Although the most straightforward way to think of innovation is usually by driving the creation of new products or new flavours, General Mills Managing Director Vice President and Managing Director AMEA Balki Radhakrishnan believes that many key opportunities in the Middle East lie not just with new product development, but also with bringing existing brands further.
“To drive successful innovation in the Middle East, brands need to ACT – and by that I mean that brands must be Agile, Connected and Trusted,” Radhakrishnan told the floor when speaking at the recent Future Food CEO Thought Leadership Series virtual seminar on F&B manufacturing innovation in the Middle East.
“A brand that has all three of these things will be able to grow and thrive not just in the current pandemic situation, but also in a post-COVID-19 environment.
“The key is to bring the brands to life for consumers whether it is from a product or channel perspective, or simply bringing an idea closer to them – [and this is where ACT comes in].”
In terms of agility, Radhakrishnan elaborated on a case study regarding Tex-Mex products brand Old El Paso, which has only just recently launched in the Middle East.
“General Mills saw this trend here where people were eating more and more at home, but also wanted to travel globally via the cuisines they ate, which is where we saw this opportunity to bring in Old El Paso to be the leading Tex-Mex brand in the Middle East,” he said.
“Conventional marketing would be via normal advertising on television and so on, but because the aim here was to establish new eating behaviours, the team decided that this brand could be launched via a new, agile, non-traditional approach – so Old El Paso made its initial launch here via a ‘restaurant’.
“We partnered with a local cloud kitchen to make restaurant quality food with Old El Paso so consumers could experience the food as it was meant to be, and this helped to overcome the hurdle of adapting to a new cuisine and also show consumers how to eat these products – very different from just traditional television ads.”
As for connectivity, the emphasis was placed on identifying the most relatable media platform for core consumers, and adapt marketing accordingly.
“The salty snack category is a pretty competitive one here in the Middle East with many established global and local players in the market, so [to help our] Bugles snack brand to break through from the competition, we had to innovate how consumers thought about this,” said Radhakrishnan.
“When speaking to millennials, they are not normally on traditional media, so the opportunity for Bugles was we needed a new media touchpoint and how to make it a relatable brand that millennials want to really associate with.
“So we partnered with the social media platform TikTok for a video, becoming one of the first brands to embrace TikTok in a big way here, and created a campaign video that got some 1.4 billion views at last count, 360,000 shares, and led to over 1,500 consumer-created videos.
“This was very non-traditional communication, not a way of marketing that any traditional marketer would have been taught to make an advertisement - but this resonates with that target. So the key for connectivity here is how to take a new media touchpoint that resonates with your core consumer, and innovate around it.”
General Mills also owns home-baking brand Betty Crocker, which has been in operation for about a century and has achieved a significant level of trust amongst consumers.
The brand used to primarily speak to women with its baking instructions in the Middle East, as the Arabic language contains feminine and gender-neutral versions of verbs, such as ‘bake’ – but building on consumer trust in the brand and trends in the region, this was overhauled last year
The language on all Betty Crocker product packs, some 20 million of them, were changed to use gender neutral language and address all cooks, men and women, as part of its ‘The Kitchen is for Everyone’ campaign inspired by eight-year-old Sultan Abdullah Mohammed Soumr who became the face of the campaign.
“[This is how] a 100-year-old brand played a part in bending a culture, how innovation was achieved across such an established and very mature brand,” said Radhakrishnan.
“Especially with more and more people discovering cooking and baking at home because of COVID-19, we really wanted to encourage millennials and new groups of consumers who had never baked before to come into the kitchen – this is a way to innovate around an established, mature brand to actually find new ways of growth.
“So let your brands be agile, connected and trusted – when you do that, your brands will ACT, and you will drive significant incremental growth.”