Danone takes cues from the beer branding world

The dairy co. seems to be channeling Collective Arts for its new yogurt brand. Will it be a hit with the art crowd?

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On the one end of Danone’s yogurt portfolio is protein-packed Oikos; on the other is probiotic-packed Activia. While the yogurts differ in ingredients, they share a similar health-focused USP and older adult target. So when the Canadian arm of the France-based company brought Light & Free to Canada in January, it was finally able to broaden its reach.

Now its portfolio is complimented by a SKU that’s geared toward a younger cohort – and naturally the brand’s strategy is to partner with contemporary artists as though it were a hip beer co. like Collective Arts.

Having Instagram-popular illustrators like Burnt Toast (who actually happens to be the aforementioned beer brand’s resident artist) paint murals in Montreal and create social content (like tutorials on how to draw fruit) for Light & Free is an untraditional strategy for the dairy category, says Jeremy Oxley, VP, marketing strategy and insights at Danone Canada. But because the brand is about “self-expression, no compromise, being yourself,” he says it felt a natural gravitational pull toward the art world.

“We felt that this would be the perfect strategy… [it’s] a more modern and relevant way to connect with millennials and Gen Z.”

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Oxley says his research shows that Canadians are interested in different product benefits compared to their neighbours in the South, where Light & Free is currently sold under the name Light & Fit.

Canadians – much like other markets where Light & Free is sold, such as the U.K. and France – are less calorie-conscious, instead seeking foods that pack a powerful nutritional punch with clean ingredients. So the marketing strategy has also been to demonstrate the simplicity of the yogurt, which contains high protein and low sugar as it’s naturally sweetened without artificial ingredients.

Packaging (created by Montreal’s Pigeon) for the yogurt’s snack and family-sized tubs are adorned with animated fruit in bright hues. “The flavours that we chose are also a bit more exotic, and they’re more [forward-looking] in allowing us to go after a younger consumer that might be looking for something other than a strawberry or a vanilla yogurt,” says Oxley.

Those flavours – like Cucumber, Watermelon and Lime – were chosen after the marketing team decided to explore new research tools, like social listening. For years, the brand primarily used focus groups and research reports to feed its product pipeline and thinking. “[But] getting consumers in their native language and seeing how they talk about food and beverages, how they speak to one another, is a little bit more true to life than traditional market research,” says Oxley.

He adds that, aside from social listening, Danone is exploring other new avenues for innovation. For instance, the marketing department is currently working with social media influencers to co-create another new SKU, which is set to hit the market in January 2021.

Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 3.32.05 PMWhile the product is currently on shelf, Light & Free’s marketing campaign (by Carl Social Club) doesn’t begin until the end of July, a slightly later date than what was originally in the calendar.

“We had to adjust our plans tremendously as a result of COVID-19,” he says.

“Light & Free is one of those products, from a timing perspective, that we felt we had to wait a few months. It was a new brand and Canadians were, during a period of time – and in some respects still are – going to their trusted brands as they were going through stockpiling and eating more at home. We felt that was the time to talk about Oikos and Activia,” adds Oxley. “Now, as we are starting to get a little bit back towards normal, we felt that consumers would be more receptive to trying new brands.”

Even with the delay, he says “that has not stopped our innovation agenda.” It took 12 to 18 months to bring Light & Free to Canada as Danone had to develop the technology to create the low sugar offering using ultrafiltered milk. “It did slow us down a bit… but we are able to maintain the level of innovation that you would expect in the first and the second half of the year.”

The campaign – which also includes digital and social content, with media from Wavemaker, as well as PR handled by National – will run through to the Fall. In August and September, limited-time packaging will debut with designs from Burnt Toast, while the brand will have a presence through the artist at the Mural Festival in Montreal this Summer.

Light & Free is currently sold at Loblaws, Metro, Provigo, Walmart, the complete Sobey’s group and RCSS.