Stouffer’s harnesses blogger power to reach new consumers

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Stouffer’s harnesses blogger power to reach new consumers

Related tags Campbell soup company

A lot has changed since Abraham and Mahala Stouffer transformed their buttermilk and biscuits stand in 1920s Ohio into a chain of restaurants spanning the rustbelt, which then expanded into one of the first frozen TV dinner giants in the nation by the 1950s. Is it time for another change?

In a marketplace where households are seeing a 'slow food' culture as an aspiration, where consumers increasingly are skeptical towards big food companies​ and increasingly value 'free-from' claims​ and healthy eating, frozen entrée brand Stouffer’s is reimagining how it should convey its 'convenient comfort food' image.

“There is a group of consumers that are truly skeptical about ingredients and skeptical about frozen foods that have caused them to pause from entering the whole category,” ​Tom Moe, director of marketing of the Nestle brand Stouffer’s told FoodNavigator-USA.

An invitation to Nestle’s R&D kitchen in Solon, Ohio

One way big and established brands like Stouffer’s are trying out to gain consumer trust and new consumers is by slowly shedding away the corporate veil that may have appealed to consumers of past decades, and opting to highlight history and storytelling more. According to Moe and his staff at Stouffer’s, working with bloggers (so-called influencers) is a promising method.

The company flew in a dozen food bloggers and food journalists (FoodNavigator-USA included) to visit Nestle’s office campus in Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, where Souffer’s started.

“We’d like to communicate that we’re here to evolve with the consumer, and it’s important for us to stay relevant, and in order to stay relevant we need to listen passionately to consumers, and respond to changing needs,” ​Moe said. 

Demand for an authentic story

The particular need that Stouffer’s is addressing by teaming up with bloggers is the current trend for consumers to trust companies with a good backstory, as studies have shown that a company’s story is part of what makes consumers believe a brand is authentic​.

“Consumers these days are looking for a deeper story of the background, the essence of where the brand is coming from,”​ Moe said. “When you can hear the storyline that’s genuine, that’s authentic, then that helps people connect with the brand and appreciate where it started from and where it came to be.”

Bloggers in attendance suggested the range of consumers Stouffer’s is trying to reach with its story: The young foodie crowd through Chicago’s Vans Ventures​ and In Good Taste​, a Boomer audience through Food Network personality Martie Duncan’s blog​, and the growing Latino community through Nota Util​ and Latino Foodie​. 

Stouffer’s equipped bloggers with a special hashtag, droves of appealingly presented tiny meals over two days, and even a crash course in iPhone food photography, in hopes of telling a compelling story that would eventually reach each blogger’s own army of followers.

Because consumers value authenticity, there might be a chance the brand can boost its sales. According to Moe, citing Nielsen data, the brand’s growth trajectory was only 2% for calendar year 2015. Its single-serve business is up by 3%, nodding to a trend that more Americans are eating alone or living in single households. 

Bloggers were invited to make Stouffer's lasagne from scratch at Nestle's R&D kitchen in Solon, Ohio.

An industry wide trend: When a story isn’t enough

Stouffer’s isn’t the only big brand scrambling to gain trust from a new wave of consumers. Last month during Campbell Soup’s Institutional Investor Day, the soup company voiced observations similar to what the Stouffer’s team hinted throughout the media event.

“Established brands are struggling to connect with new generations of consumers who are deeply skeptical of large institutions including big food. Instead they are choosing brands which share their values,”​ said Mark Alexander, president of the Americas Simple Meals and Beverages division at Campbell Soup Company.  

Stories, the first line of contact between a brand and consumers, are important to shape. But the Stouffer’s team admitted that new marketing tactics alone won’t suffice, hinting to some big changes that the company will roll-out later this month.

One popular route the brand may go down is reformulation, which has been done by other food giants such as ConAgra when it removed PHOs from its spreads​, or Campbell’s plan to remove MSG and artificial colors and flavors by the end of 2018.

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