Plant stanol-based Benecol was first to market in the UK about ten years ago with a spread, but slipped behind Unilever’s pro.activ as drinkable and spoonable yoghurts rose in popularity as mediums for consuming the clinically-backed plant extracts.
But IRI stats show Benecol regained the crown in 2008 in the €142m market, and has recorded overall growth of 13.7 per cent in the 52 weeks to July 12, compared to the whole sector growing by only 1.9 per cent, but moving into the positive after a couple of years of negative growth.
“We have reversed the category decline and we believe that is to a large extent down to the way we have been marketing the Benecol range,” said McNeil Nutritionals’ marketing manager of Benecol, Europe, Esther N.M. van Onselen.
“People get confused about health benefits and messaging and that is why you have to be very targeted and we have managed to remind our core audience about cholesterol as a health issue.”
Beyond the mainstream
She said mainstream media had to be supplemented with other messaging and McNeil had engaged in targeted campaigns such as sponsoring a classical music radio show that had a strong over-55s listenership.
In-store presence and promotions were also important.
“Reinforcement is important so that Benecol and cholesterol-lowering don’t fall off the agenda.”
Benecol commands 47.9 per cent of the UK market with its drinkable and spoonable yoghurt products growing at 16.8 and 31.1 per cent respectively. Benecol spreads grew 4.5 per cent.
Pro.activ and Benecol dominate the market that includes Danone’s Danacol as well as private-label offerings.
Benecol has also launched a smoothie product it may debut in the other markets where it operates - Ireland and Belgium. Benecol owner, Raisio, looks after the other markets, with the two companies working together on marketing and formulation matters.
Know the audience, know the benefit
Van Onselen said the company had focused on those high-cholesterol sufferers who were motivated to do something about it, rather than trying to convert the apathetic.
“The competition have tried to do that for eight years and it has largely been unsuccessful so we are focused on people who are motivated by cholesterol.”
Recent European health claim positive opinions from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) helped bolster the brand’s credibility (as have similar approvals for pro.activ and Danacol) and are due to widen marketing scope, if validated by the European Commission and member states.
“We should be able to, for the first time, link cholesterol-lowering and cardiovascular disease, which is a big step forward,” she said.
She emphasised the importance of remaining a one-benefit company – cholesterol-lowering – and not offering products that bamboozled consumers with multiple benefits.
“That is how you build brand trust and why, despite the existence of discounted private label brands, premium brands perform better.”