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How Birds Eye’s B2C team revived the brand’s fortunes by picking the right battles

Birds Eye won the ‘B2C Brand Team of the Year’ category at The Drum Marketing Awards 2019 with its ‘Must Win Battles’ strategy. With the 2020 event now open for entries, the team give us an inside look at their successful setup.

The challenge

Birds Eye is a market leading frozen food company, owned by Nomad Foods, the leading European Branded Frozen Foods business. The Birds Eye Marketing Team comprises of 20 individuals and is responsible for driving the growth strategies for the core brands such as Captain Birds Eye Fish Fingers and Birds Eye Garden Peas.

Prior to 2017, the brand had suffered five years of significant decline during which brand performance deteriorated rapidly. The Birds Eye brand team were given responsibility for driving the execution of an ambitious change in marketing strategy o turn around the fortunes of the brand.

The strategy

Fundamentally this was about a shift in direction from a previous ‘master brand’ strategy, which drove a single campaign and visual identity and strategy across the entire brand and a focus on innovating in new spaces - to a new strategy based on the principle of ‘Must Win Battles’.

This strategy centred on winning in the market by developing focussed marketing and communication strategies at a product sector level - for example Fish Fingers or Peas – rather than a total brand level. A ‘bottom-up’ approach rather than a ‘top down’ one.

Six ‘must win battles’ were identified which capture the essence of the core of Birds Eye’s business: Fish Fingers, Coated Fish, Chicken Dippers, Chicken Grills, Peas and Inspirations - collectively representing around 75% of sales.

The team was restructured around these ‘Battles’ with a supporting communications and media team to support the execution of campaigns and manage effective agency and media channel relationships. The marketing teams executed the core business plans to revive the core of the business - but in each case also used their collective ingenuity and entrepreneurship to put in place activities and took a number of risks in order to break new ground for the brand and modernise.

This included product improvement programmes, innovation in relevant new spaces, new brand campaigns and a refreshed media mix and to maximise reach and effectiveness.

The campaign

Over the first year in the new structure, the team developed collectively its own model of operation and entrepreneurship, under a model self-defined as 80-15-5, which is described with examples below:

80% Core - executing the core brand plans to reignite consumers relationship with the brand and deliver the annual growth targets.

Examples:

• The highly successful reboot and modernisation of Captain Birds Eye, after a ten-year absence - the team introduced a new, more authentic character to the screens, communication of product benefits and the wholesomeness of fish fingers, to overcome barriers to consumption of artificiality and naturalness of fish fingers.

• A new vegetable campaign ‘With Love from Birds Eye’, which celebrates the love that generations of farmers put into growing our peas, and then the goodness that peas provide families.

• The Winner Winner, Birds Eye Chicken for Dinner campaign, which celebrates the wholesome entertainment and fun that products like Chicken Dippers bring to family mealtimes.

• A new media model, which recognised the need to get the right mix between TV, VOD, Social Media advertising in order to maximise communications reach. This has been highly successful and the Return on Investment from media, as proven by econometric studies, has improved by 24%.

15% Reframing - putting in place activities, whether innovation, PR or media which stretch consumers perceptions and modernise their experience of the brand.

A step change in media experimentation through channel and media partnerships; for example, a successful partnership with Snapchat to celebrate Captain Birds Eye’s 50th anniversary with a unique Captain Lens - and a partnership with Buzzfeed Proper Tasty to develop new recipe ideas for hero products in a fresh, modern and distinctive way; such as the Fish Finger Burrito and the Peas Buddha Bowl.

In addition, new product innovations have included a Gluten Free range of Fish Fingers, Coated Fish fillets and Chicken Nuggets; Sweet Potato Waffles; Katsu Curry Saucy Chicken – and the recent launch of ‘Veggie Bowls; which offer a high level of plant protein and 2 of your 5 a day in one serving.

Making intentional commitments and taking leadership positions in Corporate Social Responsibility – such as moving to 100% of fish products as Marine Stewardship Council certified, being founding member of the Plastics Pact and a leading brand within the Food Foundation / Veg Power initiative.

5% Moonshots - being ready to react and put in place brand activities and pounce on those cultural or news moments in which the brand has relevance, in order to drive spikes in consumer engagement.

The #Solidaritea campaign, which came out in support of parents after the Daily Mail attacked a range of well-known mum bloggers, accusing them of bad parenting for serving their children fish fingers. Birds Eye came out in support of parents and teamed up with the mum bloggers to make an award-winning piece of content.

The partnership with Veg Power – in which Birds Eye teamed up with ITV and all of the retailers to co-produce a bold campaign to encourage kids to eat more vegetables called Eat Them to Defeat Them, which has kicked off in January 2019 and received positive praise and coverage.

The results

The performance of the team drove a recovery in 2017 and an unparalleled growth achievement in 2018, where the strongest growth has been experienced for over 20 years.

In two years of operating with the framework and mindset, in combination with a more effective marketing strategy, the brand team has smashed its business targets and Birds Eye has achieved a second year of consecutive growth, following five years of decline. In 2018, the brand grew by 4%, grew its market share - and helped drive growth of the overall frozen food category.

The success of the team has given the business the platform and generated the cash to enable the acquisition of two new brands in 2018: Goodfella’s Pizza, which was acquired in April 2018 for £200m - and Aunt Bessie’s, acquired in July 2018 for £210m. The Brand team has expanded from a team of 20 to 30 to accommodate two major new must win battles of Pizza (Goodfellas) and Roast Dinners (Aunt Bessie’s) - and the team is currently going through the exhilarating journey of applying the successful Birds Eye model to the new brands.

Further to the development of the teams and success the business has seen, there has been a step change in the level of engagement of the team with the brand in the business. This is evidenced by the latest culture survey, in which there have been big increases across a number of measures.

This project was a winner at The Drum Marketing Awards 2019. To enter or find out more about 2020’s event, click here.

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