Collabs and creative pairings open up new doors

Retail experts weigh in on how CPG brands are expanding consumption horizons by showing off the versatility of their products.

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This feature first appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of
strategy magazine

By Will Novosedlik

Up for a Mushroom Truffle Daiquiri? How about a Pork Ramen Mezcal Margarita? Or a Pho Mango Bourbon Sour?

If these sound to you like the creations of some ultra-hip mixologist, you would be partly right, except you won’t find them at any ultra-hip cocktail lounge. The drinks are part of a collaboration between a team of mixologists at Campbell’s, as well as agencies Leo Burnett and Proof, and are available as recipes on a microsite called Campbell’s Brothtails.

It’s one of the latest examples of how some CPG companies are encouraging consumers to look at their long-established brands with fresh eyes. Whether it’s expanding into new usage occasions or creating counterintuitive pairings with non-traditional ingredients, food and beverage brands are shaking things up.

There are many more examples, including “It’s Not Weird” by Egg Farmers of Canada, which encourages consumers to use eggs in meals beyond just breakfast. There’s also Avocados from Mexico’s “Anytime is Avotime” campaign that paired the fruit with ingredients like pasta and brownies to showcase its versatility. And then there’s Ontario Beef, which complemented meat with things like syrup to show that it’s not just steaks and tacos.

More recently, global dairy company Lactalis launched with recipes for food pairings from chefs, artisans and expert cheese makers. Vince Vetere, SVP and Canada GM, cheese and table spreads at Lactalis says the decision to create a “lifestyle site for cheese lovers” was made after seeing online sales double during the pandemic. He adds that it also provided the opportunity to educate Canadians on the diversity and nuances of cheese, in the hopes that they’ll purchase beyond their comfort zone.

“Canada is mostly a ‘cheddar and mozzarella’ market. So we need to educate,” he says. “Every product on the Cheeseworld site is accompanied by a ‘flavour wheel’ that offers visitors the ability to select cheeses based on type of milk, texture, aroma, flavour profile, usage occasion and where the product originates. People are looking to elevate their daily meals… and cheese is a way to do that.”

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Jason Dubroy, SVP commerce and experience at Mosaic North America says he helped Kraft Heinz explore food pairings as a marketing strategy, way back in 2014. At the time, Dubroy says that market leader Kraft wasn’t “getting much household love by millennial moms. Many were new to cooking, and they tended to gravitate to meals that were simple, innovative and original… and looked good on a social post.” That’s when the idea to create “Kraft Food Hacks” was hatched. “We created a campaign that wouldn’t reposition Kraft brands, but repurpose them.”

“There was a recipe for Crispy Spicy Peanut Chicken, where you brushed chicken breasts with Miracle Whip, Kraft Peanut Butter and Sriracha, and then rolled them in crushed ramen noodles,” adds Dubroy. “It was extended to a crowd-sourced recipe contest… and brand new consumers were brought into categories that they never would have explored. Sales skyrocketed and they repeated the campaign through various iterations.”

More brands appear to be experimenting with food/beverage pairings and expanding into new occasions these days. But why would a consumer be interested in muffins with avocado icing, syrupy steak or a broth-based cocktail?

David Kincaid, founder of Level5 Strategy, says it’s because consumers have a renewed desire for change, thanks to the pandemic. “I’m stuck at home. I can’t go out. I can’t be with friends. The result is a boom in food exploration… Sustenance is now a form of entertainment and an opportunity to be creative.”

“Change and new ideas used to be scary for most people,” adds Kincaid. “But now, with the world changing all around us, it’s just becoming the way we do things. And let’s not forget that the most powerful word in marketing is ‘new.’ So new usage occasions and unusual ingredient pairings trigger the key emotions that drive trial and interest behaviours.”

That doesn’t mean brands should change for the sake of change. CPG marketing vet and CBO at Brand Igniter Peter Rodriguez says giving products new uses by combining them with non-traditional ingredients has to be done in consideration of the brand and where customers will give it permission to go.

“You need to listen to the heavy brand users because they already have those insights as to how to use [a product] at different times, in different moments, in different locations, for different reasons,” says Rodriguez. “And then you look at light users… They have the same needs, but they do not yet connect the brand to those needs. So you need to take your cues from heavy users first.”

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He gives the example of Hall’s, a brand he managed 20 years ago. At the time, he was looking to expand usage from “season to reason” (i.e. beyond purchasing its lozenges during the cold and flu season), Rodriguez and his team noticed that heavy users didn’t only use it as a cough suppressant, but also as a way to clear their throats at any time of the year. He used that insight to encourage light users to do the same, which he says grew the brand’s market share by 70%.

Another example is Arm & Hammer. Researchers noticed the different ways heavy consumers were using its baking soda, which led to successful extensions into things like toothpaste, odor absorber, laundry detergent, carpet cleaner and litter box freshener.

If it’s done right, says Rodriguez, it can be a revenue driver for the brand and there “is a big benefit for the brand from a financial perspective: cost-efficiency… You can have a huge impact on margins by making minor adaptations instead of investing in the fixed assets required to create a new product.”

Many companies realize that identifying the different ways their products can be used can also help grow the brand itself, says Dubroy. And with social media use now so firmly entrenched, the constant need to feed content streams is another driver, he adds. “The more versatile the product, the more content you can create. As collab culture has gone mainstream, it’s not just a novelty play to have a versatility strategy built into a brand. For many, it’s now just expected.”