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Marketing in the Recession

Unilever Foodsolutions share their recipe for success to marketing in the recession

We’ve recently caught up with Unilever Foodsolutions Vice President, Eelco Caminga, to find out how this division of Unilever has adjusted its marketing strategy to survive during the tough economic climate. Being one of the world’s leading foodservice businesses, this division works alongside caterers, restaurateurs, hotels and fast food chains to provide food solutions for chefs that help to grow their business. According to Eelco there has been a noticeable downturn in restaurant trade where customers that used to eat out two to three times a month now only eat out once or twice per month. Customers that used to eat in “Full Service Restaurants” (FSR’s) now dine in “Quick Service Restaurants” (QSR’s). This results in reduced revenue and cash flow problems for these establishments.

Hotel occupancy has also dropped due to decreased local, regional and international travel as more people turn to teleconference and internet facilities in an attempt to cut costs. As a result the foodservice industry has experienced close to 6000 accounts being closed off. Fast food outlets such as KFC and Chicken Licken are attracting their fair share of the market due to their competitive prices and the popularity of chicken among a big percentage of the population, although a large part of their growth comes from new store openings.  

Being responsible for devising and executing global strategies as well as delivering profitable growth, Eelco says, “We’ve had to put a freeze on salary increases globally in order to put this strategic saving behind our brand and maintain the cost of marketing material in order to launch new innovations.” “Our recipe for success is to create solutions for chefs by chefs.” “Our chefs have deep insight into food products and marketing solutions thus offering our clients convenience in terms of saving time and money in the kitchen.”

Food establishments have to consider the cost when preparing meals and look at alternate ways of saving money in this area. Unilever Foodsolutions products are more economic to use than cooking from scratch as they end up being cheaper per unit and yield a larger number of portions. Eelco expands on how they communicate this to the consumer, “In our marketing strategy we need to demonstrate practical benefits and reasons as to why chefs should purchase our products and make it worthwhile for them instead of just positioning our brand in the way we want to be perceived.” It is important to look at what influences the buying behaviour of chefs and purchasing managers.

To illustrate, Unilever Foodsolutions emphases on the following factors when marketing convenience products to their target market; cost per unit, size of portions, energy efficiency, wastage of fresh produce and maximising on time in the kitchen.

It is important to demonstrate the convenience of products in their efficiency and affordability. For instance, the Carte D’OR desserts require little preparation time and yield a better cost per portion as opposed to making it from scratch. Consequently this assists chefs in their menu planning by offering creative and energy saving solutions. “We encourage managers to train their waiters on up selling desserts because we can provide them with easy to use recipes and in this way add more value to their service”, says Caminga.  

Saving electricity in the kitchen has become an integral part in food preparation due to rising energy costs and load shedding. It is important to realise that power cuts limit the capability of your business and have a direct impact on profitability. Because of this Unilever Foodsolutions have compiled a booklet for chefs which includes advice on how to be more energy efficient by preparing quick and easy products. It also describes how to use smaller kitchen appliances to save energy and reduce power consumption by clever use of stoves, microwaves and fridges.

In addition to this the booklet highlights products in the Knorr range including Bouillon, Mash Flakes, Basic Brown Sauce, Bottled sauces and Demi Glace which take minutes instead of hours to prepare. This offers a huge convenience to chefs who are constantly under pressure to serve a multitude of dishes in a short space of time. By addressing these critical issues their marketing is aligned with solution based strategies which opts for greater cost saving for restaurants and catering operations with the aim to increase profit margins.   

Their direct marketing channels combine traditional print media together with a national sales force who build and maintain close relationships with restaurants, hotels, canteens, fast-food chains and chefs. Contrary to most advertising, Unilever Foodsolutions is not directed at the masses but instead placed strategically in catering publications and media that appeal to their target audience in the foodservice industry.

As part of their strategic marketing they also sponsor international events such as the “Global Chefs Challenge” taking place in Chile in 2010. Leading up to this event, Unilever Foodsolutions sponsored a cook-off between five countries including Israel, Egypt, Namibia, United Arab Emirates and South Africa which took place at the South African Chefs Association Skills Kitchen to see who will represent Africa and the Middle East at this special event. In addition they also run a prestigious cooking competition called “Chef of the Year” in support of promoting talented chefs to show off their skills and kick start their careers. Due to the tremendous success of this competition, it has grown to include not only South African but also chefs from Egypt, Dubai and Pakistan. “The return on investment from these types of events is difficult to quantify but we have definitely seen how they contribute to the future growth of our business,” says Eelco.

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