Increasing the crop

Brand awareness of Weetabix is in good form, but the cereal’s focus on its ‘healthy’ credentials could be limiting its sales potential, says Nathalie Kilby

Weetabix is a brand in turmoil. It has wrested its &£12m creative account from DDB London after just a year with the agency, and handed it to WCRS (MW last week). The shift follows the cereal company’s decision to move its media planning and buying account from The Allmond Partnership to Walker Media.

According to Mintel, while Kellogg dominates the &£1.4bn UK cereal market with a 40% value share in 2004, Weetabix has overtaken Kellogg’s Cornflakes as the top-selling cereal brand. Weetabix sales are strong, with the brand valued at &£85m. But industry observers say it has suffered from weak advertising in recent times.

Weetabix chief executive Ken Wood joined the company in 2004 from Müller, and took marketing under his wing. He scrapped the commercial director’s role following the departure of Bill Hulme (MW October 7, 2004) and called an agency review. The account moved from FCB London to DDB.

While Tony Corp remains head of Weetabix brand marketing, insiders claim he wields little power. Another source says the Weetabix marketing team are “brow-beaten”.

Set up in 1932 as a family-run business, The Weetabix Food Company was snapped up in 2003 by venture capitalist Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst for &£642m. Figures for 2004 show company-wide sales grew 7.3% year-on-year to $663.6m (&£380.4m).

During its independent years, marketing budgets were conservative. Former chief executive Richard George preferred to work with entrepreneurial advertising executives – hence strong relationships with Sir Frank Lowe and John Banks of FCB London. Lowe Howard-Spink was responsible for the “bovver boys” character campaigns, while Lowe Lintas created the “Withabix, withoutabix” strategy.

The connection with Frank Lowe led to speculation the account would move to his start-up The Red Brick Road – and observers say WCRS may struggle with its new client.

In June, DDB rolled out a &£10m campaign promoting the heritage of the Weetabix portfolio, using the strapline “What are you made of?”. The work has attracted criticism for a lack of direction. But an advertising source says Weetabix is known for pushing ad agencies in a conservative direction. The source adds: “Wood is an extraordinarily hands-on chief executive – a fact he readily admits himself – but it does mean the marketing team has little power.” He says the team “lives in fear” of Wood, not least because of the changes he made soon after his arrival.

Weetabix’s boast of being healthy makes it a popular choice with mums. Brand consultancy The Value Engineers has worked with Weetabix in the past, and more recently won Kellogg as a client. Senior consultant Richard Oldham says: “Weetabix sells very well among the younger and older ends of the market. It communicates its health proposition well, but needs to look to the wider breakfast market.”

Another source agrees: “There are few problems for the brand in terms of awareness or penetration. However, a stumbling block to boosting sales is the issue of increasing consumption.” He says advertising should stress occasions other than breakfast when consumers can eat Weetabix, and adds new product development should be a priority.

The company has launched Mini-Weetabix in various flavours, Organic Weetabix, Weetos and Weetos Cereal Bar, but observers say more needs to be done to boost the Weetabix brand.

Oldham adds: “Recent advertising has been logical and rational, it has lost its emotional attachment with consumers; it needs to rebuild that. There is no doubt the Brits are fond of Weetabix. WCRS needs to leverage that and inject some emotion into the advertising if it is to succeed.”

Facts and Figures

⢠Kellogg, Weetabix and Cereal Partners dominate the cereal market

⢠Kellogg’s value share is about 40%

⢠Weetabix is the second-largest seller of cereals in the UK

⢠Weetabix overtook Kellogg’s Cornflakes as the top-selling brand, although Kellogg holds six of the top ten brands

⢠In the hot cereals sector, two brands dominate: Quaker Oatso Simple, with a 24% value share, and Weetabix-owned Ready Brek, with a 20% share

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