Triscuit spreads a little zeitgeist on itself
Everyone, it seemed, was suddenly talking about eating locally grown produce, cutting down on salt, eschewing processed food. Trans fat was last year's battle. The latest cause (backed by Michelle Obama, no less) was all about eating fresh and local. Women who wanted healthy, colorful, fresh food for their families were looking askance at packaged snacks that come in boxes and can sit on the shelf for months.
The execs at Triscuit crackers saw the handwriting on the wall. They realized that they had a tough audience to win over if they wanted to keep sales from dipping. "Our target is no-nonsense, down-to-earth women over 35 who tend to be skeptical," says Leslie Waller, Triscuit brand manager. "Research showed they respond to genuine, straightforward products, and struggle with finding healthful snack choices." Along with calories and salt, these women were increasingly wary of the long list of strange, artificial-sounding ingredients listed on the packages of most snack foods.
It didn't help that Triscuits, a 107-year-old brand, is now owned by Kraft Foods, maker of Cheez Whiz. It dawned on the company that the reliable tactic of distributing online recipes using Triscuits along with other Kraft ingredients was no longer going to cut it.
So what's a
cracker company to do?
Instead of the obvious - focusing on the brand's healthy whole grains - Kraft zeroed in on the product's simplicity. Triscuits are made of only three ingredients: wheat, oil and salt. From there Kraft took a big, nonlinear leap to backyard vegetable gardening, aka the "home farming" movement, which research showed is an activity very close to the heart of the core Triscuit consumer.
A new campaign was launched in March that hinged on the sponsorship of new urban farms around the country, including one on the grounds of the Kraft plant in the Chicago suburbs. Seed packets were put in four million Triscuit boxes, and online and offline ads drove people to a new informational community site triscuit.com/homefarming. tv celebrities backed the effort, boosting online buzz and star power for the modest, salt-of-the-earth brand.
For Kraft, it was an intuitive connection: "Triscuits stand for simple goodness, with simple ingredients. To make a point that the brand [represents] getting back to basics, we looked to the simple joy of home farming," says Waller. Growing food "can be intimidating to some, even though they want to enjoy fresh produce," so the brand could serve as a gardening coach.
But would such an indirect, emotional approach actually sell more crackers? You might be surprised.
The first step was a partnership with the nonprofit Urban Farming organization to create 50 community vegetable farms in 20 cities, including Los Angeles, Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Tampa. The branded farms, planted between mid-March to mid-June, are tended by local volunteers who will get the produce when it is harvested. HGTV's Gardening by the Yard host Paul James was enlisted to visit some of the gardens and his advice is featured on the dedicated Triscuit site.
IPG's Momentum handled the farm openings and Havas' Euro RSCG developed the digital and print ads and a television spot promoting the farms and the site.
Banner ads were placed on gardening and women's lifestyle sites; the 15-second TV spot ran in May and June on the broadcast nets and cable channels DIY, TBS, MSN and others. Two full-page ads and advertorial packages ran in Real Simple magazine.
Edelman oversaw the PR component, which included blog outreach and tweets via Kraft Foods' Twitter account. The PR peak was in mid-March, when Urban Farming founder Taja Sevelle appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' TV show, where she and DeGeneres planted a garden bed and promoted the campaign. In following months, the show aired updates about DeGeneres' Triscuit-branded veggie garden.
In addition to offering expert advice, the new site was meant to be a community hub for people who want to share tips on how to take care of their own home farms or want to volunteer at an Urban Farm. You can answer a few questions and the site recommends the right type of home farm for you. You can also read what others have posted in the user forums. However, you must register to post your comments to the forums or start a new discussion group. If you register you can also list your vegetable garden on a map of North America. By late June, several hundred home farms had been listed all over the United States and deep into Mexico and Canada, but oddly, not a single farm had been posted in California.
Interest in the site was steady, if not overwhelming. By mid-June, there had been 260,000 unique visitors to the site and more than 2,000 people had registered, says Waller. Within the same three-month period, 677 comments had been posted in the community discussion groups on the site.
In comparison, a summer promotional contest for Kraft's Philadelphia Cream Cheese managed to get over 5,000 women, mostly age 35 and older, to upload videos of themselves preparing their favorite recipes.
Most important, Waller says the campaign has helped increase Triscuit sales. "Since March we have seen positive business results," she states. "Revenue is up year-over-year and that is being attributed to the home farming campaign."
Bloggers had decidedly mixed reactions to a food corporation like Kraft planting itself in community gardens. "Cynical observers may play this down as a marketing trick by a company famous for processed foods ... but getting people to appreciate the hard work it takes to bring forth food from the land is a wonderful idea, even if the instigator has additional motives," posted Hemi Weingarten at fooducate.com.
"The leap from snack crackers to backyard farming isn't the most logical one in my mind. The last place I'd go for gardening advice is a Web site advertised on the back of a snack cracker box," snipes Matt Hickman, an eco-living blogger.
"Ironically, by churning out highly processed foods, Kraft and its ilk have allowed us to bury the memory of what it means to grow our own food. Perhaps Kraft officials think Big Food can be absolved by tossing a fraction of its fortunes towards urban plots that will, realistically, feed very few people. ... I don't need the mammoth corporation that manufactures Velveeta to help me prepare a bit of earth for cultivation," blogged Kristi Ceccarossi, cofounder of bostonlocalvores.org.
"My Triscuit box advises that I get on board the 'home farming' movement. WTF? Isn't that what my garden is? I despair for my nation," tweeted SassafrasMama.
But the Triscuit marketing team is unfazed by the critics.
Waller says Kraft sees the Triscuit home farming initiative as "more of a movement than a marketing campaign," so the effort will stay alive well into 2011, and possibly beyond. This fall the site will follow the user farms through harvest and cover the culmination of DeGeneres' TV garden. Though gardens go dormant in much of the country during winter, the campaign won't take a break, Waller says.
With a social movement, you can't turn it on and off, Waller insists. "When we decided to go this way we knew it would take continuous motion." But then again, when your brand has survived more than 100 years, commitment is not exactly something new.