Can you balance nutrition and taste in outreach? How do you talk sustainability? Sector leaders joined Gideon Fidelzeid in Minneapolis to cover these issues and more at the Carmichael Lynch Spong-hosted roundtable.
Chris Arnold, comms director, Chipotle
Julie Batliner, MD, Carmichael Lynch Spong
Mike Fernandez, corporate VP, corporate affairs, Cargill
Linda Fisher, marcomms director, MOM Brands
Patricia Groziak, executive director, nutrition & wellness, GolinHarris
Nancy Knutson, senior marcomms manager, Jack Link's
Mike Smith, senior director of PR and corporate comms, The Schwan Food Company
Jeff Swanson, external relations director, SuperValu
Breanna Welke, consumer PR group account director, Kohnstamm Communications
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Consumers demand healthy options, but still want to enjoy what they eat. How do you strike that perfect communications balance of nutrition and taste?
Linda Fisher (MOM Brands): This isn't an either-or proposition. Nutritious foods can also taste good and we like to tell our nutrition story when we can. As far as taste communications, we rely primarily on PR and third-party endorsements.
For a food producer or manufacturer to say, “Our stuff tastes really good.” What are we supposed to say? But a third-party source, whether traditional media, a blogger, or peer to peer, that's much more credible.
Jeff Swanson (SuperValu): We sell a wide range of products. We lead with produce in many stores because that's an important part of the everyday diet. However, we also sell cookies, crackers, and all sorts of items that are important for everyday meals.
For us, telling that nutrition story is a big part of it. We work with the dieticians on our team to deliver education. That's really how we see our role – to help educate. PR is a great way to do that.
Nancy Knutson (Jack Link's): It was about six years ago when we began any PR in earnest. Our ad campaign really establishes the brand as being fun and irreverent, but people are unfamiliar with the product benefits of jerky, which is naturally high in protein, low in fat, calories, and carbs.
About six years ago, we invited a wide variety of media to a luncheon in New York. We used a third party, a nutritionist from Penn State who did a protein study with some of the school's athletes. She spoke to the group about protein benefits and about jerky as a healthier snack. It really opened their eyes to jerky being a more mainstream snack than they ever imagined.
Today, we're doing something called Snacktistics, where we send out kits to a variety of media that compares our jerky to any other popular snack. We provide both snacks in the kits and compare the product benefits. For instance, on National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, we send them a chocolate chip cookie and a bag of jerky. We tell people we want to help feed their meat tooth instead of their sweet tooth.
Breanna Welke (Kohnstamm Communications): It's not just tailoring the message to the right audience, but letting them know they have options depending on their lifestyle. We all aspire to eat healthier, but sometimes it could come down to availability, affordability, or a lot of other factors. The key is providing consumers with the right information about your product and letting them know how it might fit into their lifestyle.
Patricia Groziak (GolinHarris): Consumers need to be educated about what is nutritious and how to prepare foods that taste good and are nutritious. There is a broad spectrum of foods available. Consumers need to understand how all those can fit into an individual diet.
We have a problem in communicating the fundamentals of dietary guidelines and nutrient requirements, as well as the whole definition of what processed foods are. Processed foods have been vilified, but we need to be more communicative to counteract critics.
Mike Fernandez (Cargill): It's imperative we continue to tell them what the choices are, but also be as transparent as possible about the key ingredients in products and create avenues by which people can get that information in ways they haven't before.
Chris Arnold (Chipotle): We've never really seen a distinction between taste and healthy. The two certainly don't have to be mutually exclusive.
Third-party endorsement has been key in how we've communicated over the years, but there's also how people experience our restaurants. We have open kitchens and food prepared in front of people. The notion that there's nothing to hide has always resonated with people.
Mike Smith (Schwan): Schwan serves, essentially, every school in the US, so that balance message is essential. We have to meet certain health requirements, but the food has to be very tasty or kids won't choose it and, in turn, the school won't buy it. It's an ongoing battle, but that balance is really table stakes for us.
Julie Batliner (Carmichael Lynch Spong): Last year, 76% of people said they wanted to eat healthy. Everybody wants to, but when it comes to reality, if they don't like it they're not going to be repeat purchasers. You might get them to try something when they're on a health kick, but if you want them to be loyal consumers, it has to be something sustainable that they like. Offering “better for you” choices without having to cut things out makes it a more sustainable choice for people.
Groziak (Golin): Sometimes that message on pack, the “less sodium” message in particular, will put people off. Consumers will think it won't taste good, so they might not pick it up. There must be other communication messages around taste.
Knutson (Jack Link's): Jerky is relatively new to the snack set, so we found ourselves in a situation where media didn't have a clue what this whole jerky thing was about. We had to educate them as well as the consumers. We try to deliver the protein message and illustrate that there is a whole world of opportunity in packaged goods snacks that are great “grab and go” choices.
Batliner (Carmichael): It has to be easy. The more that food companies can continue to figure out ways to fit into the lifestyle of our gatekeeper grocery shopper, the more successful they'll be.
Groziak (Golin): There is a misconception that canned and frozen are inferior to fresh, but they're actually superior in many cases from a nutritional standpoint, as well as being more convenient, easier, and shelf stable. So, there are ways to include fruits and vegetables in people's diets beyond fresh. Fresh is great, but there are other options about which we've not been successful at communicating to consumers.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What about consumers that only care about taste?
Smith (Schwan): Schwan's has value-brand pizza, which is aimed at Middle Americans looking to get a quick, good-tasting meal. Do we try to source the best possible products for those foods? Of course, but the nutrition message actually isn't the lead at all. In fact, the only nutrition information you get might be the USDA required regulation on the box.
Fisher (MOM): We have some highly sugared cereals that are fortified, but it's all about taste. And you can eat sugared cereal for breakfast and broccoli for dinner. It's not all or nothing. Most families are trying to build in that balance of the fun, tasty stuff, the gooey pizza that everybody loves, and healthier lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits. You can balance your diet over a series of meals.
Arnold (Chipotle): We've never put the subject of nutrition front and center because we find that most people, even absent having tables of data, intuitively know what works for them and the way our restaurants are built. We've always made it available if you want it.
Knutson (Jack Link's): Our “Messing with Sasquatch” campaign mentions absolutely nothing about the product. It's just about the brand experience. For the gatekeepers of the home, the moms who want their families to eat something better, we're speaking to them from a PR perspective, but we're still pleasing the guys who just want to be part of that fun, irreverent Jack Link's brand.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Where does the use of locally grown, fresh, whole foods enter the equation in outreach efforts to consumers?
Smith (Schwan): It's product specific. Schwan's is a frozen-food company and proud of it. There are advantages to frozen, whether it be the nutritional content or just the convenience aspect. That point is always top of mind for us.
Our biggest battle is in the schools because, at a local level, they are increasingly getting fresher-sourced fruits and vegetables. We have to stay one step ahead of that. For example, we have flatbread sandwiches now served in schools. We build the menus for the schools or help advise them. They can top them with fresh vegetables on top of our chicken or beef flatbread. There's ways to incorporate that trend into frozen.
Arnold (Chipotle): We've done a lot over the last 10 or 12 years with more sustainably raised foods, naturally raised meat, locally and organically grown produce. A challenge we've always had in marketing that is we're essentially trying to solve a problem people don't know exists.
Fisher (MOM): A small segment of the population is very focused on locally grown, whole, sustainable, but we live in an era of record unemployment. Commodity prices are going through the roof and about to affect the food supply in a major way. One out of five families with kids are food insecure. I'm not sure the majority of people these days are saying, “Locally grown is my number-one criteria.” They're asking, “Will my kids eat it? Does it taste good? Am I putting some nutrition into their bodies and can I afford it?” Those are the big questions facing consumers today.
Arnold (Chipotle): People come to us first and foremost because they like the food, but there's a portion of our customer base that comes to us because of this – and it gives them one more reason to love Chipotle. We would, of course, argue that the food is as good as it is because of the lengths we go to find great ingredients.
Groziak (Golin): In pondering this question, I thought more about prepared versus whole foods. In thinking about that, you see a lot of prepared foods now incorporating a serving of vegetables, a serving of fruit, more of the food groups. You can also take a prepared packaged food and pair that with whole foods. It is redefining what cooking is for people today.
Fernandez (Cargill): You've got the element of cost. To grow certain things locally costs more. You also have the regulatory aspect in terms of food safety where sometimes small, local growers aren't under the same requirements as larger entities. There's a bit of a myth embedded in this sense that everything local is better. Why is it better? Because it's grown five miles from me as opposed to two states over?
In the end, you'd like to be able to grow things where you're going to have the greatest yield and do it efficiently if you're going to ultimately feed the planet.
Knutson (Jack Link's): As a consumer packaged good, I took the words “locally grown” and “fresh” and almost replaced them with “genuine” and “authentic.”
Jack Link is a real guy. His office is right down the hall. We are in a small town with 521 people. Jack can be seen looking at his cows before he comes into work each morning. Our production facilities are in small towns. It really is that sort of homegrown, Americana, deep roots story, even though we are a consumer packaged good.
Swanson (SuperValu): We've talked a lot about making our stores hyper-local. Take Bob's Salsa, which is made right here in Minneapolis. Our customers want that from our store. In fact, the biggest thing for us is to know what every single store's customers want, whether it be a more ethnic neighborhood or a very affluent one. At the end of the day, are we delivering products to them in a manner appropriate for each and every store?
Batliner (Carmichael): It's also about the media. What will they cover? They are looking for this “locally grown” aspect because it's a trend. We have a responsibility as food communicators to help get them there and provide data that shows what people really want and what they'll be able to keep up with in terms of their eating habits.
Swanson (SuperValu): The opportunity exists to really work with influencers, so, from a pure traditional media standpoint, the local message is important for us. We say we're local, we're in your community. There's no better way to show that we are a true, good local business than by working with the local farmers, local industries, local vendors.
Recipe for Organic Growth
Organic Trade Association research discovered sales of organic food totaled $29.3 billion in 2011. Moreover, Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, recently said the organic market is growing three to four times the rate of the overall food market.
The audience for this unique fare requires a unique PR strategy. Karl Johnson, marketing director at Pete & Gerry's Organic Eggs, and Kohnstamm Communications' Breanna Welke helped PRWeek devise the following recipe:
✔ Distinctive retail packaging
✔ Optimized website with details on food's origin
✔ Upscale chef testimonials
✔ Wholesale distributor education/promotion
✔ Incorporation of cause-related efforts into outreach
✔ Teaming with like-minded brand, even if not a food company
✔ A message that's not over-complicated
✔ Focus on Millennials, who ask the most food-content questions
✔ Thorough grasp of frequently changing trends in organic
Define target market segment. Combine above ingredients and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat – stirring constantly. Do not overcook. Add seasoning to suit individual tastes. Serve to consumers. Adjust recipe according to feedback and repeat.
Part of the global community
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Discuss the evolution of your comms strategies on both the sustainability and CSR fronts.
Fernandez (Cargill): This goes back to the notion of transparency. Consumers have a greater interest in where their food comes from. More and more of them want to know what each ingredient is and what its impact might be on the environment. And they don't want to be surprised. As a result, those of us in the food industry have a responsibility to demystify the process.
Part of that demystification goes to having a better understanding of what it means to have responsible supply chains. Cargill has done a lot of work with the likes of World Wildlife Fund and other NGOs to see if we are growing and processing palm oil and soy the most responsible of ways. That's created a whole different opportunity and a whole new way of operating for us, where you actually have the PR function inside a company working with business operations in tandem with NGOs to certify the appropriate supply.
We've gone from messaging to literally being part of an integrated supply chain where the PR effort becomes more than simple words. It's become about forging the appropriate relationships all the way down to the farmers.
Batliner (Carmichael): Martek Biosciences makes omega-3s, which everybody came to learn they needed for heart health. Later on, the brain and eye health science came out. Fish get omega-3s from eating algae, so the company found a way to produce a sustainable source of algae. It's FDA-approved grown algae that they now can provide without the ocean-borne contaminants, the overfishing, the issues that surround omega-3s and fish.
That's a great story to tell and people just want to know where it's coming from. People will know what the source is of the omega-3, that it's free of contaminants, and they can get the same essential fatty acid benefits without all the other issues that come with it. As we can innovate and tell those stories, it will continue to help us all.
Swanson (SuperValu): As a retailer, it's working with our suppliers. We rely on them to do the right thing. But we also have that opportunity. We get asked by NGOs to put some pressure on the suppliers since we have 2,400 stores. It's working with them to find that right balance to make sure we all agree on what is important and where to put the priority.
Sustainable fishing, for example, is really important both for consumers and for our industry. We don't want to overfish certain species. A big push for us in the past several years is increasing transparency around the fish we're going to sell and that we stock in our stores.
Fernandez (Cargill): One of the principles that undergirds all business is the accounting concept of a going concern. At the end of the day, we all must think of our food businesses as going concerns. In order to have a going concern, you must be able to do things in a responsible, sustainable way.
There has been positive work done by NGOs such as World Wildlife Fund. [SVP of market transformation] Jason Clay has been beating a drum for several years talking about various commodities and going to particular retailers, as well as CPG companies, and saying they need to look at this complete supply chain. What are all the inputs?
Then each of those parties has talked to players such as Cargill and some of our competitors. So while we don't grow a lot of these things, we're working with a lot of small farmers across the globe. We need to go out there, educate those farmers, and create the appropriate incentives so we can do this.
Fisher (MOM): Our mission is to deliver high-quality cereal at an affordable price. A message that really resonates is how in the past five years, we have saved consumers over $1 billion on what they've paid for our cereal compared to what they would have paid for a more expensive competitor. That's a big social sustainability message that we like to communicate. It's very authentic. It's what we do.
Then there's our “Bag the Box” campaign. Every year, the cereal industry creates 2.3 billion cereal boxes, all with a plastic bag inside them. We sell 90% of our ready-to-eat cereal in plastic bags without the box. So we started a campaign that talks about how that box is useless. It's a waste of materials. It's a waste of energy to produce it. It costs money and energy to recycle it. Why bother?
Welke (Kohnstamm): Most people go to the cereal aisle looking at total value. How much will I pay? Will my kids eat it? If that company also does something good, even better. It may not be driving purchase, but it's going to get me thinking a little differently and provide another reason why I remain more loyal to that brand. It's about being authentic in talking about sustainability and CSR.
Batliner (Carmichael): CSR efforts must be tied back to the business, whether it's saving money or opening stores in areas that need them.
Swanson (SuperValu): We have opened Save-A-Lot stores in many neighborhoods. Our approach going into these areas was working with existing buildings. We retrofitted a vacant car dealership to create a grocery store, for example. Very little waste is involved in the construction of those stores and we're able to build them in three to four months, as opposed to a year or year-and-a-half.
Once we're open, the goal is to limit the amount of waste within the store. There has been a significant push to stop throwing stuff away and making sure it's getting into the hands of potential food banks that can use the food before it is no longer edible.
That's significant in what we're doing for the environment, but also really significant for our bottom line.
Arnold (Chipotle): There really isn't a CSR strategy at Chipotle. It's the way we run the business. The same set of values influences how we source food, design and build restaurants, develop and retain employees. It is so much a fabric of who we are that when we communicate it, it's genuine and authentic.
Smith (Schwan): We have 4,000 propane-fueled trucks on the road every day. We build in Feeding America initiatives to take advantage of the business aspect. At the same time, we ensure we donate over 1 million pounds of food a year that would have gone to the landfill because it's the right thing to do for Feeding America. It's no longer trying to spin a PR story around it. It's just that businesses are seeing the advantages of it.
Welke (Kohnstamm): At a recent conference, I heard about a study reporting that 90% of people wouldn't care if 70% of the brands in this country went away because they just have no connection to them. The more you can tell what you're doing to limit waste in the stores or how you're supporting local farmers, it really helps consumers feel good about buying your brand. They would care if it went away. We just need to find smart ways to keep telling that story in the places they're looking for it.