Storytelling can be powerful supporting act for confectioners, but product is king

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Honest backstory can give brands a competitive edge, says market analyst and Project7 CEO ©iStock/Michail_Petrov-96
Honest backstory can give brands a competitive edge, says market analyst and Project7 CEO ©iStock/Michail_Petrov-96

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Confectionery brands can inspire loyalty by communicating heritage and social actions on-pack, but these features should never overshadow flavor, says a Mintel analyst and the CEO of Project7.

At ConfectioneryNews’ recent Confectionery Innovation Forum, Mintel’s director of insights Marcia Mogelonsky, said: “Storytelling has become an important part of manufacture and marketing positioning.”

“..The interest that consumers have more and more is knowing the story, history and heritage… it’s no longer just the big name they want…”

She said consumers want to know more about the people behind the product and its provenance.

The analyst said the approach may not worker for large companies that are outsourcing, but could give a smaller player a competitive edge.

ethiquable display
Photo: Ethiquable

One example is French fair trade firm Ethiquable. It features imagery of cocoa farmers on the packs of its tablet chocolate and gives details on the cooperative from which the cocoa was sourced as well as its flavor and aroma. It has gained listings in major domestic supermarkets with pop-up displays in chocolate aisles communicating its ethical message.

A 2014 webinar​ by Cargill and Innova Market Insights said marketing to socially engaged Millennials would be crucial as the generation’s buying power grows.

‘It doesn’t feel so big food anymore’

Tyler added storytelling had been big in the natural foods channel, but expects it to grow in confectionery and enter the mainstream.

He gave other examples of touching company histories such as a brand founded by a parent whose child had dietary constraints.

“There’s a story there and a trust factor… it doesn’t feel so ‘big food’ anymore,”​ he said.

“As long as you’re honest and showing continual proof to back it up and not just the shine of it or greenwashing, there’s some really neat things that you can do to help your customers feel more connected,” said​ the Project7 chief.

mars war
Photo: Mars

Now you mention it, here’s our story

But how can companies tell their story without sounding disingenuous?

Mintel’s Mogelonsky said: “I think it’s harder for a big company to say ‘now you mention it, here’s the story behind our product’, but a lot of them do to an extent, for example, Ferrero has a real history behind it.”

Mars pays homage to the history of its brands created in war time – such as M&M’s - by donating care and food packages to the US military.

 “Like anything in confections, there’s a certain hit and miss to the whole thing, but if you can find the story and hit the right notes, I think it can be successful,”​ said Mogelonsky.

The analyst said raw chocolate brand Stirs The Soul, Madagascan chocolatier Madecasse and chocolate-covered almond firm Skinny Dipped – managed by a mother and daughter team – were strong examples of good, honest storytelling.

Fun and experiential storytelling - Voilà Chocolat

chocolate bond

Storytelling need not relate to a company’s rich history or carefully selected ingredients. It can also be fun and experimental, while also benefiting the business. For example, US startup Voilà Chocolat is issuing ‘Chocolate Bonds’ to those who help fund its expansion. Under the initiative, it has agreed to repay bonds of $500 and $1,000 by delivering chocolate gift packages of equivalent value plus 20% interest each month for a year. Voilà Chocolat is a retail confectioner that invites consumers to make and decorate their own gourmet chocolates at its main store in New York city and at pop-up shops. It hopes to expand with more pop-up shops through the city after enjoying a 70% year-on-year sales uplift in December 2016.

‘Product still has to be the star’

But Merrick warned: “The product still has to be the star.”

Project7 was created as a social enterprise in 2008. When it began operations, its on-pack claims centred on altruistic causes such as feeding the hungry.

“The on-pack that we were going out with to begin with was all about the call to action…Buyers were excited about it, but what ended up happening is that we would gain distribution, but the problem was the velocity would never happen. After people brought it one time they felt like they did their good deed and would go back to their regular brand,” ​said Merrick.

project7 social1
Gum and candy maker Project7 dontates part of its sales to seven non-profits Three years ago it moved the social messaging from the front to the back of the back. This way interested consumers could learn more, but it would not detract from the main selling-point: The flavor. Photo: Project7

He said the original packaging made people view the brand as a fundraising vehicle rather than a high quality product.

The flavor experience

So, three years ago the company rebranded and moved the storytelling element to the back of pack.

“We really repositioned and made it about the flavor experience,” said Merrick.

“…As [consumers] pull it out of their pocket, purse or backpacket, they will see more on the back of pack - about the history of the brand and why we do what we do - and that might endear them to the brand more or they might just go ‘I don’t care, I just like the flavor’.”

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