2020 Category Captains Award Winners
Created in 1903, Abbott’s nutrition business is a division of Abbott, the global health care company. As a leader in nutrition science, research and development, the company’s goal is to deliver nutrition products and education that meet the changing needs of families across the world. Abbott is behind some of the world’s most trusted names in pediatric, adult and healthy-living nutritional product brands, including Similac, PediaSure, Pedialyte, Ensure, ZonePerfect and Glucerna.
When the pandemic peaked, Abbott experienced a 25% increase in online household sales of its products. Abbott began to hear from retail customers that 50% of consumers were staying loyal to their retailer of choice, but that there would be significant risk of losing the consumer if the retailer was out of stock on key items.
In response, Abbott implemented a strategy of using insights from a longitudinal study across sales, shopper marketing, marketing and category data. The company built a COVID Numerator dashboard and created a phased approach to long-term readiness reacting to buyer feedback to inform future waves, including e-commerce WIC/SNAP impact and store readiness for the next COVID surge.
Abbott also implemented a tiered approach to distribute inventory accordingly, based on consumer shifts in demand, and had secondary placement for pediatric brands, leveraging immunity claims. The company removed promotions during the first month of COVID to maximize inventory distribution. It drove awareness of Pedialyte in later months for stock-up trips during COVID-19 surges, supported retailers with paid search and incremental investment to ensure ease of on-site navigation, and continued to drive digital awareness through paid media.
All of these efforts led to $10 million to $14 million in additional shipments for national mass retailers, improvements in site navigation for the SNAP shopper, and adjusted shopper marketing campaigns to leverage digital acquisition and tactics. Further, as for that new COVID dashboard, it’s now being used by leadership to forecast trends, and by retail buyers to take on additional inventory shipments.
Before the pandemic, Anheuser-Busch was widely recognized by customers as the best category supplier when it comes to inventory planning. When the pandemic hit, the company leveraged global insights and learnings to ensure that it was ideally positioned to serve retailers. From raw materials procurement to advanced analytics to merchandising recommendations, Anheuser-Busch largely mitigated out-of-stock issues across major packs and brands.
One trend that the company identified initially was that shoppers wanted larger pack sizes and trusted brands. Therefore, Anheuser-Busch worked with retailers on pallet programs on top core packages to meet shopper needs and provide convenience in their pre-planned trips.
The company also predicted growth in the two largest in-home drinking occasions, “Relax” and “Meals,” and recommended 360-degree retail toolkits to activate, building awareness pre-shop and in-store, and engaging post-shop. Anheuser-Busch also developed an e-commerce playbook that recommended solutions to make online shopping experiences seamless, focusing on both delivery and curbside pickup initiatives.
Retailers saw the results of the Anheuser-Busch-provided category and shopper-centric insights, recommendations, and solutions. A major grocery retailer’s director of alcohol says: “Anheuser-Busch is best in class at providing insights on how COVID impacts retail, and in providing recommendations on future merchandising efforts. Anheuser-Busch is the best supplier at managing supply and communicating, early and often.” This retailer’s beer category has grown 26% and gained share of market during the pandemic, due to its strategic response based on Anheuser-Busch’s recommendations.
Beyond the retailer and shopper focus, Anheuser-Busch continues to place heavy emphasis on its Better World initiatives, supporting communities through the Red Cross, providing hand sanitizer to front-line workers and donating emergency drinking water. The company ensured the safety of its people while providing temporary pay increases to front-line operational staff, and taking great pride in reallocating resources from on-premise to off-premise, with zero layoffs or furloughs. Finally, Anheuser-Busch continues to invest in training and development to ensure that its team is prepared to best serve the needs of shoppers and retailers during the next “new normal.”
Cacique, one of the country's top Mexican food brands, rolled out various strategic pivots related to production, marketing and public relations to solve challenges posed by the pandemic.
On the production front, Cacique saw 200% increases in orders from its retail customers in March. In response, the Cacique team made the strategic and nimble decision to double down on production of its core items, including Queso Fresco, Cremas and Chorizo, keeping products in stock when consumers were most in need of groceries. Cacique has since been able to increase production of the remaining items within its portfolio.
The company also pivoted its marketing efforts due to the pandemic. The brand launched Season the Day, a new creative campaign kicking off with a social media series meant to add a pinch of excitement to the family dining table by helping food lovers connect virtually with others at a time when consumers were craving both new dining experiences and a sense of connection. Inspired by the increased popularity of Zoom gatherings with loved ones, Cacique launched the campaign by partnering with top chefs in Mexican cuisine, including long-term brand partner Chef Aarón Sánchez, to share recipe demos on Cacique social channels and contests for winners to join the chefs for exclusive virtual meal gatherings over Zoom throughout the summer.
Finally, despite in-person earned media and travel opportunities being limited by the pandemic, Cacique was able to leverage its celebrity chef spokesman to drive strong earned-media features related to Cinco de Mayo. In place of an in-person New York City media day with Sánchez as originally planned, the brand pivoted to pursue a series of remote virtual media appointments and locked in both broadcast and one-on-one interviews with key media outlets by offering demonstrations of a recipe sure to resonate with consumers across the country: nachos made with “pantry staple” ingredients they were likely to have already stocked up on. Cacique generated 76.6 million earned-media impressions during this key time frame for the brand.
During the peak of the pandemic, Chiquita Brands knew what was coming. The company had been monitoring stockpiling grocery behavior in Europe and predicted the trend would likely affect North America as well. As a result, its supply chain was able to load additional fruit for the North American market in advance of the surges in panic buying and avoid shorting customers on bananas.
Chiquita’s supply-chain response also allowed the company to transport conventional fruit to new customers during the height of panic buying, and allowed for immense expansion of services to current Chiquita customers during those key weeks. Now, in the later days of the pandemic, Chiquita has established plans and protocols to adapt to shifting industry needs. Using a B2B portal developed in 2019, it has offered virtual training for store employees and educational white papers for retail partners, and will be hosting a webinar for customers this fall.
The company has also grown the banana category during a difficult year by translating marketing methodologies into strategic executions. Among these, secondary displays and cross promotions have proved to be most effective. The secondary displays encourage consumers to purchase more Chiquita bananas while also increasing purchase frequency. An activation at a major Midwest retailer generated 4.8% volume sales lift, 1.5% increase in household penetration, and 1% increase in basket penetration. In summer 2020, Chiquita expanded this program to a retailer’s additional divisions, as well as implemented the program with new customers. Subsequently, the expanded program resulted in a 2.2% lift for one customer within one week.
Meanwhile, Chiquita has been upping its social media game. This year, the company deployed a sticker activation in partnership with Spotify. Through the campaign, consumers were encouraged to scan the code on their banana for a customized playlist to enjoy various stay-at-home activities such as cooking and working out in a playful way. The campaign garnered 102 million impressions.
Further capitalizing on the digital momentum while promoting the health and safety of consumers, Chiquita leveraged the iconic blue sticker on social media by removing iconic brand mascot Miss Chiquita, noting that she was leading by example by staying safe at home. In her absence from the blue sticker and while in-home consumption was trending up by 65%, Miss Chiquita used Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to promote innovative banana-centric recipes.
The Coca-Cola Co.
As the longest-standing sponsor of the Olympic Games, the Coca-Cola Co. had planned its category management initiative for summer 2020 around the Tokyo Games. When the games were postponed due to COVID-19, Coca-Cola worked quickly with retailers to pivot its program. Using a data-driven approach, Coca-Cola shifted to what it calls the Coke & Food program. At the end of March, Datassential reported that cooking and eating at home had increased by 42% since the onset of the pandemic. Leaning into these insights, the company anchored its program around the Coca-Cola brand and the action of sharing a summer meal at home.
Coca-Cola worked with retailers to activate a cross-category program bringing together everything shoppers need for meals at home. Imagery and promotions focused on trending at-home summer meals such as tacos, pizza and backyard grilling – paired with Coca-Cola and the campaign headline “Together Tastes Better.” The program was customizable for retailers, allowing them to choose the food pairings that best fit their regions and shopper demographics.
The activation leveraged in-store product displays and signage while extending outside the store through TV, geo-targeted digital ads, radio and out-of-home promotion. Retailers offered coupons for Coke-and-food bundles that also featured unique recipes. Coca-Cola cans displayed Sip & Scan icons that shoppers could scan with their phones to unlock a digital experience, The Coca-Cola Kitchen, featuring exclusive videos of celebrities and influencers cooking and sharing recipes and memories.
The campaign proved a success for all parties. From July 1-Aug. 15, 2020, Coca-Cola grew 19% and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar grew 24% compared with the previous year. One prominent Southeast grocery store chain reported a 30% increase in sales of Coca-Cola and a 44% increase in sales of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar during the 13-week period ending Aug. 22. Another food retailer in the Northeast reported that retail dollar sales for participating brands and packages accelerated 23% versus the trend. As a result of the program’s success, Coca-Cola plans to launch Coke & Food 2.0 in 2021 to continue driving value in the grocery channel.
Dole Food Co.
At the height of the pandemic, Dole Food Co. launched a new sustainability framework, The Dole Promise, featuring three pillars: nutrition, sustainability and the creation of shared value. The company’s efforts to drive innovation in the fresh fruit and salad categories helped not just Dole, but also all retailers, fulfill that promise to shoppers this year.
At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Dole worked with retailers in planning for the pandemic’s effects on shoppers, including fewer shopping trips and larger basket sizes, health and wellness as a priority, and new financial constraints. Dole rolled out a two-color banana program that met the needs of pandemic shoppers, allowing them to buy bananas that will serve their families’ consumption needs for a week. Retailers that executed the program outperformed competitive trends.
Dole also leveraged healthy immune-building products and created a vitamin C awareness campaign centered on pineapples, increasing sales for retailers. As a result of learnings from the Great Recession more than a decade ago, Dole helped retailers execute more private label programs and pricing initiatives for retail at the expense of branded share. Dole worked with retailers to adjust pricing and promotional strategies using a custom revenue price optimization tool to adjust promotional plans to maximize margins, remaining competitive and avoiding out-of-stocks.
Dole also helped retailers grow organic bananas sales. One in three banana shoppers buy both organic and conventional bananas; retailers with a larger percentage of organic banana sales saw greater overall increases, and Dole helped those stores with space allocations.
Finally, Dole’s 2020 innovations focused on high-growth segments. In salads, Dole expanded ready-to-eat bowls by adding varieties and size options, resulting in increased retailer performance and 93% branded growth. The pandemic affected in-stock rates on staple products, so Dole used social media to educate consumers on plantains. As a result, plantain volume increased 2%-5%. The company, with its focus on increasing collaboration with retail to reach new category heights, is truly fulfilling The Dole Promise of nutrition, sustainability and the creation of shared value.
E. & J. Gallo Winery
In a year that brought unprecedented consumer attention to the topics of diversity and inclusion, E. & J. Gallo Winery brought new meaning to innovative, profit-generating category management. The company continued to grow the wine category with its Women Behind the Wine (WBTW) program. This 360-degree campaign, comprising digital promotion, in-store merchandising, online education and scholarship opportunities, highlights women involved in Gallo’s brands, from vine to wine to bottling and labeling. The campaign also provides scholarship opportunities to women in the wine, spirits, hospitality, viticulture and food industries. Gallo made a significant investment to raise consumer awareness for the WBTW program at a time when diversity and inclusion has been foremost on consumers’ minds.
Technology was heavily leveraged to drive sales via a digital campaign geo-targeting wine drinkers shopping in 6,300 stores in key markets, and the digital campaign yielded more than 28 million impressions. Custom study insights confirmed that the program resonated with consumers, since 60% of consumers look for brands with a sense of purpose, and 84% of consumers want companies to address women rights issues.
The brands selected for the WBTW program fell within the fine wine price segments (ultra-premium-plus). The fine wine business represents a critical segment for category growth for retailers — 13% ultra-premium-plus versus 5% total — so participation in this program helped drive further growth and increase total store basket size. For example, when ultra-premium-plus wines are in the basket, the total store basket increases from an average of $54 to an average of $145, since shoppers purchase several other food items. The WBTW program helped not only drive sales in the wine category (sales ranged 30% growth on select program brands) but also total store sales.
Gallo didn’t just win with its diversity efforts this year, however; the company also quickly executed supply-chain adjustments (pre-configured pallets door to floor) to ensure that retailers remained in stock on key brands during COVID-19 panic-buying surges.
The company has always strived to be a catalyst for change and equality. The WBTW program proved to be a success in fueling both dreams and confidence for women in the industry while simultaneously supporting retailer customers and growing the wine category.
When the COVID-19 crisis began in March, Hershey was in the middle of restructuring its everyday chocolate assortment segment. The company had modified its brands and packaging to improve noticeability at shelf. In March, Hershey relaunched its assortments portfolio with 14 new national listings and a new display vehicle. Just as the new portfolio began to hit the market, the COVID-19 outbreak led to unpredictable consumer demands, temporary labor shortages and supplier challenges.
Fortunately, Hershey’s supply-chain team was able to rise to the challenge, working closely with internal demand, supply, transportation, sales and category management teams to meet the increasing demand at retail and deliver a high level of customer service, with a case-fill rate well ahead of the industry average. Additionally, the new portfolio was able to satisfy the dramatic shifts in shopper behavior during the crisis, which included an increase in chocolate consumption and “stock-up” buying.
Hershey’s new assortment strategy paid off, as the category increased 28% in the food channel, with Hershey pacing growth at 67%, regaining share leadership within the chocolate assortment segment (51.8%). In 2021, Hershey will continue to innovate within the segment to capture emerging shopper demand within the new COVID environment.
As a category leader in both retail and foodservice, Hormel Foods understands how trends affect both channels and how consumers navigate each of those, even during a crisis. When the pandemic hit, though, all bets were off. Panic buying ensued at retail grocery, e-commerce skyrocketed, and consumers stopped going to restaurants.
Hormel immediately went into action by prioritizing production of foodservice-inspired items to provide the restaurant experience to consumers who were staying home. In addition, the sudden acceleration of online grocery shopping led Hormel to build a strong relationship with its e-commerce retailers. With one national retailer, the company worked side by side to conduct a full evaluation of its online versus offline assortment. Hormel analyzed the incrementality of the items that were missing online to understand which items would be best suited to fit the needs of those consumers. These key assortment changes helped the retailer meet the needs of online consumers and increase sales.
During the COVID peak, the company saw sales increase as high as six times normal weekly sales. These sales have maintained their growth at more than two times that of pre-COVID-19 sales. Given the growing trend of e-commerce in the CPG world, Hormel has been investing in the development of premier e-commerce activation. This includes developing best-in-class analytics and insights to help drive the e-commerce business forward. Hormel has now launched e-commerce-specific items for key e-comm accounts. In creating and developing these items, the company has partnered with key retailers to ensure that these new products would meet the needs of consumers.
Hormel also prioritized production to maximize the supply of highest-impact items to best meet retailer and consumer needs. Additionally, trade reduction efforts were deployed to control demand and funds were reinvested into the e-commerce space to align with key channel shifts. Investments have been made into out-of-stock insights to further understand retailer implications, stage product through supply-chain efforts, and improve demand planning and inventory build.
As a result, Hormel brought more than 22 million new buyers to key brands, with an average of 52% of them being new to the category.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Idahoan Foods experienced double-digit growth nationally and a 92% share of flavored mashed potatoes, facilitated largely by partnering with retailers on assortment, promotion and shelf optimization. Early in the pandemic, the company teamed with IRI on a study to help mitigate out-of-stock risks while leveraging category growth opportunities brought on by COVID. Idahoan shared the study results with its retail partners and was able to keep product flowing through its plants and to retailers’ shelves. Despite multiple consecutive weeks of “best-ever” sales, with some weeks reaching a more than 200% lift versus the prior year, the company retained a 98.5% service level in March.
When sustained sales increases depleted safety stock, Idahoan moved to an allocation and suspension program in which about half of its SKUs were suspended and those remaining had volume allocated to retailers based on historical volume. This maximized the amount of product flowing through to retailers and, eventually, consumers.
Each step of the way, Idahoan leveraged past work and present analytics to make fact-based decisions. Through past category management work with IRI, Idahoan had a deep understanding of item-level substitutability as well as which items served unique roles for key consumer groups. This allowed for a better understanding of which items Idahoan should keep active and which could be suspended temporarily.
Idahoan also added several new key accounts, including a major national pharmacy retailer and a regional home improvement chain. Past analytic work on household penetration, buyer profiles and associated marketing activities have informed how best to market to the 4 million new households that the company has added during the pandemic. Idahoan’s marketing team created Project PULL to engage and retain these new households, resulting in a 10% buy rate increase.
In 2019, Kellogg Co. began investing in capabilities to provide a data-driven eating “occasion” framework. Challenging itself to rethink eating occasions, the company was studying the “snackification” of America and how to identify new opportunities to grow market share in certain categories. Then COVID-19 happened, and Kellogg had to reinvent its “perfect portfolio” for all-new eating occasions.
The company first decided it needed to focus on supply: It took a disciplined approach to ensure it had the best product supply on its highest-velocity SKUs. Kellogg focused efforts on its main assortment process, SLAM (Shopper Led Assortment Management). Through this process, Kellogg was able to proactively discontinue 79 SKUs with little to no impact on overall dollar/unit sales.
This freed up much needed capacity for the supply chain to focus production on high-velocity SKUs to ensure better in-stock rates for retailers and consumers. As a result, sales were up in ready-to-eat cereal, portable wholesome snacks, crackers, salty snacks, frozen breakfast and frozen vegetables.
Another category-building strategy that Kellogg refined this year focused on Pop-Tarts. Because Pop-Tarts is a beloved brand among Gen Z, teens had been taking Pop-Tart selfies by replacing the phones in their hands with Pop-Tarts, and posting the photos to their social feeds. Kellogg tracked this trend and built on it for its Pop-Tarts social campaign. The company gathered a diverse group of teens and let them do what they do best: take tons of selfies in their authentic home environments. The COVID stay-at-home reality was perfect for this effort, and Kellogg directed the teens via a remote shoot, communicating over video chat. The campaign was so successful that it grew from a carousel into a paid ad, slightly updating the concept to mimic a TikTok trend popular with consumers. Through it all, Kellogg kept the food and the brand as the focus, always making sure to highlight Pop-Tarts’ iconic shape and frosting.
As it looks to 2021, Kellogg will continue to monitor its portfolio to ensure optimization for retail partners’ categories and consumers, as well as keep track of what teens are doing with Pop-Tarts on social media.
From a small restaurant to a leading producer and marketer of refrigerated salad dressings, cheeses, dips, sauces, apple cider and freeze-dried herbs, Litehouse Foods is a leader in the food industry with innovation and great consumer products, maintaining a strong commitment to the employees and communities in which it operates. When COVID-19 hit, Litehouse quickly applied that commitment to address the evolving retailer and consumer landscape.
The company immediately focused on e-commerce growth, strengthened the growth of product lines across categories and reimagined ways to virtually engage with customers. With consumers spending more on groceries due to stay-at-home orders, retail demand jumped significantly. As an essential business, Litehouse continued operations while adjusting to better support retailers and employee owners, and quickly implemented new facility processes, including a temporary pay increase for front-line workers and an increased overtime premium for employees working tirelessly to fulfill customer orders.
Meanwhile, shifting consumer behavior led to an influx of online grocery platform users. Within weeks of stay-at-home orders being implemented, Litehouse had launched several promotional campaigns in the United States and Canada on e-commerce platforms. Through one partnership, Litehouse paid the delivery fees when consumers added its products to their carts and met minimum order requirements, resulting in thousands of redemptions and an average of 2.5 new products per redeemer; about 88% of redemptions came from new consumers
Litehouse shelf-stable and value-sized products continue to be a growing priority as consumers stock up on grocery staples. Value-sized Litehouse products experienced strong growth during the pandemic, driven by increased purchase frequency. A produce category manager notes that Litehouse Homestyle Ranch and Blue Cheese dressings have been up year to date and, due to this success, the manager’s retailer “can’t wait for the new flavors.”
This growth inspired Litehouse to continue focusing on e-commerce opportunities for its product portfolio. Earlier this year, the company’s Sky Valley, Organicville and Green Garden pantry-friendly products were added to one retailer’s website and saw three to six times the sales growth of previous months.
Litehouse also shifted planned marketing as the coronavirus shut down cities across the country. A summer barbecuing influencer campaign promoting Litehouse Simply Artisan Cheese pivoted to at-home family celebrations. The strategic marketing shift resulted in 16% growth during the weeks of promotion, compared with the same period in 2019.
Encouraging impulse purchases has always been challenging. Then came the e-commerce era. Then came the COVID-19 era, and Mars Wrigley knew it was critical to help retailers capture missed in-store and online impulse sales by keeping confections top of mind for consumers shopping in-store or online.
So what did Mars Wrigley do? It created a custom paid social campaign to remind consumers that they could still purchase its brands from the safety of their homes and drive traffic to online retailers. The company kicked off work in mid-March, and within a week, it had tapped into the agility of its in-house creative team to quickly create new shoppable digital commerce ads across Mars Wrigley brands. The campaign was unique in not only how the media buy was split across retailers, but also in how it leveraged in-platform shoppable features.
The campaign proved highly successful in boosting online confection sales. Online retailer traffic increased 4,000%, with more than 3.3 million clicks across the ads. The ad units themselves had a two-times higher click-through rate when compared with Mars Wrigley’s typical benchmarks. When the ads were running, retailer sales doubled.
In addition to this impressive campaign, Mars Wrigley partnered with a regional grocer this year to conduct a neuroscience study that included electroencephalogram testing and eye tracking to better understand what the shopper was looking at online, and how the brain reacted to that content. Mars Wrigley then used the findings to implement optimized visual navigation and hero imagery with the retailer, driving conversion and engagement from search pages.
Mars Wrigley continued to be a key partner for grocery retailers in 2020 by driving digital purchases amid one of the most challenging retail landscapes in decades. Mars Wrigley’s commitment to growing the grocery channel continues to be a top priority as it brings quick-turn solutions to ensure the success of its retail partners and the category.
Milo’s Tea Co.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Milo’s Tea Co. has been accelerating several Big Data initiatives to streamline planning and manufacturing processes as well as to provide clearer visibility of finished products. The company is also using large data sets to inform forecasting, production scheduling and capacity calculations.
Milo’s is in the process of upgrading its inventory realization and warehouse management systems. During the first half of 2020, it worked to have more visibility of finished products in its facilities, and during the last half of this year, it will be working to add full visibility to the movement of finished products from its facilities to customers’ facilities. This system will be fully operational early in 2021.
The company has also been making progress with the addition of new electronic data interchange (EDI) carrier transaction types. With these new transactions, Milo’s will receive GPS information directly from the carrier so it can track outgoing shipments in real time. This will allow the company to better serve customers and provide product tracking from its dock to customers’ doors. Additional newly implemented EDI transactions have accelerated shipment scheduling, saving countless hours.
Along with these advances in technology, Milo’s has launched a stage-gate process, which allows for corporate collaboration on new items, investing decisions and large projects. This process gives Milo’s the ability to streamline planning and collaboration across the organization for repeatable positive results. By the end of 2020, this process will be systemically supported from end to end with software solutions.
When the coronavirus shut down bars and restaurants, at-home drinking occasions exploded as shopper anxiety about going to retail stores grew. Sensing a massive opportunity, Molson Coors ran the first-ever TV spot highlighting the ability to get beer delivered. As a result, beer e-commerce sales accelerated, and shoppers’ awareness of buying beer online doubled.
Molson Coors’ e-commerce leadership extended to the digital shelf, where it’s critical that shoppers can find the items they want. Based on its research, Molson Coors recommended “alcohol” as a top navigation panel, followed by a sub-navigation panel for “beer,” “wine” and “spirits,” followed by beer page navigation for each segment. Its recommendations led to a 5% increase in ease of finding, a 6.3-second improvement in shoppers finding their preferred product, and an 8% spend increase.
To help generate awareness, Molson Coors created “Buy Beer Online” tabs on its brands’ websites, enabling shoppers to see, after entering their ZIP code, all retailers in their area that allow online order for delivery or pickup of beer. Shoppers are then driven directly to a retailer’s site to make their purchase.
The work, resources, and thought leadership that Molson Coors has driven in the wake of unprecedented beer e-commerce growth will pay dividends in the beer category for the balance of 2020 and well beyond.
Amid the ongoing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in communities across the country, Monterey Mushrooms has taken its special responsibility as a food supplier seriously, when it comes to satisfying consumers and retailers alike. Specifically, the company has been helping retailers large and small maximize sales and profits in the category while the industry has been dealing with supply challenges.
In one example, Monterey helped a smaller retailer in the Midwest grow its organic segment to industry average or better while ensuring overall category sales and profits didn’t fund the organic growth. Monterey helped the retailer set everyday goals, relocating organics in the base set and fine-tuning promotions. As a result, organic share grew from 10.5% to 15.5% while the total United States averaged 13.5%. The retailer’s total category posted 21.3% sales growth, 21% unit growth, shrink reduction of 21.7% and net profit growth of 29.5% over the same time last year. Monterey’s efforts helped prove that even in a pandemic, a category can achieve desired goals.
In another example, this time with a national retailer, Monterey worked with the retailer to put in place a promotional plan focusing on larger-size packages that provided the following 26-week results over the same time last year. Overall category sales grew 26.3% while the total U.S. market averaged 20.7% growth. Overall category units grew 16.4% while the total U.S. market averaged 15.6% growth, and overall category pounds grew 17.5% while the retailer’s market was at 17.1% growth. The retailer showed a shrink improvement of 34.1% and net profit results of 45.2% over the same period last year.
The COVID environment has challenged almost every supply chain. What most retailers ask for first is supply to support their past category trends. One of the best strategies today is larger packages, priced correctly. Monterey is proving that even though this strategy is a big win for consumers, it’s an even bigger win for retailers.
The world changed in March, and Nestlé Purina had to change with it. The company, which operates a highly renowned retail innovation center (RIC) in St. Louis, normally offers retailers an immersive and exploratory category management experience in person. When the pandemic forced everyone to stay put, Nestlé Purina had to digitize its RIC content over a period of 10 weeks. That turned out to be a soaring success.
The virtual RIC not only allowed Nestlé Purina to continue influencing retailer engagements, but it also helped the company expand its reach and category influence with both new customer accounts and cross functional audiences within existing retailer partners. The new virtual RIC has also become a tool for internal teams at Nestlé Purina to help cultivate retailer needs upstream in the product development process. The virtual RIC is additionally influencing category strategy at some of the company’s top customers, driving actionable solutions and incremental business opportunities each time.
For example, Nestlé Purina leveraged the experience with its No. 1 customer to inspire and co-create new ways to drive dog treat category growth. These ideas are now being developed for market implementation and wouldn’t have happened without the virtual RIC. Meanwhile, Nestlé Purina’s category experience design (CXD) team tackled the notoriously challenging wet cat food shopping experience this year. The ultimate goal was to build a shopper-centric solution, but to consider the needs of the retail stocker and picker as well. The company immediately got to work trying to fully understand the frustrations or pain points for each of the core audiences.
The Nestlé Purina team ended up devising an elegantly simple solution that solves the needs of the stocker, picker and shopper. Highlights of the final design include:
- A color-coded system with key search elements highlighted for ease of picking,
- Shelf dividers with UPCs attached to make stocking more efficient, and
- Clear product labels enhanced under each SKU, with distinct forms and proteins called out for easier shopping.
The solution has proved to be a success, with shoppers purchasing more items, stockers having an easier time keeping the shelf clean, and pickers becoming more efficient when searching for items. Sales have been strong for both Nestlé Purina and the total wet cat food category, and the plan is to expand beyond testing into a scaled rollout in the future.
The COVID-19 pandemic was tailor-made for Pharmavite, the parent company of Nature Made, which had already been working on developing and introducing new immunity products featuring vitamin C, vitamin D and elderberry earlier in the year. When consumers and retailers started seeing surging demand for immunity supplements, Nature Made’s immunity products were already available on store shelves.
Still, the Pharmavite operations team adapted quickly to ensure a healthy supply chain, including identifying co-packers, ordering raw materials, instituting 24/7 line operations and heightening already stringent safety protocols in manufacturing facilities. Operations also shifted production to focus on the unprecedented consumer demand for products that support immune health.
Pharmavite also began collaborating more closely with retail partners to improve the shopping experience both in-store and online. The company’s assortment optimization process uses many sources of data. Employing space management software, Pharmavite identified gaps in item placement and white space where vitamins could help improve sales.
In addition, as many shoppers turned to e-commerce for their supplement needs during the pandemic, Pharmavite helped retailers manage their online assortment and image libraries to address the surge in online shopping in response to the public-health crisis. As a result, online sales at many top retailers have tripled in the category.
Internally, Pharmavite’s leadership team responded quickly to protect the health of its employees and shifted its office-based workforce to remote work. With many employees adjusting to remote work for the first time, Pharmavite has provided ongoing support ranging from upgrades in collaboration/technical tools to offering remote safety training, ergonomic assistance and employee assistance to manage such challenges as burnout, stress and other related issues resulting from this new normal.
How do you grow a flat category in the middle of a pandemic? Pompeian Inc. was certainly up to that task this year. After all, even before COVID-19 hit, the company was already working on proprietary research to help resolve consumer confusion in the olive oil category. Pompeian found that consumers spend more than 10 minutes trying to decipher olive oil benefits, the difference in types and how best to use it.
As Pompeian was designing an education campaign to eliminate confusion and unlock category growth, COVID-19 drastically changed shopping behaviors of olive oil buyers. All of a sudden, sales in the olive oil aisle were booming, and the company had to pivot to focus on keeping shelves stocked and fulfilling orders faster than ever. Pompeian revisited operations to speed up orders, ensure stable prices and eliminate shortages. As Pompeian accelerated its distribution network, many olive oil brands bottled outside the United States were slowed by recent tariffs.
As pandemic demand moderated, however, Pompeian went back to the education campaign aimed at easing buyer confusion, and the company went a step further, also zeroing in on COVID-19 shopping trends, shifting its pre-shop communication to focus on health and usage, taking the guesswork out of shopping and getting consumers in and out of the store quickly. Pompeian evolved its search/paid social targeting from regional to national, had organic/paid social media spotlighting healthy pantry-staple recipes, and teamed up with WebMD to promote EVOO’s health benefits.
Additionally, because retailers weren’t accepting in-store promotions, Pompeian introduced new purchase/sales-driving tactics to increase online volume, including paid search and a Walmart/Amazon direct-to-cart influencer program, after uncovering the fact that 36% of April’s category buyers ordered online (Pre-COVID, it was 14%).
As a result of Pompeian’s pivots, a major e-commerce giant selected Pompeian to be its majority olive oil partner for its first 2020 retail grocery launch, and another major retailer gave Pompeian a supply-chain award. As of July, while overall CPG category sales had trended back to normal, olive oil still showed double-digit gains, up 25.7% (31% year to date), with Pompeian bolstering the category, growing 32.1% in July.
Reynolds Consumer Products
The Reynolds Consumer Products (RCP) category management department’s mission is to be among the very best in class when it comes to category management. A clear example of that mission was the company’s collaborations with retailers as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Many retailers lost shoppers during the early COVID days of pantry loading and panic buying as consumers made fewer trips, shopped closer to home, and preferred smaller, less crowded retailers. RCP decided to collaborate with IRI to study pandemic shopper behavior. The data spotlighted an opportunity to convert retained buyers to new categories. As a result of the IRI work, RCP was able to help retailers post unprecedented growth in the cooking and meal prep category, up 29% versus a year ago, as consumers began to cook at home more often.
The collaboration with IRI and retailers has resulted in a stronger partnership and the ability to extend that collaboration to adjacent categories to increase penetration of household categories and improve overall store performance.
In addition, RCP unveiled another innovative partnership this year: Reynolds, a retailer and consumer insights firm Numerator all teamed up to design research to understand the role of private and national brands in the waste bag category. The study included both panel analysis and a consumer survey. The data showed that national brands attract more middle- and high-income households. If price were equal, shoppers would prefer to buy national brands, but many consumers switch between private brands and national brands throughout the month due to price and budget. Therefore, it’s imperative for retailers to offer both national-brand and private-brand bags to enable shoppers to trade up and trade down throughout the month. This information has become the foundation for item-level assortment reviews and promotion optimization that will improve the shopper experience, drive loyalty at the retailer and maximize waste bag category sales.
Rich Products Corp.
While it’s important to offer careful planning based on shopper insights, followed by flawless execution, an equally important skill set is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and adjust strategies in real time, based on quickly evolving information. That’s the situation in which Rich Products Corp. found itself this year.
The family-owned company partnered with Disney and Focus Brands to launch a Carvel brand “Frozen 2” Ice Cream Cake to capitalize on the November 2019 debut of the highly anticipated “Frozen 2” movie, working closely with the Disney team on in-store marketing support and social posts from the Rich’s-owned I Love Ice Cream Cakes website and media platforms to drive demand.
However, as markets began implementing COVID restrictions, Rich’s quickly adjusted its social media content, email and influencer campaigns to focus on the theme of making celebrations at home special, and tweaked assortments to emphasize more family-friendly sizes as opposed to products geared toward larger gatherings.
Rich’s pivoted further to eliminate its fourth quarter holiday free-standing inserts to reallocate dollars to digital promotions such as paid searches on retailers’ e-commerce platforms to attract new customers. The efforts paid off as ice cream cake sales increased 35% during the early months of the pandemic.
The company’s nimbleness helped it drive substantial growth in a category where it has a 77% market share, with sales growing by solid double digits in a category where growth typically averages 1%-3%. The results that Rich’s achieved were the culmination of a successful new product and of quickly shifting marketing activities after the onset of COVID-19 to a digital approach, both of which brought new shoppers and improved the Carvel brand buy rate by 25% from March through June, with an 84% increase in buyers who were new to the brand.
The company’s efforts also benefited the overall category, too, with shoppers buying ice cream cakes more frequently, eating more frozen desserts, and creating new “just for fun” usage occasions, as opposed to only celebrations.
Thai Union North American (Chicken of the Sea)
Shelf-stable tuna popularity reached new heights during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers began loading their pantries, and Chicken of the Sea was uniquely poised to meet this unprecedented demand due to the company’s supply-chain optimizations. Whereas other companies were unable to surmount challenges ranging from fishing-port closures to border restrictions interrupting their ability to buy from their suppliers, Chicken of the Sea was able to keep up with demand and, in turn, its parent company Thai Union reported a 50% jump in shelf-stable seafood sales in March alone.
During this period of record sales, the company recognized both an opportunity and a challenge. A significantly higher percentage of the population purchased canned tuna in March compared with its average consumer penetration, offering an opportunity for these incremental households to reconsider tuna from a taste, health and sustainability perspective, and to remain category purchasers moving forward.
At the same time, Chicken of the Sea recognized that consumers would be less likely to return for future category purchases if they didn’t use their stockpiled products. It became critical that the company increase tuna usage in Q2 to maintain category purchase frequency, so Chicken of the Sea quickly pivoted toward a consumption-driving plan with an emphasis on states with the highest brand penetration, and therefore the biggest purchase rates. This consumption-driving plan featured a paid search campaign, brand website optimizations, strategic paid and organic social media content, influencer partnerships, and a PR push driving coverage of the brand’s pantry-friendly recipes and featuring a partnership with celebrity chef and registered dietitian Ellie Krieger. This PR generated more than 156 million impressions to date, including results from distributing an advertorial, “Ways to Make Healthy Meals at Home with Pantry Staples,” which ran verbatim in newspapers and on online news sites across the country and drove more than 10 million impressions.
Chicken of the Sea also refused to compromise on its category-leading sustainability efforts despite challenges presented by the pandemic. Thai Union was quick to adopt e-observers, e-reporting, e-logbooks and e-audits on fishing vessels, boasting impressive technology leaps that allow for transparency and traceability even when people are unable to be there to physically observe the processes.
White Castle Food Products
If there’s one thing that wasn’t surprising about 2020, it’s that consumers started craving comfort foods to deal with all of the challenges being thrown their way, from a deadly virus to racial unrest to an extremely contentious election. That’s why what White Castle Food Products did this year to make the most of these challenges is nothing short of amazing.
The company leveraged a three-pronged strategy to lead its category management through a tumultuous year. Strategy No. 1 was to focus on growing and supporting its “Craveable Core Six” — the SKUs most capable of building sales and profits for the company’s partners. White Castle launched its first creative campaign for restaurants and CPG, Long Live Sliders! The campaign connected with consumers and partners through an invitation to quell cravings that resonated.
The second strategy was to evolve the brand from transactional to transformational by capitalizing on an ability to create memorable moments. White Castle hosted a one-of-a-kind Valentine’s Day “reservations only” soirée with sliders in the parking lot of a major Southwest U.S. partner. The steam-grilled sliders even inspired an impromptu wedding proposal — not to mention a strengthened partnership by creating a traffic-driving event.
After COVID-19 hit, the company pivoted to caring for workers at its eight food-manufacturing plants, while also supporting front-line first responders, retail workers and educators with special offers.
The company’s final and third strategy was “Be Brand Smart and Street Smart.” White Castle hired a shopper marketing agency with big plans for the second quarter of fiscal 2020. When the pandemic turned the world upside-down, the team came together to focus on ways that the company could support consumers through the new realities they faced. By understanding shoppers’ needs and purchase journeys, the team built a multilayered digital and in-store campaign to showcase fun and unexpected slider-based recipes that add variety to weekly meals. Consumers found creative eating solutions that also encouraged filling their shopping baskets with easy-to-find ingredients from other aisles in the stores. Looking at 2021, White Castle will continue to prioritize “feeding the souls of craver generations everywhere” and driving growth in the frozen burger category.
The pandemic forces that caused consumer goods suppliers to demonstrate tremendous agility the past 10 months also created a new type of category related to helping keep shoppers and store employees safe. SmartGuard UV has demonstrated a new type of leadership and innovation for disinfection that warranted recognition as a Category Captain. The robots, Cart Wash and other disinfecting products can currently be purchased or leased directly through its website or by reaching out to its sales team.
SmartGuard UV, in partnership with Fetch Robotics, manufactures what amounts to a Roomba for retail, an autonomous mobile robot (AMR) that roams store aisles to sanitize the environment with UV light approved by FDA. A single SmartGuard AMR can cover 50,000 square feet, roughly the size of a typical food store, in an eight-hour period before returning to its charging station. Once there, it uploads reports to the cloud so retailers have the assurance that every square foot of the store was covered, which can be more difficult to verify when humans are involved in the process. The unit kills 99.9% of all bacteria and viruses, promoting health and wellness while freeing employees for other tasks and minimizing the potential for human error and the inconsistent application of sanitization protocols.