Solid science, proprietary positioning and carefully planned communication strategies all play an important role in the launch of new products and ingredients, says Pedro Vieira.
How can a manufacturer communicate the benefits of an ingredient that has proven health benefits yet lacks sufficient consumer awareness to make it an attractive buy for both consumers and manufacturers? This question has been posed by manufacturers of ingredients and end products alike when faced with a decision about launching new products into the market. However, only a few have successfully been able to achieve their goals. Through the combination of solid science, proprietary positioning, getting to market first and using carefully planned communication strategies, consumer products manufacturer Yakult, ingredients manufacturers Kemin Foods LC and Orafti have each created new, highly profitable categories and positioned themselves as isolated leaders within those newly created categories.
When talking about successes in the functional foods arena, Yakult is the first name that springs to mind to illustrate the creation of a new category and make it successful. Based on a vision of health through diet, Yakult was built upon the health benefits of live probiotic lactic acid bacteria, which help keep intestines healthy and functioning well.
This philosophy, plus marketing its brand in one package size, one design and bearing one uniform message, has yielded solid and impressive results, not only in Japan but also in the UK market. It is a success story from which all industries could learn.1 A strong component of this strategy was the timing of entry into the market—always first—which has given Yakult sufficient time to build category awareness followed by a strong brand awareness.
Building A New Category
In 1995, Kemin Foods LC patented the process for purification and crystallisation of lutein (a natural antioxidant found in most green leafy vegetables) and entered the market with FloraGLO brand lutein, thus establishing a new category for lutein. Kemin has been able to grow the purified lutein business into a multimillion dollar business worldwide by backing lutein's benefits in preventing degenerative eye conditions (age-related macular degeneration and cataracts) with solid science, along with a strong manufacturing patent and solid communication strategy. It also has been able to create a record consumer-aided awareness level of 55 per cent for the lutein category in the US market.2
In 1996, Kemin launched an ongoing US public relations campaign that has been extended to the UK and Italy. The objective of this PR campaign is to educate three different targeted market segments on the benefits of consuming lutein. The target groups are health care providers (ophthalmologists, medical doctors, nurses, patient support groups); business-to-business groups (pharmaceutical companies, food and beverage manufacturers, dietary supplements manufacturers); and end users.
Through the creation of the Lutein Information Bureau, an educational Web site on lutein and eye health, and through the creation of strong alliances with patient support groups, Kemin has been able to generate the needed support to educate these segments on the role of lutein.
Understanding the needs of the different market segments, Kemin focused on promoting lutein as 'the eye-protective nutrient,' giving lutein an overall healthy message. To solidify these communication efforts, it launched simultaneous public relations activities, relying heavily on press releases, and advertorial and editorial material. Having established a strong category awareness, Kemin established its own branding programme, developed simultaneously with a co-marketing programme offered to its customers. These two actions have led to more than 100 logo partners using the lutein FloraGLO brand logo on their final products. To date, these communications efforts are responsible for the 55 per cent awareness levels registered in the US and to some significant progress in both the UK and Italian markets.
Keep It Simple
It follows that consumers realise the full benefits of functional foods once they are fully aware of them. Belgian company Orafti, which centers its activities on the valorisation of the unique characteristics of chicory roots and rice, created the BENEO programme to communicate the health benefits of inulin and oligofructose to the consumer. The communication strategy was designed to create consumer awareness of the benefits of both ingredients, which ultimately would lead them to look for products containing BENEO. Orafti achieved this by creating a branding programme that made products containing the BENEO logo easily identified by consumers.
The message was simple: because products featuring the logo were easily identified and positive, these products did not make references to complicated health benefits. The health benefits and the science behind them were, in turn, transmitted directly to health care providers, who passed them on to potential consumers. Simultaneously, a toll-free line was established to directly answer questions posed by potential consumers or health care providers, and a Web site was created to give access to more detailed information on the benefits of the BENEO programme. Today, companies like Campina and Puratos carry products with the BENEO logo.
Through intensive consumer research, Orafti was able to determine specific needs of consumers seeking health benefits from functional products, and contrary to the common belief that health claims are necessary to promote functional foods, Orafti discovered consumers are not looking for elaborate health claims. Instead, they are happy to know that the product will promote an overall healthier gut flora that will lead to overall better health, leaving the complicated messages to be transmitted on relevant sources of information such as the Web site.
Of course, this strategy may not be appropriate or successful for all European countries, but it does serve as a cautionary lesson when so much emphasis and effort are being placed on on-pack communication of health claims for functional products.3
The three cases have used similar strategies, based on simple communications strategies, to ultimately reach consumer awareness and sales of new functional products/ingredients categories. Common to the success of all three companies is that their ingredients/products were scientifically proven, well-documented and patent protected; their timing of entry into the market was well-prepared; and they concentrated their efforts first on creating category awareness and only afterward on creating brand awareness. As a consequence of such strategies, today Yakult can boast a unique market share in the probiotic market, and both Kemin and Orafti stand alone in their unique markets.
1. Heasman M, Mellentin J. The functional foods revolution, healthy people, healthy profits? London: Earthscan Publications Ltd, 2001.
2. Market Facts 2002.
3. Extracted from Foodingredientsfirst.com.