Humpty Dumpty scales marketing wall

You might call it a bad case of the munchies....

You might call it a bad case of the munchies.

Humpty Dumpty Snack Foods has an irresistible craving. The Kitchener, Ont.-based potato chip maker wants a bigger bite of Canada’s $1.4-billion salty snack category – and to this end has undertaken a major brand revitalization.

The company began the process two years ago, and recently completed work on the final phase. The past few months have seen a flurry of activity, including the introduction of new products and flavours, the updating of the Humpty Dumpty icon and logo, and the rollout of new package designs.

Humpty Dumpty currently ranks second in its category, well behind leader Hostess Frito-Lay. Before this revitalization effort got underway, the brand received relatively little marketing support, and was generally perceived as declining, says Lynda Murray, the company’s vice-president of marketing.

Humpty Dumpty has now made a complete overhaul of its strategic approach, she says.

In the past, individual products were marketed more as stand-alone brands. Now, the Humpty Dumpty name serves as a kind of ‘super-brand’ that unites the whole range of offerings. On the company’s newly redesigned product packaging, the brand logo and its familiar anthropomorphic egg icon appear front and centre.

‘Being a smaller player in a very competitive category, we felt there was more opportunity for us to really build the Humpty Dumpty brand as opposed to trying to build five or six brands,’ Murray says.

Management consultant Ihor Saplywyj, director of the retail and consumer packaged goods practice at Toronto-based PriceWaterhouseCoopers, says this is the right approach to take if Humpty Dumpty wants to build credibility and gain share in the salty snack category.

‘What they’re doing is resurrecting an old brand [with] a heck of a lot of equity,’ he says. ‘[It's] a smart move.’

The company has also shifted its demographic focus, from the 18-34 age group it has traditionally targeted, to the 12-24 segment. This reflects a realization that youngsters influence household snack food purchases even if they’re not the ones spending the money, Murray says.

To gain better insight into this youthful target audience, Humpty Dumpty now organizes monthly meetings with a group of teens, which gives company executives the chance to test out new flavours and new product concepts.

Since the start of this year, the company has moved forward aggressively on a number of fronts – not least of which was the introduction of new offerings such as Cheesy Ringolos and Buffalo Wing-flavoured potato chips. Humpty Dumpty now boasts nearly 30 flavours across its various product lines, and Murray says the company can be expected to continue rolling out new additions.

‘Really, innovation is what drives this category,’ she says. ‘It’s new and different flavours, products [and] combinations.’

As for the packaging redesign, the most noticeable change, by far, is the makeover given to the Humpty Dumpty brand icon, a character based on the well-known nursery rhyme. According to Murray, he now possesses a knowing smirk meant to convey a more contemporary sensibility, while staying true his traditional heritage. (‘A little bit of attitude, but not too much,’ is how she puts it.)

The brand has also adopted a new positioning line, ‘Go For More.’

Advertising support for fall includes television spots produced by Sparks Communications of Kitchener, Ont. Two ads (for the Party Mix and new Nachos offerings) have already aired – mainly in youth-targeted programs such as The Simpsons, That ’70s Show and Buffy the Vampire Slayer – and a third will break in November.

The company is also posting banner ads on youth-oriented Web sites, such as MuchMusic.com, and has plans now underway for a major on-bag promotion in partnership with a yet-to-be-named sports franchise.

Sampling is another key element of the brand effort. In January, the company will be sending its Humpty Dumpty Humvee (‘the Humpty Hummer’) to distribute sample bags at youth events and retail locations.

Brian Hillis, a partner with Sparks, says grassroots activities like these can pay tremendous dividends in the category. ‘It’s been proven time and time again in the salty snack category that if you can sample the product, you’ll get purchase out of it,’ he says.

Humpty Dumpty currently reaps annual sales of $155 million, through its distribution networks in Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and New England.

The company was established in Maine in 1948. Its American and Canadian operations split a few years later when founders Dorothy and Phil Cole divorced. (He took the Canadian business, while she ran the U.S. side.)

In 1994, the Canadian operation was acquired by a Cambridge, Ont. company called Small Fry Snack Foods. Earlier this year, Small Fry also purchased the U.S. business, which had recently filed for bankruptcy.

On Oct. 2, Small Fry announced that it had rechristened itself Humpty Dumpty Snack Foods, as part of the overall brand revitalization effort.

Plans for the next two years include aggressive expansion in the U.S. marketplace, Murray says.

The redesigned packages will hit the stores in the States in January. All flavours, with a few minor exceptions, will be available south of the border, along with a new one intended exclusively for the U.S. market – Sour Cream and Clam.