When my two-year-old daughter decides she’s hungry, the call goes out for macaroni. Actually, it’s more a wild cry: “Macaroni! Macaroni! Macaroni!” To reach for anything other than a box of Annie’s Cheddar Mac, the one with the rabbit ears, would be a grave mistake.
We buy this stuff in bulk at Costco. To date, it’s the most comforting of all our daughter’s many fickle comfort foods. I came across a feature about Annie’s in the Hartman Group’s online newsletter, HartBeat, via a link from Food CEO. In a compelling analysis of the Annie’s brand called “Inspire Brand Love,” HartBeat singles out some key behaviors that set the company apart. Given that Annie’s took home NBJ’s 2009 Mid-Size Growth Award, these might be lessons to learn for any natural foods company hoping to connect in meaningful and lasting ways with its consumers.
Authenticity: HartBeat describes this as a consistent and effective “brand narrative,” often driven by the humble beginnings of a passionate founder. Annie Withey incorporated Annie’s when she was 27, selling her homemade organic mac & cheese out of her trunk at ski lodges, folk concerts and parking lots. She still lives on an organic farm in Connecticut. These details of perseverance and personal commitment to a cause make immeasurable inroads with savvy consumers.
Transparency: Annie’s is a company that behaves itself. From organic ingredients sourced from family farms to post-consumer recycled packaging materials, the company makes plenty of earth-friendly choices. Annie’s entire carbon footprint is offset through funds to Native Energy and their construction of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of St. Francis Wind Farm in South Dakota. The specificity of this civic-mindedness—the name of the actual wind farm Annie’s supports—goes a long way toward fostering credibility.
Playfulness: Brightly colored boxes. Rabbits. Sure, playfulness comes more readily to a company marketing food to kids and families, but a sense of positivism and joy carries across the brand. As HartBeat notes, corporate bios on the website carry photographs of key personnel not as they look now, but as they did years ago, as children. This is a playful but meaningful connection to the ultimate consumer of the product.
Wellness: By operating in the natural & organic space, Annie’s timed it right as larger consumer trends pushed sales toward healthy products. Add in a special focus on kids and families, and Annie’s quest for healthier snacking alternatives becomes all the more poignant. HartBeat makes this telling point: “For over 20 years Hartman Group research has seen that consumer decisions surrounding purchases of natural, organic or related products with a health halo are made in part because of the presence of children in the household.”
But the bottom line here is, well, the bottom line. NBJ talked with CEO John Foraker earlier this year about the company’s performance in a recessionary climate. “We saw strong growth across our whole business and in all the channels we serve,” said Foraker. Revenues grew more than 25% in 2009 to approximately $100 million. “We are well positioned for a tough economy,” said Foraker. “Because our products are natural and organic, that might make people feel even better about choosing this healthier option for their kids.”
Related NBJ links: