Dr Kevin Deegan, consumer insight manager at Valio, explained at a recent London event how the Finnish dairy co-operative had faced a crisis back in 2014 when it lost a significant proportion of its export markets when Russia imposed import restrictions on a range of EU agricultural products.
A glut of milk was turned into butter, but other dairy companies were doing the same thing and Valio had to find a way to set itself apart in a commodity market.
“We wanted to see if it was possible to make our butter into something that would be able to distinguish itself and stand out from the cacophony of brands that are currently available,” said Deegan. (For more details, read WARC’s report: The semiotics of butter: how Valio launched a premium brand.)
The company has some particular advantages at a product level. “We have the healthiest cows in Europe," he noted (farmers are incentivised according to how healthy their cows are) and that makes the milk they produce among the cleanest to be found anywhere in the world. The butter is double churned for a creamier taste and texture.
But these factors "weren't being presented, weren't being communicated to our visual identity and to our pack design, for example".
Working with agency 1HQ, Valio was able to identify where the brand might sit in a semiotic map for butter, where the existing market leaders using traditional cues fall into a “residual” category.
A “dominant” category utilises more current cues around organic purity and premium taste, while an “emergent” category tends to deploy sensory and experiential codes.
Aiming for “dominant with a hint of emergent”, research findings were translated into pack designs that moved from the generic to one with background and depth.
The result was launched in Poland in the middle of last year and in the first six months sold five and a half times more than predicted – and “we didn't spend a penny on marketing, zero”, said Deegan.
“Wherever we show this pack, regardless of where we are in the world, the first thing that hits everybody is ‘wow, that's got to be a premium butter product’,” he added.
Sourced from WARC