Step into any supermarket, and you’ll find yourself faced with a bewildering amount of choice - even if you’re just after a simple packet of dried pasta.
What do you choose?
The supermarket’s own brand, a traditional heritage brand or a new player? Fusilli, penne or conchiglie? Regular or wholewheat? Durum wheat, gluten-free, or crafted from chickpeas or lentils?
Brands have two fundamental ways to stands out. Either leverage hard power i.e focus on new product development, different recipes, new lines or new distribution channels. Or focus on soft power - tightening tone of voice, visual identity or brand packaging - a cheaper, more agile solution.
As the soft power agency, we wanted to shine the spotlight on some of the brands that employ soft power to perfection. Here are five FMCG businesses that are doing it right.
Cawston Press have been pressing for 30 years, with a focus on pure, 100% fruit juice. However, the premium soft drinks market has gained traction in recent years: the 2016 Britvic Soft Drinks Review showed that 7 in 10 adults are choosing premium soft drinks at home, while licensed retailers are enjoying a 75% year-on-year increase in sales in the category. The Cawston Press team spotted an opportunity: a chance for their heritage and their focus on a healthier alternative to sugary soft drinks to shine in this new space.
They’ve shifted from one of a small juice brand to a quality alternative for grown-ups, with messaging, packaging and design that give them a quintessentially British feel. The language they use is simple, which echoes the simplicity in the ingredients they use: “picked and pressed” pure fruit such as “radiant roots” and “brilliant beetroot”.
What’s more, their pack design veers away from the photos of fruit and veg that competitors tend to focus on. Instead, Cawston Press chose artistic graphic representations of their ingredients, cementing this message of quality and purity, and making them stand out on shelf.
The soft power changes proved to be the right call, with Cawston Press selling over 10 million cans in 2016, taking their retail sales value to £21m.
When Maltesers first launched in 1937, they were described as ‘energy balls’, and aimed at female slimmers. Since then, their core product offering hasn’t changed - the chocolate-covered malted milk balls have undergone no real radical shift, but their messaging has.
Over the years, they’ve used ‘Nothing pleases like Maltesers’ and ‘No ordinary chocolate’ as slogans. Now, it’s all about ‘Look on the light side’ - focusing advertising campaigns on adult conversation with diversity and inclusion at its heart - plus a tongue in cheek tone. And it’s these new, sparky campaigns that mean they make our list.
With their choice of ad campaign characters and scenarios, the playful language they use and their social media tactics, Maltesers are focusing on a younger, female audience in a competitive market, turning it into a Millennial-focused brand. Their encouragement to look on the lighter side of life has been longstanding - and the inclusion of disabled actors telling funny stories continues this theme, while creating a talking point that makes Maltesers stand out from the crowd. The result? An 8.1% uplift in sales during the campaign.
Doritos have long dominated the tortilla chips market...so how can a challenger make a real impact? The answer from Manomasa, launched in 2012, was to create a bold and impactful visual identity, underpinned by premium snack food credentials. Their “Manofesto”, detailed on their website, highlights their desire to “bring the colour, flavour and excitement of global street food home”, with the motto, “anything is possible if you add a little SPIRIT.”
The result? A clean, fresh and premium look, a focus on authentic Mexican flavours and ingredients, and a move away from the brashness of other popular party snack brands. “Grown-up” flavours like Manchego & Green Olive and Serrano Chilli & Yucatan Honey differentiate Manomasa still further (exemplifying the ‘flavour and excitement’ from their Manofesto), and the concept works. The brand secured a national Waitrose listing in 2015after a £3.5m investment from NVM Private Equity, and in 2017, expanded its production premises to meet growing demand.
After being bought by US firm Amplify Snack Brands in 2016, Tyrrells launched the brand’s SkinnyPop low-calorie popcorn range in the UK in May 2017. Aiming to capitalise on current healthy eating trends, the brand’s USP is its fat and calorie content, which is the lowest in the premium, ready-to-eat, oil-popped corn category.
Their packaging is clean and pure: bold enough to stand out from the crowd but with a simplicity that puts its nutritional benefits front and centre. Alongside the brand name and flavour are clear nods to the product’s low calorie count, its gluten-free credentials and the fact that it contains no artificial ingredients.
The white background stands out visually from competitors like Metcalfes, Propercornand Sunbites, and while the ingredients are clearly sensible, the visual cues and tone of voice both position SkinnyPop with the fun and rebellious feel of a challenger brand that offers a nod to popular culture (like this Stranger Things reference on their Facebook page).
While it’s too early to see SkinnyPop’s impact on the market, further rollouts to Co-Op and Budgens show Tyrrells’ determination to strengthen the brand’s footprint.
Healthy ice cream brand Halo Top launched fairly quietly in the US in 2012, and it wasn’t until 2016 that its growth shot through the roof. Billed on the packaging as an ‘all-natural, light ice cream’, its positioning as an indulgent treat without the guilt has demonstrated huge appeal to American shoppers.
Low in calories, high in protein, low in sugar and starring quality natural ingredients, its packaging clearly conveys all of the health benefits, with a premium design where subtle design differences and an attractive colour palette informs the consumer of the flavour choices. And with flavours like Birthday Cake, Chocolate Mocha Chip and Peanut Butter Cup available, the flavour range is interesting and varied enough to compete successfully with giants like Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs.
Each tub lists the calories per pint rather than per scoop, highlighting to its young target audience that even a whole tub is far lower in calories than its competitors. And this young target audience are being treated to the perfect tone and language in Halo Top’s social posts: their Facebook page includes plenty of memes, short, pithy captions to photos, and a great deal of engagement.
The numbers say it all: in 2016, according to IRI data, the US saw sales of 28.8 million pints of Halo Top, generating $132.4m in sales and making it the best-selling ice cream in America. What’s more, it’s set to hit UK shores in January 2018 too…
While some heritage brands have built up a position so strong that their lead is unlikely to be challenged, others need to find ways to stand out from the crowd. What these five brands demonstrate is that it’s more than possible to do so by analysing both the competition and the marketplace, and focusing on soft power elements like packaging, storytelling, design and tone to give them the competitive edge.
Looking to harness soft power to enrich your brand?
Take a look at our case studies to find out how we can help.