’t mean being stuck. The fine art of brand strategy necessitates a balance between consistency and innovation and brand extensions are the ultimate manifestation of that aspect of marketing.

Vicky Bullen is the CEO of Coley Porter Bell.

With 30+ years’ experience, she has led Coley Porter Bell for the past 16 years, helping clients create truly immersive brands and experiences. Vicky nurtures a culture that thrives on collaboration. She sits on the Ogilvy UK leadership team and is a Fellow of the Marketing Society.



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