Hershey president reveals secrets to successful brand growth

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 7th July 2014

The President of confectionery giant Hershey North America has revealed how the Company shifted its focus to consumer demands in order to grow the iconic brand.

Speaking at global market research organisation Nielsen’s Consumer 360 conference in San Antonio, Michele Buck, President of Hershey North America, said Hershey had “tapped a deep understanding of its consumers” to drive growth for the brand, the category and through retailers. She told the conference that in 2005, Hershey recognized that it was focused on short-term success and operations, and business wasn’t growing as a result.

“So we committed as a company to become consumer- and demand-centric,” Ms Buck said. “We started asking how we would build the right consumer solutions for us and our retailers to win with the right consumer,” she said.

Consumer demand drives growth strategies

At that point, Ms Buck said Hershey adopted a ‘consumer demand landscape’ as the foundation for its new growth strategies.

“We needed to uncover what uniquely connects us to consumers and maximize that connection across all our brands,” Ms Buck said.

She said the Company sought to better understand its consumers and where there was an unmet need. It was also critical to understand their shopping experiences and buying occasions, according to Ms Buck. Integrating that data into Hershey’s daily business was key to activating and getting results in the marketplace.

“On-the-go” snacking revealed as opportunity

Ms Buck shared how the approach unwrapped a new opportunity in “on-the-go” snacking. The Company found that consumers wanted more convenient, hand-to-mouth options to enjoy during their breaks on any given day. “Break time” became the white space Kit Kat could own, a realisation that led to a multi-year, multi-million dollar brand platform and the creation of Kit Kat Minis, according to Ms Buck.

Retailer growth opportunities

But Ms Buck said the strategy did not only focus on the demands of consumers. She emphasised that the Company’s goal also included seeking growth opportunities for its retail partners. For example, at a convenience retailer, Hershey created a ‘total snacking solution’ that featured a display and packaging that was customised for the space at the register. Ms Buck said the solution led to a $100 million boost in sales for the retailer and a $20 million lift for Hershey.

Using the consumer demand landscape to create a more unique retail experience also played a big role in Hershey’s success, according to Ms Buck. Knowing that its customers loved using Hershey chocolate in ‘smores’ (a campfire treat popular in the US and Canada), the company began advertising the “smores occasion” in stores. For the promotion, the company partnered with Kraft, maker of the other essential smores ingredients—graham crackers and marshmallows—which led to growth for both brands.

While Hershey has a long history of success, Ms Buck said that demand-driven insights had  helped the company and its industry partners gain even sweeter success.