Beyond The Whole-Grain Aisle: Bob's Red Mill Aims To Broaden Brand Appeal

Since being founded in 1978, Bob’s Red Mill has grown into a dominant player in the whole grain and natural foods spaces. The company is now pursuing growth by trying to reach a broader, general market, with the goal of doubling its consumer base by 2030.

To accomplish that, the brand is investing in marketing beyond the performance channels it has historically occupied into broad brand-building channels, backing these efforts with its largest-ever media investment, including CTV, linear TV, social media and digital display.

CPG Insider caught up with Bob’s Red Mill Senior Vice President, Marketing Allyson Borozan, who joined the brand from Kellogg’s last year, to discuss the brand’s strategy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

CPG Insider: What can you tell me about Bob’s Red Mill’s decision to shift its marketing to focus more on brand building?

Allyson Borozan: We are about a $400 million company, with about 15% household penetration, and the heart of our business is really in natural foods channels. Bob Moore started the company 40 years ago, and he really focused on small regional grocers and co-ops, and grew the business to where we're among the top natural brands at Whole Foods and Sprout.

But our whole product line is essentially in these retailers, and so we really need to look elsewhere for growth.

We're trying to broaden our footprint and our consumer appeal.  A big part of that is that we need to build more awareness and affinity for our brand, and make sure that it appeals to this broader group of consumers.

We invested a lot in this strategy. We hired Blue Chip as our media agency partner, because we need more media to reach these consumers. But we also invested in segmentation to identify who are these consumers of the future.

Can you describe the audiences you’re trying to reach?

Our primary target is someone we call the “gather and grow” consumer. They're kind of how you would expect a natural consumer to be: they shop at farmers markets, they go to natural foods stores, they're really interested in ingredients, sourcing, farming practices and sustainability.

Another target we identified is a group we call “epicurean explorers.” They like all of those things about the food itself and food quality, but are more involved in cooking and entertaining, and spending time with family, exploring new restaurants and cuisines, traveling and purchasing different brands.

So the “gather and grow” consumer purchases from brands like Whole Foods Trader, Joe's and Newman's Own, and the “epicurean explorers” purchase a broader range of food brands, as well as more premium and lifestyle brands like Tesla and Nike.

We're really trying to tap into more of who this person is and their behaviors and attitudes, versus just the products they purchase and the kind of health or natural inclinations they have.

Can you speak to the media strategy of evolving beyond the performance marketing channels the brand has typically focused on?

When I joined the company, we dug into the business and noticed that we were actually losing household penetration. We realized we had essentially around 80% of our media and marketing tactics focused on consideration and conversion, and only 20% on top-of-the-funnel tactics driving brand awareness and reach.

The gold standard in the world of CPG is usually around 60-40, so one of the first things we needed do was to start moving toward that ratio to help us broaden brand reach to these new consumers and build awareness.,

We had not worked with a media agency in the past two or three years, so we conducted a search to find the right media agency partner, which led us to Blue Chip. The current media plan started running in June and will run through September.

We’re using existing creative which we tested to see if it would perform, because it was shot about two years ago but ran minimally. The testing showed it would drive short-term performance, so we worked with Blue Chip on how to spend our media budget to broaden the appeal, reach a wider audience, and bring in more new consumers.

Will a future stage of the brand evolution also include new creative more focused on brand identity? How are you defining the brand differently than you might have in the past to build reach with new consumers?

The brand identity question is something we’re trying to figure out right now.

Bob Moore is a real person. He started the company 40-plus years ago, and just turned 94. He’s no longer involved in the day-to-day, but we call him our quintessential brand ambassador; he will always be a part of our brand.

But we needed to understand who we are as a brand beyond Bob. There are a lot of characteristics of our company that are important to take forward. For example, we’re employee-owned, which creates a little bit of a different culture. Our connection has been through our founder and through our products, and what we really want to do now is establish a more emotional connection with these new target consumers so we can play a bigger role in their life.

It’s difficult as a mid-sized company competing with big CPG brands. So it’s really important we come in with a unique point of view, which involves taking the time to think more creatively about how to approach that than some of those bigger companies might be.

Step one for us was really the segmentation of identifying who are these new consumers and then building this media plan; and the second step is to evolve the brand and communicate with this new target. We're in the process of doing the brand work and will be shooting for a new creative campaign, which we plan to run across various video and print channels in 2024.

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