Agency: McCann Erickson Author: Lesley Renton

The launch of Country Club Cuisine

INTRODUCTION

Prior to the launch of Country Club Cuisine into the frozen vegetable meal sector, the market was dynamic but still evolving, valued at approximately £20 million at the end of 1990 and with extremely low penetration despite extensive marketing activity from a large number of long-established, as well as niche, brands.

In May 1991, Birds Eye launched Country Club Cuisine. From the moment of its launch, new Country Club Cuisine, aided by its advertising and marketing support, succeeded in considerably growing the market to £41 million at the end of 1991 and achieved approximately 42% cumulative volume brand share in April 1992 (Madrid/AGB Superpanel Data). The brand took leadership for the April period, for the first time.

The dramatic launch and the demonstrative success of Country Club Cuisine represent a well exploited marketing opportunity to not only develop the right range concept for the time, but also to use advertising to immediately maximise the success of the Country Club Cuisine and, in the longer term, to sustain brand building and growth.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the launch of Country Club Cuisine into the frozen vegetable meal dynamic market sector, and to demonstrate the fundamental contribution which the 'Veg Head' advertising campaign, created by McCann-Erickson, played in making the launch a success. This success also contributed to the subsequent development of the new Country Club Cuisine brand.

MARKET BACKGROUND

Numerous research studies indicated a changing pattern in eating habits. An increase in demi-vegetarianism (meat reduction) and vegetarianism across all demographic sectors was clearly apparent. This was caused principally by the growing awareness of healthy eating and the general experimentation with food. Ethical and moral protest against inhumane farming methods, and various highly publicised food scares were also significant influences in turning more consumers away from meat. The 1988 National Health Research Survey indicated that approximately 66% of the population in the UK were cutting down or completely cutting out meat from their diet and eating routine.

The vegetable foods market was clearly fertile for brands which exploited the general trend of reduced meat consumption and many manufacturers were also launching new products, eg the Linda McCartney range. However, there were already several manufacturers such as Dalepak, the market leader, Tivall and private label brands with numerous products in this area. These competitive products were being aggressively promoted with PR, promotions and advertising, fairly consistently through time.

Country Club Cuisine had the disadvantage of being a late arrival into the vegetable foods market. As well as being relatively late to market, a significant number of negative consumer perceptions existed regarding vegetable meals, which needed to be addressed if market potential was to be realised and the Country Club Cuisine range developed to its full extent.

The undercurrent of consumer negatives at the time of launch can be described as follows:

  • Vegetable meals were perceived by many consumers as green, cranky, unpalatable or insubstantial. Users were caricatured as dedicated hippy weirdos.
  • Trial of the early pioneering vegetable meal products had proved disappointing in taste. This had led to rejection, and clearly reduced the potential of gaining further trial of new products easily.
  • Vegetables and vegetable meals were generally perceived by consumers as a low-interest category, and not a good substitute/replacement for fish or meat. In short the positioning for vegetables in many consumers minds was at most a side of plate accompaniment to fish or meat.
  • Consumers were conservative, practising the meat and two veg habit, which was guaranteed to be acceptable to the family and placed no particular demands on their cooking skills. Against this background, vegetable meals were regarded by many of these consumers as an alien concept, so immediately within this context any vegetable main meal product was likely to be met with some confusion and cynicism.

THE MARKET OPPORTUNITY FOR COUNTRY CLUB CUISINE

Market feasibility studies indicated that the trends of meat reduction and vegetarianism were likely to continue into the future. Since the market was still emerging, there was clearly an opportunity for something really new and different, such as a range which offered imaginative type recipe dishes to enter the market. Early research also indicated that a large number of consumers could be receptive and interested in a range of high-quality, healthy and convenient vegetable meals, with interest being increased if the range was produced by a mass market familiar household name.

Birds Eye had prestigious brand credentials in the established frozen vegetable sector with Country Club vegetables and, as the number one frozen food company catering for the mass market, Birds Eye was already renowned for high-quality convenience food.

In short, Birds Eye had the right credentials and the potential to occupy the high ground in this emerging vegetable meal category, by taking vegetable meal products out of their vegetarian-only niche position, thereby making them accessible and acceptable to the mass market, vegetarian or not.

Via the Birds Eye branding benefit and its associated reassurance factor, consumers could be guided through and even persuaded to overcome a mass of negative preconceived ideas. They could then be encouraged to enter previously uncharted territory and experiment with new vegetable meal products via a brand enabler like Birds Eye Country Club Cuisine.

THE COUNTRY CLUB CUISINE RANGE

In May 1991, new Country Club Cuisine was being launched. The Country Club brand prefix representing a proposition of 'the tenderest, sweetest, choicest quality vegetables' and the Cuisine brand suffix designed to emphasise the imaginative recipe factor and appetite appeal. Six imaginative product offerings were launched using familiar concepts which were made of vegetables. For example, Original Vegetable Quarter Pounders and Crispy Vegetable Fingers. In addition there were other unique concepts like Mushroom Feasts. On launching, the Country Club Cuisine brand was positioned as an everyday centre of plate range of vegetable meals for all the family - vegetarian or not.

The new Country Club Cuisine range was thus launched with the objectives of not only being a dominant force in the marketplace, but also generating fresh consumer interest in the vegetable meal sector. To achieve these objectives, Country Club Cuisine had to immediately address and resolve the deeply entrenched consumer misgivings, whilst in the longer term radically change the meat and two veg habit by providing the alternative meal solution. To change this habit of a lifetime, Country Club Cuisine needed to transform the consumers' view of vegetables from a side dish accompaniment to fish or meat, to a centre of plate main meal. Once consumers were acquainted with the concept of bringing vegetables from side of plate to centre, they then had to be persuaded to frequently eat Country Club Cuisine as an imaginative main meal centre as part of their regular eating routine.

THE COUNTRY CLUB CUISINE ADVERTISING STRATEGY

On a micro level Country Club Cuisine was launched into the emerging vegetable meal sector. This vegetable meal sector was dominated by Dalepak, with further competition arising from a large number of niche brands. Alternatively on a macro level, Country Club Cuisine was actually competing in the highly developed and massively competitive convenience food market place. This convenience food market was saturated with a large quantity of highly successful brands, all competing very aggressively for brand share and consumers. Many of these were already long established and historically committed to long-term brand building and advertising support.

The primary objective of the advertising was to create interest, awareness and drive trial of Country Club Cuisine among a broader target group than those currently using existing vegetable meal brands on the market - thereby expanding the whole vegetable meal market to solely benefit Country Club Cuisine. In order to achieve this objective, advertising had to fulfil a didactic function - not only was it required to change the way people saw and used vegetables but it also had to overcome many consumer attitudinal negatives surrounding the vegetable meal sector.

The main advertising target could be described as all those who were responsible for family catering and who were predisposed to cutting down on meat (white or red).

The role of the advertising was to exploit Country Club Cuisine's product benefit, with the consumer proposition being 'Only Birds Eye Country Club Cuisine creates vegetable meals with the best quality Birds Eye vegetables and imagination'. The advertising proposition for the Country Club Cuisine range was simple - imaginative and complete vegetable main meals from Birds Eye.

THE COUNTRY CLUB CUISINE CREATIVE RATIONALE

The creative device and the advertising idea for Country Club Cuisine was the Vegetable Head. These 'Veg Heads', which were imaginatively created from raw vegetables were a unique Country Club Cuisine brand property, as well as being specific to each respective product variant. The 'Veg Head' idea was campaignable across the product range and different media types.

The advertising comprised of one 30-second, three 10-second commercials and a synergistic press campaign.

The TV commercial itself featured a number of stop frame animated 'Veg Heads', created from the various imaginative combinations of vegetables. The animated 'Veg Head' sequence was intercut with magicking shots which then cut back into Country Club Cuisine product demonstration sequences.

The rationale and justification for the 'Veg Head' creative idea and its execution was based on the following:

  • Vegetables presented predictably as vegetables did not reflect the very new and different nature of Country Club Cuisine, but merely confirmed many consumers' preconceived view that vegetables were utilitarian, bland, boring and unexciting.
  • Imaginatively combined vegetables presented in a new and unexpected way, in this case as a vegetable head, would be more attractive, interesting, motivating, exciting and relevant. This would not only result in greater involvement in a commercial but also ensure a greater didactic opportunity because the sheer novelty of the 'Veg Head' approach could encourage reappraisal of these new look vegetables in the form of Country Club Cuisine and more importantly endorse vegetables as main meals.
  • Since the vegetable meal sector was previously uncharted and high-risk for many consumers, the use of the friendly 'Veg Head' gave the new Country Club Cuisine brand a personality and ensured greater consumer empathy and appeal. It was these points that served to make Country Club Cuisine more accessible and familiar.
  • The various 'magicking' sequences which showed the raw ingredients which composed the 'Veg Heads' magicking into the vegetable main meals. This confirmed that Country Club Cuisine products were complete vegetable dishes already prepared to consume - not products consumers had to create for themselves.
  • Throughout the commercial, it was essential to communicate that the Country Club Cuisine range was centre of plate. The Country Club Cuisine brands' main meal positioning was summed up with the tag line 'Country Club Cuisine vegetables you can make a meal of', so consumers were clearly being conditioned to recognise that vegetables in the form of Country Club Cuisine could be served as centre of plate main meals, thus changing consumer perception of vegetables as just accompaniments. To justify this main meal positioning, it was essential to reassure throughout that Country Club Cuisine products were tasty and appetising.

MEASURING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE COUNTRY CLUB CUISINE ADVERTISING

Since the plans for Country Club Cuisine were aggressive and ambitious, it was not only essential for the advertising to fulfil the core communication objectives, but also to measurably influence sales, maximise trial levels and awareness of Country Club Cuisine in the short term, in order to justify brand investment remaining above the line and the development of the brand in the longer term.

THE PROJECTED SALES EFFECT - PRE-LAUNCH ECONOMETRIC MODELLING ON IMPLEMENTED LAUNCH PLAN

In preparation of the Country Club Cuisine launch, the Burke Basis research model was used to predict and set ambitious sales tonnage targets for the new Country Club Cuisine brand. The Burke model is used by numerous marketers and reputed to be a most effective indicator of a product or brand's market potential and success.

All the marketing launch factors were taken into consideration in the development of the model (ie the media plan, media spend and media weight, distribution, price, the product, and the lack of seasonality). However, while the advertising was taken into account from a media spend perspective, the specific Country Club Cuisine advertising execution and the creative idea were not taken into account, nor was the possible advertising sales effect caused by this specific creative execution quantified.

The final Burke model predicted the sales tonnage figure for Country Club Cuisine, however the final projections were an underestimate of the success of the brand even before the end of the year. The sales tonnage figures based on all the marketing variable factors as implemented for year one, predicted a tonnage figure of 3,900 tonnes. In reality, less than a year from launch, the cumulative sales tonnage was 4,427 tonnes across the range. Burke had underestimated and actual tonnage was exceeded by 527 tonnes or +14% which clearly exceeded the accepted standard error for models.

The Burke Basis projected model did however make a few predictions and caveats prior to presenting the model and the creative route being finalised. Firstly, that the vegetable meal sector was dynamic and erratic. Secondly, that the advertising would play a critical and very major role in establishing Country Club Cuisine.

Clearly, whilst each variable marketing factor except the specific creative advertising execution had been accounted for, and behaved as predicted by the Burke model, the disparity of the actual versus predicted tonnage figures could only be accounted for by the one remaining variable, that is the 'Veg Head' advertising execution which had not been incorporated into the model.

THE ADVERTISING EFFECT ON COUNTRY CLUB CUISINE SALES

Country Club Cuisine achieved an exceptionally high level of sales volume for a new product launch in a relatively infant sector, simultaneous to achieving almost an immediate and growing sales momentum.

There was an inter relationship between advertising and the immediate generation and peaking of volume sales. Sales volume could be tracked back to each advertising burst indicating that the brand was not only advertising responsive, but that the advertising was immediately and effectively helping to build sales, causing sales peaks in the event of advertising, and sales troughs when the campaign ended.

The existence of these exaggerated sales peaks and troughs indicated that sales were advertising-elastic and advertising-influenced. With each successive campaign burst, the sales peaks and troughs remained influenced but with the sales trough and drop off post-advertising being reduced and increasingly marginalised, as well as sales levels being built to a higher and sustained level of sales peak indicating a decrease in advertising-sales elasticity. Clearly, the sales gains and resulting peaks were sustained to a level significantly greater than before the advertising.

This combination of a progressive decline in sales drop off and the progress of the sales peaks indicated that the advertising was not only effective in increasing sales in the short term, but also in building the Country Club Cuisine brand in the longer term with each successive advertising burst. Additionally, the extent of the peaks also indicated that new consumers must have been entering the market and were being persuaded to try. Monthly average Country Club Cuisine trial base was 55%, as well as remaining loyal to Country Club Cuisine via repeat purchase (average repeat purchase base = 45%) source: Birds Eye Walls Superpanel. It was indicators such as these that resulted in Country Club Cuisine achieving household penetration of 10.5% in just 44 weeks post-launch, against a pre-launch Birds Eye estimate figure for the market of 2% of households having 'ever tried' vegetable foods.

THE ADVERTISING EFFECT ON COUNTRY CLUB CUISINE RATE OF SALES

To further demonstrate the fundamental contribution of advertising to the success of Country Club Cuisine, it is essential to explore the grass roots sales effect of the advertising through the rate of sales per point of distribution. From the trade audit data, it can be seen that there was a significant uplift in sales for each Country Club Cuisine product and the range as a whole after the first advertising campaign burst indicating that advertising was both a catalyst and an influential force in the rate of sales increase.

The rate of sales figures indicated that advertising must have not only raised awareness of new Country Club Cuisine but motivated consumers to search out the new range to try and buy.

THE ADVERTISING EFFECT ON COUNTRY CLUB CUISINE BRAND SHARE

While advertising effectiveness can be judged across a range of brand and image criteria, ultimately in a competitive market the most sensitive barometer of brand share becomes the most topline and widely consulted indicator of a brand's performance versus the competition.

While the brand share data emphasised the success of Country Club Cuisine via an immediate gain and quantum leap in brand share terms, once again the growth of Country Club Cuisine brand share coincided and can be attributed to the success of Country Club Cuisine advertising.

From the brand share trade audit data presented in Table 1, there was clearly an overriding pattern between Country Club Cuisine advertising activity, Country Club Cuisine brand share noticeable gain, and the huge losses in brand share of Dalepak and private-label brands.

TABLE 1: AN OVERVIEW OF VOLUME BRAND SHARE

CCCDalepakPrivate-label
13/4/91073.526.5
11/5/91073.526.5
8/6/91074.325.0
6/7/912.572.422.5
3/8/9113.064.525.0
31/8/9117.560.921.6
28/9/9120.559.619.8
26/10/9122.858.218.9
23/11/9124.357.318.4
21/12/9125.756.717.6
18/1/9241.648.310.2
15/2/9242.145.412.5
4/3/9241.446.412.2
11/4/9241.945.712.3
Source: Madrid/AGB Superpanel ending 11 April 1992

The loss of competitive brand share in a market growth situation suggests that the advertising was not only effective in aggressively launching the Country Club Cuisine range, but also in generating a climate of brand switching away from competitive brands including the brand leader, by creating a brand preference for Country Club Cuisine - with both new and existing consumers.

The positive gains and developments in Country Club Cuisine brand share clearly illustrated that the advertising had not only been effective for the said advertising period but also in contributing to the longer-term market objective of evolving Country Club Cuisine into the brand leader with competitive edge with the trade (brand share determined as a guide to sales potential and a key to distribution gain) and ultimately with consumers.

The sheer extent of and the speed of brand share gains, and their positive manipulation via advertising, prophetically signalled that Country Club Cuisine could at any time be brand leader in the vegetable meal market sector in the immediate short-term period.

From Table 2, which demonstrated the volume sales for the total vegetable foods market, it was evident that after the launch of the Country Club Cuisine brand, and the resultant advertising campaign, the market had experienced total sales uplift, and real market growth.

TABLE 2: THE ADVERTISING EFFECT AND THE GENERATION OF REAL MARKET GROWTH

An overview of total sales volume in the vegetable foods market

PeriodSales volume
(000 Kilograms)
23/3/91483.5
20/4/91505.8
18/5/91525.7
15/6/91575.9
13/7/91662.9
10/8/91750.3
7/9/91750.8
5/10/91676.6
2/11/91654.6
30/11/91654.7
28/12/91629.8
25/1/91685.1
22/2/92666.1
21/3/92634.0
Source: Nielsen 21/3/92

Such levels of growth in volume terms suggested that the advertising effect of Country Club Cuisine acted as a catalyst in generating real growth, either by encouraging frequency of purchase of existing users, but more likely by attracting new users into the market.

While real growth was an original Country Club Cuisine launch objective, it was essential that Country Club Cuisine not only capitalised on but directly benefited to the maxim from the growth effect generated by advertising investment, by taking maximum sales from the established brands. From the volume brand share figures, it was apparent that Country Club Cuisine took brand share from all the market players with immediate effect, and most notably the market leader Dalepak, systematically and consistently to undermine the degree of competitive advantage.

The combination of market growth and the creation of a brand preference for County Club Cuisine over the competition, generated immediate trial which gave Country Club Cuisine a significant advantage, because of the brand's extremely high levels of repurchase.

CONCLUSION

The new Country Club Cuisine range had achieved immediate and dramatic levels of success less than a year from its launch, based on the trade audit data available. While its measured success could be attributed to a number of factors, for example product excellence, the advertising campaign was a fundamental influence, catalyst and determinant to large levels of success experienced by the Country Club Cuisine brand.

While the Country Club Cuisine range was totally right for the time and could capitalise on and develop the trend of demi-vegetarianism and meat reduction, advertising provided the point of discrimination over and above Country Club Cuisine's unique product values against the long established and numerous competitive brands.

The Country Club Cuisine product range was clearly assisted by an advertising proposition of imaginative vegetable main meals from Birds Eye, and the creative representation of the advertising proposition in the form of the Country Club Cuisine 'Veg Head' advertising campaign. It was the combination of Country Club Cuisine plus its advertising which markedly transformed the market less than a year from launch, generating market volume and value growth of 100% (Madrid/AGB Superpanel) simultaneous to generating extremely high levels of sales and brand share figures ensuring the new product was not only successfully launched, but was also a resounding success.

In conclusion, therefore, less than one year from launch and a relatively average level of launch advertising support on TV and in press, new Country Club Cuisine was quickly approaching the market leadership position in the short term, as well as providing an advertising message and product solution to change the meat and two veg habit of a lifetime handed down from consumer generation to generation in the longer term.

Country Club Cuisine, assisted by its advertising campaign which raised awareness, motivated and persuaded consumers to try and buy, had moved vegetables onwards and upwards on the meal time menu and, with consumers, transforming the image of vegetables from a mere bland, boring and unimaginative side dish accompaniment to meat or fish, to an imaginative recipe centre of plate main meal for all the family to regularly enjoy - vegetarian or not.