Consumers drive ingredient branding — but how far?

Ingredient-product positioning and branding have dramatically improved in recent years. Consumer manufacturers with new ideas, concepts and products are opening new markets, which for the natural products industry is resulting in increased sales and refreshing new brands.

But how far can a B2B brand go? The success of branded ingredients within the B2B food and beverage marketplace is undeniable — but should B2B suppliers really try to promote their ingredients to the consumer? What are the limits of ingredient-product branding?

If one looks at the drivers of the change, from 'old-fashioned' ingredients to today's sophisticated brands, it is clear that until the early '90s, the promotion of food ingredients was simple. They added taste, colour, texture, viscosity, mouthfeel and nutritional content to a finished food — improving the product, reducing cost and simply making the food manufacturer's life easier. Breakthrough innovations were relatively few as most ingredients offered incremental change sold as a technical innovation and/or benefit. In this environment, the call for branded ingredients, as we know them now, was limited.

The healthy-ingredient revolution changed this. Market-led ingredients suppliers realised that ingredients could no longer be sold solely on technical merit. Though a solid scientific platform is essential, successful product branding needs significant input from the consumer.

Although initially driven by suppliers of nutraceutical ingredients, this sea change in product marketing, which demands ever greater understanding of consumer trends and needs, has spilled over into almost every ingredient in the IFT or FiE.

Switched on, market-led suppliers have changed their whole selling approach by using science to complement consumer trends and demand. Always challenging, the food industry is now dancing to an extraordinary array of powerful and often contradictory tunes, such as:

  • a healthy diet … but indulgent, too
  • world food, exotic flavours and superfruits … without added food miles
  • low or reduced prices … when food-price inflation is at a high point
  • long shelf life, ambient products … with clean labels
  • cheap protein … but free-range, open-air, farm-produced poultry and stock
  • local provenance … but Fair Trade from afar
  • simple, easy choices in their local supermarket … but 20,000 items from which to choose

Detailed understanding of consumer needs and desires is required to inform and support the launch of any ingredient seeking to tap into one of these trends. At our agency, we've seen our most innovative clients change their whole language and market knowledge — from farm to fork — to ensure that brands are positioned with pinpoint accuracy from launch.

For example, they answer key questions around an ingredient that will address obesity: How exactly does it work? How can this be positioned to the consumer? How does this positioning play in focus groups with varied demographics? Are these consumers looking for weight loss or weight management? Do they know the difference? Who are they by age, social grouping, wealth and location?

An example of this might be a prototype cereal bar. A supply sample of such a product might not be enough to show market viability and potential. The truly market-led supplier will provide a packaged cereal bar with suggestions for front and back labelling, detailed research notes to support any health claims and defined target-consumer demographics. Examples of similar, successful products from other markets isn't a bad idea either.

Having done all this, many ingredient suppliers may be tempted to push their B2B brand further to push limits of brand equity and watch the value soar. After all, with such an impressive brand, supported by science and true consumer understanding, isn't it a good idea to follow Intel and Nutrasweet and create a B2C brand?

No. Good B2B branding is immensely valuable and lifts awareness, recognition and sales of an ingredient. So, too, does good consumer research and understanding, which helps sell the concept/ingredient to the finished-product manufacturer. But for the vast majority of ingredients, that is as far as it should go.

Why? Going B2C demands a step change in human, marketing and financial resources, which most ingredients suppliers are ill-equipped to provide. Promoting an ingredient to your customers' customers is a big risk — and one that, history shows, rarely brings home the bacon.

Henry Dixon is commercial director of Barrett Dixon Bell (BDB), an independent, full-service trade-marketing consultancy with a strong track record of executing highly successful, multinational campaigns.

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