Despite that they’re not consumer-facing, ingredient suppliers can’t ignore the power of effective branding and marketing to demonstrate the value of ingredients in a finished product, says ingredient marketing consultant Anderson Partners.
“It’s really about selling ingredients in a way that provides benefits and value to the manufacturers who are putting them into finished goods,” Mark Hughes, president of Omaha, NE-based Anderson Partners told FoodNavigator-USA. “It’s how the ingredient can help a product meet consumer demand, how it can help a product be on trend and how it can add value or benefit to a finished good in way that other ingredients don’t.”
That “benefit” can be improving an end product’s nutritional profile, enabling it to make certain claims about fiber content, vitamins or minerals, or non-GMO or organic claims, for example. But more and more, it also involves doing more heavy lifting in product development and R&D.
“Whatever the goals of a finished goods product are, manufacturers are becoming more demanding that ingredient suppliers help in that process,” Hughes said. “It’s not just: ‘send us the ingredient, we’ll let you know what we think’. It’s: ‘help us develop applications and formulations that can add value to our products and give us that higher nutritional profile, or that can help us create a cleaner label, remove sugar or remove fat’.”
Sampling: the first chance to tell a story
Indeed, as suppliers’ roles expand, effective communication and branding become increasingly important. Sampling, for one, plays a major role in the ingredient business, though many suppliers miss out on this first chance to make a good impression through effective branding, Hughes said.
“When samples go out, what you’re talking about in ingredients is a lot of white powders or colorless liquids in baggies or plastic vials,” he said. “But once the customer has that sample in his hand, it’s a great opportunity to deliver your brand message.”
Branded packaging and even shipping materials can provide a chance for differentiation. Once the customer opens the packaging (or visits the supplier’s website, for that matter), that brand story should be carried through in collateral materials in a way that focuses on the benefits that the ingredient is going to bring as an inclusion, Hughes said.
“The companies doing it right aren’t showing you a white powder, but rather applications in beverage, bakery and confectionery that include the ingredient,” he noted. “So when the customer comes to the marketing materials, they can easily make the connection that this can help improve value in their product.”
Growing your internet footprint makes you easier to find
In addition to building an attractive website with consistent messaging, suppliers face growing pressure to establish a presence through other media channels—particularly on social media, which has become a key business-to-business connector, Hughes said.
“It’s more than having a website these days—it’s having that presence in LinkedIn and on Twitter, or using YouTube, which is a great outlet for product demo videos,” he said. “If you think about that, what it really does is help suppliers create a footprint out on the internet that helps people find them.”
That’s why Anderson Partners takes a wider-lens view when it comes to approaching marketing and communication, despite that companies are stressing quantifiable return on investment from social media through increased sales and other measures. But companies that take the time to build a strong presence through the various online and digital channels leave a bigger footprint that benefits them more in the long term, Hughes added.
Enterprise-wide communication much more than booking meetings
That’s also why the firm advocates for enterprise-wide as opposed to brand- or portfolio-specific communication. Indeed, as big food manufacturers often house multiple brands with lots of different products in each portfolio, each product has its own team comprising R&D, marketing, innovation and culinary.
While it’s not uncommon for an ingredient company to take a silo approach to selling—approaching one brand in a given portfolio at a time, that’s not necessarily the right approach, Hughes said.
“Often the supplier with have a relationship with one group of R&D folks working on the potato chip part of a portfolio, but they have no engagement at all with ready-to-eat cereals or nutrition bars, or other snack products in that same company’s portfolio,” he said. “So the challenge becomes, how do you expand your reach across the enterprise? How do you connect with other product developers, research chefs and food scientists across that portfolio?”
“That’s where relationship building and the importance of enterprise-wide communication comes in. You have to try to target everybody who touches the ingredient across the purchasing and product development spectrum.”
Booking meetings is only one part of that equation, he noted. It’s also a matter of maintaining visibility in as many venues as possible—be it through email marketing and e-newsletters, advertising in or contributing editorial content to trade press, attending trade shows, getting involved in associations, or sharing content and starting conversations on social media.
“If you can demonstrate value to one group in that enterprise, maybe you're not going to get immediate ROI; maybe you're not going to sell more tonnage that day, but that group will remember that you helped them. And six months or a year from now, when their colleagues down hall are working on something relevant, they will remember and connect you with them,” he said.