The Betty Crocker brand originated in the United States in 1921 and today is owned by F&B giant General Mills – the brand is also the market leader for cake mixes by far in the Middle East, making it unsurprising that so much emphasis is being placed on its anniversary in the region.
“Nine out of 10 cakes [made from cake mixes] in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC, comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) are Betty Crocker cakes,” General Mills General Manager – Middle East and Africa Ali Shaikh told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“The popularity of Betty Crocker in this region lies in its value of providing confidence – all Betty Crocker recipes ensure that even if you tamper with different water quantities or make additions or subtractions, the resulting cake will always end up well.
“This confidence-building aspect is also increasingly attracting younger consumers looking to try their hand at creating in the kitchen, and helps us to continuously bring in a new generation audience.”
In conjunction with its 100-year anniversary, the brand has recently rolled out two new products very focused on the ‘celebration’ aspect: a Funfetti Fudge Brownie and Funfetti SuperMoist cake.
“The Funfetti brownie and cake are all about the sprinkles, which come along inside the packet and are meant to reinforce the idea that this year is a special year for Betty Crocker,” said Shaikh.
“Sprinkles in the Middle East are special as there no artificial colours or flavours are allowed so they are not so easy to come by separately – we wanted to provide something unique so consumers would not need to go through the trouble of searching for these separately yet still be in line with the law so we included these made with no artificial colours or flavours ready in the packet.”
In addition to the celebratory products, the Betty Crocker team also launched a ‘Kitchen Is For Everyone’ campaign earlier this year, inspired by a young Emirati boy who discovered that all the messaging on Betty Crocker products had, before this, all been targeted at women only.
“The Middle East is undergoing so much change now, with women growing to take on more roles from driving to working where this was not possible before, especially in Saudi Arabia, and we realized we had to respond to this consumer evolution,” said Shaikh.
“We also wanted to do something with a grand purpose, as research has shown that consumers prefer brands that stand for a chosen purpose, and this, gender neutrality, has become our chosen Grand Purpose.
“We opted to highlight this as on one hand a lot of mums and women buy our products, and we wanted to let them know that as times change, their rights and their lives are going to get better; whereas on the other hand we wanted to remove the taboo of men entering the kitchen.”
So Betty Crocker undertook the gargantuan task of relabelling all of its products to more gender neutral language, which was both laborious and costly when taking in to account the fact that over 20 million packs were changed.
“We had to rewrite the script and look at new artwork and new packaging for this purpose, but it was really relevant so as to make the brand equally used and accepted by both men and women,” said Shaikh.
“So we took the cost and the pain and made the change for 20 million plus packs of products, and the cost went up to the hundreds of thousands of [US] dollars – but it was necessary as we also had to take care to avoid doing a hard cut so as to ensure a smooth, soft transition.”
Gender equality in the Middle East
It was only within the past three or four years that gender equality really took a front seat in the Middle East, with laws such as those allowing women to drive passed.
“Gender equality messages are really important in this region as there’s both a religious and social angle here – for the longest time, religious messages were misinterpreted such that women had very little control and had to ask permission from their fathers or husbands to do the littlest things e.g. driving was almost unheard of,” said Shaikh.
“Now, the leaders are more cognizant that there is a need for more equality if the region is to achieve prosperity – it’s a similar story to many other places many years ago like say the US 50 years ago when roles were still very defined but they later realized the need for more equality.
“The leaders have come around to realise that dual income for families is really going to be what brings in the new era of prosperity in the Middle East even in places like Saudi Arabia – there are a lot more women in the workforce, and all this rapid change has really accelerated over the past four years.
The ‘Kitchen Is For Everyone’ campaign won General Mills multiple awards including the prestigious Dubai Lynx Glass award which recognises work that addresses gender inequality issues.
Betty Crocker in COVID-19
Shaikh added that the Betty Crocker brand saw significant growth during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, with more families looking to try their hand at baking in the kitchen.
“We definitely saw the penetration of Betty Crocker increase during COVID-19 – a lot more new homes were recruited and our sales rose by double digits,” he said
“We believe it was because people wanted to deal with the doom and gloom, and the kitchen was really part of the escape for everyone.”
Moving forward, Shaikh said that General Mills will also be focusing a lot on e-commerce and creating better digital experiences for its consumers.
“E-commerce is definitely the area where the most innovation needs to happen now, as a lot of delivery is taking place whether it’s prepared meals or groceries,” he said.
“We’ve set up a virtual restaurant under our Old El Paso brand so as to highlight to people how they can make their own Mexican dishes at home with products bought for a fraction of the cost, and will be doing more to establish new digital experiences for consumers moving forward.”