Friday, September 3, 2010

Jessica Buttimer, Clorox

By Noreen O'Leary on Mon Sep 14 2009

For Jessica Buttimer, Clorox Green Works wasn't just a pet project. It was a cause, rooted in her "very liberal" upbringing. The daughter of a Peace Corps worker, Buttimer joined corporate America to make a difference.
But the Marin County mom, an active hiker and supporter of local organic farmers, was also aware that there needed to be a good business reason for Clorox to get into the green space. At first, that didn't seem so obvious.

"The biggest challenge was the whole orthodoxy that this wasn't a big enough idea. The category was so small at the time. There were so many consumer barriers two and a half years ago involving price, perception of efficacy, availability at stores, trust," says Buttimer, referring to the market for green cleaning products. Buttimer pegs that niche, at least at the time Clorox was studying it, at somewhere south of 1 percent. "It was too small, too emerging and the size of those barriers too large."

Buttimer found a way to overcome those barriers and convince Clorox to roll the dice. The result was a success, not only in ecological terms, but measured in the other kind of green as well. Six months after Green Works' January 2008 launch, the line had surpassed Clorox's initial projections, posting sales of $13.6 million, according to IRI. (That amount does not include sales at Walmart.) As sales have continued to climb, the line has sprouted into new areas like detergents and stain removers. Buttimer's belief that the category would grow was also confirmed: The green segment now accounts for about 3 percent of sales of all U.S. cleaning products, and Green Works commands a 45-50 percent share of that.

It's no secret that Clorox is stealing share from other entrenched green brands. For the 52 weeks ended Aug. 9, Green Works' all-purpose cleaner posted a 96 percent increase in sales while a comparable product from Method was off about 20 percent and Seventh Generation, down 15 percent, per IRI.

In retrospect, it all seems so simple, but a green product by a major consumer packaged-goods company was hardly a guaranteed hit. None of the other major players—Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser—have one (although SC Johnson has since jumped in with its Nature's Source line and Church & Dwight has introduced a green line called Arm & Hammer Essentials), so Clorox's launch was clearly a gamble. But Buttimer had a hunch that there was an audience for a mainstream green product that didn't cost too much.

The target psychographic, says Buttimer, "was a pretty mainstream consumer who wanted to take small steps toward a greener lifestyle. She's not necessarily a member of the Sierra Club, doesn't wear Birkenstocks or live in the Bay Area. The relevance was there for her, the access was not," she says noting that pricing and distribution addressed those barriers. "We did things like shelving Green Works next to conventional cleaning products, not next to green ones."

Pricing also helped. In a category of green products selling at 50-100 percent premiums over conventional brands, Clorox is holding to a 15-20 percent difference. Bill Patterson, a senior market analyst with Mintel, Chicago, says he expected the green wave to crest as the economy faltered, but Green Works has defied those predictions: "We were surprised that Green Works took off the way it did but we feel that confirms the latent pent-up demand that exists for these products when done right."

Buttimer refers to Green Works as Clorox's "small, social brand," and its launch broke ranks with the more media-driven conventions of its larger corporate siblings. Her team, including Marc Umscheid, who took over as Green Works' marketing director in November 2007 when Buttimer went on maternity leave prior to launch, has placed heavy emphasis, appropriately enough, on grassroots marketing. Clorox gives away Green Works samples at eco festivals and events, has become active on Facebook and reaches out to influential bloggers. Last month, Green Works announced a new partnership to host a yearlong series of clothes swapping and recycling events around the country.

In an effort awarded at Cannes this year, Clorox used the high-traffic, filthy entrance to San Francisco's Broadway tunnel as a product demo opportunity. Working with agency partner DDB West, Clorox got an artist to use Green Works to etch out drawings of plants and trees on the wall in an effort known as "Reverse Graffiti" that soon became a YouTube hit.

So did Buttimer achieve her dream of making a difference? Stacey Grier, chief strategic officer at DDB, says the initiative was a triumph for Buttimer as well as Clorox: "Jessica put her heart and soul in this launch. This was a passionate project for her, and she loved and believed in the product concept."

Team Hormel

By Michael Applebaum on Mon Sep 14 2009

Well over a century ago, George A. Hormel was asked to explain what shrewd business strategy was responsible for his company having survived the Panic of 1893. His response: "I think it was the sausage."

He actually wasn't kidding. For 118 years, Hormel Foods has prospered by offering high-quality foods in convenient packaging at affordable prices. Today, however, if someone asked how Hormel has managed to survive the Great Recession of 2008, the answer might be: It was the microwavable sausage.

Make that Hormel Compleats, a line of quick-serve meals added to a long list of product hits, including Dinty Moore Beef Stew (1935) and Spam (1937). But no heat-and-serve meal can do $200 million in sales without the right thinking behind it. For that, you have to credit Robert Pepper and Brett Asay, group product manager and senior product manager, respectively.

What's more, this pair of humble Hormel veterans comprises the entire bare-bones marketing team on the Compleats brand. "Why are there only two of us? Hormel's always been a lean organization," says Pepper, pausing momentarily to consider the pun.

Pepper's boss, vp-marketing Scott Aakre, further illuminates the Marketer of the Year duo's contributions, from the time Pepper and Asay rebranded the former Microwave Trays line in 2007 to this past year, when Compleats distanced itself from top rivals and solidified its stranglehold on the category. "Brett drove the execution of the [restage] project from start to finish," says Aakre. Pepper "inspired the team and kept the project moving forward."

At a time when food and beverage brands are launching questionable new products (carbonated milk, anyone?) and extensions that endlessly segment the market, Hormel went back to basics. It delivered a portable lunch option that could be easily stored and quickly prepared for about $2.50 per meal. In the process, it established a new usage occasion for a harried workforce and expanded the market for convenient meal solutions.

What's more, Hormel has hardly broken the bank on advertising. It spent a mere $3.8 million on ads for Compleats last year and about $3 million through the first half of 2009, per Nielsen.

"Compleats is a great example of taking a consumer insight and executing the heck out of it," says Ken Harris, managing director of Cannondale Associates, Evanston, Ill. "They proved you don't need huge amounts of marketing dollars to convince people they need a product."

Nor did Hormel have to reinvent the wheel with Compleats. The line—whose varieties include Spicy Italian Sausage and Cheesy Manicotti—uses a shelf-stable meal technology first introduced in 1987 with Hormel's Top Shelf brand. In the mid-2000s, Hormel discovered a far more successful formula in its Micro-wave Trays brand. But the product had a flaw: The bland packaging was a case of form not following function. "Consumers weren't sure what was inside the box," Pepper says. "When we [repackaged and] revealed the tray in a sleeve compartment, consumers knew what it was and how to use it."

That revelation led to a name change too. "Shoppers didn't know how to [recommend] 'Microwave Tray' to a friend or write it on a shopping list," says Asay. "'The name Compleats refers to the complete nature of the product as well as the 'good eats' diner idea."

Hormel continues to employ the same lone TV ad to promote Compleats' message of convenience: a slapstick 30-second spot (via BBDO, Minneapolis) in which office workers—after being told by the boss that they have only 10 minutes to eat lunch—trample one another in a stampede to get food. Meanwhile, the only employee smart enough to have socked a Hormel Compleat package in her desk drawer ("a satisfying meal that's ready in just 90 seconds!") noshes in triumph.

So far, Pepper and Asay's efforts have paid off for Hormel. For the 12-month period ending June 14, 2009, Compleats was up a strong 4.76 percent to $86.35 million in sales in the $272 million microwave package dinner category, per Information Resources Inc.

Next up for the duo? A focus on promoting portion control and healthy living. "We're pretty happy with the way things are going," says Asay.

Hmmm. Must be the sausage.