Exposed: thirty seconds with a marketing maven – Monique Raymond

Milk is one of those ubiquitous food products that's so much a part of life that innovation isn't something that most consumers look for.

Milk is one of those ubiquitous food products that’s so much a part of life that innovation isn’t something that most consumers look for.

But Longueuil-based Natrel is shaking up the category, and thanks to the leadership of seasoned Quebecois marketer Monique Raymond, the upscale milk company is helping to make the province a hotbed of truly innovative product innovation.

Raymond has done this by tapping into consumer and nutritional trends over the past several years with a succession of products that include milk with added calcium, lactose-free milk, flavoured milks, and even Natrel 24, a milk-based nutritional supplement containing 24 important vitamins and minerals plus protein and carbohydrates.

Natrel Omega-3 is just the latest initiative spearheaded by Raymond, who has been head of product development at Natrel for the past five years.

Launched last September into the Quebec market, this milk is enriched with essential Omega-3 fatty acids through the addition of natural ingredients – flaxseed oil and rosemary extract.

Raymond says, ‘I think consumers are ready for this type of product, and as soon as the Ontario regulations will allow us, we will launch Omega-3 in Ontario.’

Raymond was no stranger to the milk category prior to joining Natrel. She first led advertising and promotion for the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec and then had a stint at Culinar as a product manager in the snack cake and dry breads (Grissol) divisions before returning to the dairy business.

Strategy convinced Raymond to take a 30-second break from dreaming up new variations on an old favourite to talk about her latest creation.

The Quebec Heart Disease Foundation reports that 49% of Quebecers have a higher cholesterol level than the recommended norm. Was that the driving force behind Natrel Omega-3?

Not at all. This product was developed for the Canadian market in general. You have a higher percentage of people with high cholesterol in the eastern part of Canada versus the western part, but Ontario and Quebec are pretty similar in terms of the cholesterol problem.

Omega-3 has a lot of good qualities. It is not a miracle product, but we know high cholesterol and heart problems are the main cause of disease here in Canada.

When do you expect the rollout of Omega-3 to Ontario?

Ontario milk regulations do not allow for any product when you add something other than milk fat into milk. That is the only thing preventing the launch of Omega-3 in Ontario. It is not a Health Canada regulation, it is more a regulation based on the protection of the milk category but, in this case, being natural helps.

What communications tools did you use to launch Omega-3?

We did that through our Web site, public relations, and communications to newspapers. We have a nutritionist who assists us with that information. We promote Omega-3 inside the Natrel family (under the World of Natrel banner), but not with advertising specifically for Omega-3.

How has Omega-3 performed in the market so far?

In Quebec, it has been a success, I must say. We’re running at about five times the objectives we had projected. The consumer doesn’t have any problem buying this product because it is not artificially enhanced; it is naturally done.

What are the challenges of being an innovator and marketer for a commodity like milk?

The challenge to work in new product development in dairy is not the ideas – we have plenty of ideas – but rather it is to really understand what the needs of Canadian consumers are, and choose good products.

Another challenge is, because it is a high-volume type of industry with high-volume production, when you arrive with a new product it is difficult because you’re not dealing with the usual 2% milk volume.

Is new product development as fun as it sounds?

Developing new products looks fun – but it’s a lot of number crunching and analysis.

[However, funny things can happen.] We had some machinery break in B.C. that makes whipping cream. To help the production facility, we shipped some cream from Ontario to B.C. – but when it arrived in B.C., it arrived already whipped.

The joke was that it was a new product with added value: whipping cream that is already whipped. All that travelling and shaking, when we really needed to ship it on a cloud.