Sunrise cleans up with new tofu packaging

Change is good. But nobody ever said getting used to it was easy. Human beings, by nature, enjoy the safety of routine, the reassurance of the familiar. Our instinctive response, when confronted with a new development, is suspicion and mistrust. It...

Change is good. But nobody ever said getting used to it was easy.

Human beings, by nature, enjoy the safety of routine, the reassurance of the familiar. Our instinctive response, when confronted with a new development, is suspicion and mistrust. It may be demonstrably superior to that which we know. It may have the potential to transform our lives for the better. No matter – some part of us still resists, at least initially.

Such was the dilemma confronting Sunrise Soya Foods last year, when the Vancouver-based company set about the task of repackaging its fresh tofu.

On the one hand, this change spelled a great many potential benefits, both for consumers and for Sunrise itself – among them greater convenience, longer shelf-life, and improved aesthetic appeal. But the Sunrise folks also knew that their target market, which consists predominantly of Asian Canadians, is very particular when it comes to tofu. Messing with the traditional packaging format was most emphatically not a step to be taken lightly.

‘We knew there was risk involved in changing it,’ says Peter Joe, general manager with Sunrise. ‘We had to do a lot of careful planning for it. And we had to have a strong promotional and advertising launch campaign behind it.’

A family-owned operation established in the mid-1950s, Sunrise is the largest tofu manufacturer in the country. Prior to the repackaging, it commanded a market share of more than 70% in B.C.

For close to 30 years, Sunrise packaged its fresh tofu in a simple, unsealed plastic bag. (Two cubes per bag was the standard.) Because tofu is a high-moisture product, the bags would be immersed at the grocery store in a tub of cold water.

Consumers liked this format because it allowed them to see, smell and touch the product in order to gauge its freshness, Joe says. ‘It gave them psychological reassurance.’

There were, however, more than a few drawbacks. For a start, the product had a shelf-life of no more than three days, forcing Sunrise to maintain very short delivery cycles. The format was also messy and unattractive, and made it easy for the product to get damaged on the way home. And health authorities were, frankly, not enthusiastic about consumers all dipping their hands into the same tub of water and touching the tofu.

Sunrise had for some time been considering the possibility of moving to a pre-packaged format, Joe says. But the prospect of such a break with tradition proved daunting. What if consumers ended up defecting to those competitors who continued to sell their fresh tofu in the traditional bagged form?

By last year, the company had decided to take the gamble. In September, Sunrise tofu began appearing in grocery stores in its new packaging: a sealed plastic tub containing two 350-gram cubes of tofu, packed in water to preserve the moisture.

In addition to being more sanitary and protecting its contents better, Joe says the new packaging has increased shelf-life to 10 days, allowing Sunrise to begin shipping its product to Alberta for the first time.

The new container is translucent, so that consumers can still examine the tofu visually, even if they can’t smell or touch it. The company also tried to keep the shape and dimensions of the package as close as possible to those of the traditional plastic bag, to minimize the impression that this new format is a radical departure.

‘We wanted people to feel comfortable that this is still the same product,’ Joe says.

The launch campaign for the new format was designed to convey a similar message.

Sunrise hired Vancouver-based Hamazaki Wong Marketing Group to create TV, print and radio advertising for the Asian media, along with point-of-sale materials. The agency’s mandate: to communicate the benefits of the new packaging, while reassuring consumers that the product itself is still just as fresh as ever.

Radio was used primarily in the run-up to the launch. The 30-second spot featured a group of workers at the Sunrise plant popping old tofu bags, and discussing the new containers. (‘Yes, no more messy and wet plastic bags.’)

Newspaper and TV advertising broke the same day the new packaging hit stores.

The original print ad was a full-page execution, featuring the image of an empty tofu bag above the fold, and the new Sunrise container below. The headline incorporated two Chinese characters that signify, respectively, ‘new’ and ‘fresh.’ (A half-page version of this ad later appeared.)

The 30-second TV spot, meanwhile, depicts a mother grocery shopping with her Bart Simpsonesque young son. When she instructs him to fetch some fresh tofu, he toddles over to the cooler and, with an impish grin, lobs a package over to his mother. Onlookers gasp in horror, expecting to see a grisly water-and-bean-curd explosion in the aisle. But mom is able to field it without mishap, thanks to the new, sealed packaging.

‘It really communicated, in very dramatic fashion, the benefits of the packaging,’ says Sonny Wong, president and creative director of Hamazaki Wong. ‘We heard anecdotes later about kids going into stores and actually doing this to their mothers.’

Any concerns that the packaging change might undermine consumer loyalty were quickly allayed. Sales have increased an estimated 25% since the launch, and market share is now reportedly close to 80%.

Joe, for his part, says the repackaging may even help Sunrise expand its customer base beyond the Asian-Canadian market.

‘When the fresh product was sold in a bag, it was very sloppy-looking and unappealing [to consumers who weren't used to purchasing it that way],’ he says. ‘But now that it’s in more attractive packaging, my guess is that there will be more mainstream consumers interested in buying it.’

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From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group