Nature's Path Leads Consumers Through Complicated Grocery Shelves

Designers Accord

Organic and natural foods have exploded into our supermarkets at an astonishing rate: There has been an estimated 20% growth in volume each year for the last six years. That's a good problem to have if you're a consumer who wants to have a range of healthy options to feed your family, but for a marketer who has to help educate consumers about those options and make their brand stand out, it can be a natural disaster. Marty McDonald, creative director of Seattle-based agency egg, was charged with helping the 20-year-old cereal brand Nature's Path break through a crowded grocery aisle filled with similar-sounding products and reach an audience hungry for sustainable breakfast foods.

ORGANIC IDEALS
Nature's PathThe Nature's Path brand has been family-owned and operated for 20 years, building a small, farm-based operation into 140 cereal and breakfast products with $300 million in annual sales. But as it grew, Nature's Path had performed no major brandwork, using a logo and packaging that hadn't been adjusted to the changing market that grew up around them (right). The company needed a new energy and new spirit to be injected into its marketing approach. Beginning with a single 2008 campaign in a Toronto test market that expanded to several more cities in 2009, egg was brought on to revitalize the way Nature's Path talked to their consumers.

Egg quickly realized that Nature's Path had one major strength: It represented a small, family-owned brand in an organic and natural cereal aisle that has become increasingly corporate. Cascadian Farms is owned by General Mills, for example, and Kashi is owned by Kellogg's. Egg knew that they could usurp the bigger players by positioning Nature's Path as an authentic, indie choice for likeminded shoppers by promoting Nature's Path own culture. The challenge was how to focus their efforts: Kellogg's spent $30-40 million in Kashi marketing during 2009. The Nature's Path budget during the same time was $5 million.

THE NAME GAME
As they dug into consumer research, the team at egg realized they had an extremely interesting challenge to tackle. "Nature's Path" was a totally forgettable name when placed among a dozen other names with "nature" in them, says McDonald. "People didn't even know they had the brand in their cupboards!" Although egg did consider changing it, the family-owned business had too much equity built up over two decades to throw it away. So the designers created a mnemonic tool using the word "path," which could help tie the concepts of the brand to a visual representation. All consumers had to remember was "path."

Nature's Path

"Path" was actually a very powerful word according to their research. Consumers had used the term as a way to convey their buying choices: "Starting down the path" of a more sustainable lifestyle meant they'd begin with using more natural and organic products around the house, then they found themselves venturing out into the community to become actively involved in environmental issues. egg realized they could show this journey of personal sustainability, defined as an awareness of health and wellness, by asking consumers to align their values with that of a great-tasting organic cereal, says McDonald. "A path was a place that we could work with. You could take it one step at a time."

Nature's Path

FOLLOWING THE PATH
The execution for the campaign borrowed some inspiration from Nature's Path quasi-hippie roots with a series of funky, slightly-crunchy visuals. A 1970's-revival logomark using the words "Get on the Path" in the shape of a bare foot helped cement the connection between "path" and "sustainability" and helped to associate an individual's personal path towards sustainability with the company's mission and its organic cereals. In the Toronto test market in 2008, a 12-week campaign dispensed samples around the city at various areas like fitness centers, and buses and trains were wrapped to reinforce the idea of a journey. Sales were up 33% in the Toronto market.

Nature's Path

The Get on the Path campaign directed consumers to a Web site where where people could take a quiz to find out where they are on the path to personal sustainability, which also was created as a board game. People could then share their stories or advice there, and pass on the site through Facebook and Twitter. egg chose the Portland-based designer Kate Bingaman-Burt to create the illustrations due to her approachable style. Bingaman-Burt's loose, whimsical drawings helped to show consumers that there were real people behind this slightly revolutionary message. It was the opposite of the rigid, polished communications of a large corporation. The campaign expanded into its North American launch, targeting other cities like Vancouver, Boston and Portland in 2009.

HEALTHY SALES
When the launch campaign finished at the end of 2009, egg saw a tremendous increase in awareness for Nature's Path but they had also seen changes in other purchasing behaviors. "We raised awareness of authenticity in 'green branding,' which is a significant issue in marketing, as well as greater awareness and understanding of organics in food," says McDonald. When examining the campaign, which specifically pushed Pumpkin Flax Plus Granola, they also noticed a bump in sales in the test markets. Vancouver experienced an overall dollar sales increase during the campaign and increased sales up to eight weeks after—up to 22% compared to the year before. And Portland and Boston also saw sustained sales increases after the campaign.

Nature's Path

According to a Nature's Path study by SPINS, this was during a downturn for organic and natural cereal, as well as in the midst of a recession when consumers were less likely to pay premium prices—during the same time period, Kashi sales were down 8-9%. Egg is currently focusing on revamping Nature's Path's packaging so its shelf-presence is more closely aligned with this new branding. When that happens, Nature's Path's outward appearance will finally match its inner values. "This is a campaign for a new brand era of authenticity and transparency," says McDonald. "It's a campaign that could only be run by a company deeply committed to sustainability."

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2 Comments

  • RC

    The packaging of my Sunrise Vanilla Cereal is a big fail, at least from the consumers perspective. The packaging is 2/3rds of the product and (imo) conceals the measly 300 grams of cereal. It's delicious, but it's a shame Nature's Path has to resort to such deception.

  • Jeremy Walker

    I think that it is great to see some tree hungers realize that the bottom line is still a major factor in business. If biz folks vilify greenies and greenies vilify biz folks, we will never get the progress that is available right now. We can't make it to utopia over night. The passion of the environmental movement is admirable, but with out the practicality of corporate America the greening of America (ergo the modern world)will never happen. Find common ground and play nice and we all win.