McCain tries to overcome an image problem

McCain chose Beattie McGuinness Bungay (BMB) to handle its £15m advertising business (MW last week) because it had a “unique and special” idea to boost the brand, according to the food company’s head of communications Simon Eyles.

McCain chose Beattie McGuinness Bungay (BMB) to handle its &£15m advertising business (MW last week) because it had a “unique and special” idea to boost the brand, according to the food company’s head of communications Simon Eyles.

Frozen food may suffer from negative perceptions as a poor relation to the sexier chilled category, but McCain is planning an “impactful” campaign, it says, that will help it overcome those connotations and stand out from “me-too” food advertising.

BMB beat JWT in a two-way pitch. Incumbent TBWALondon, the former home of BMB founders Trevor Beattie and Andrew McGuinness, did not repitch. Eyles comments: “BMB’s idea is original and very different, and I am confident that it will work.”

He will not be drawn on the details but says the work will build on the three-year “Chin Up” strategy, which encourages consumers to take comfort in its chips when life gets them down. Discussions about retaining the strapline are continuing. Eyles explains: “This will further strengthen what we’ve done but will give us more depth, adding warmth and character.” BMB will focus on core products such as Home Fries and Oven Chips. Industry rumours suggest that a celebrity will feature, but Eyles declines to comment.

McCain, which also makes frozen pizzas and snacks such as frozen baguettes, is the dominant brand in the frozen potato product market – and in chips in particular. According to TNS data for the 12 weeks to May 21, McCain has a 46.2% value share of the total potato products market, which is up from 41.7% for the same period last year. In the chips category, it has over half of the market, with a 54.1% value share, up from 51.1% for the same period last year.

A market in decline

Potato products account for the biggest share of sales in the frozen food category. According to Mintel, the market was worth &£508m in 2004 and has grown by 2% in current values, but in real terms it has declined as this segment has been hit by price-focused activity.

One ad industry insider believes that McCain faces two challenges: the lack of supermarket investment in the category, and the perceived unhealthy nature of its products. But he adds that the company benefits from its “anchor” and brand heritage in potatoes, which helps it develop into new categories away from potatoes and frozen.

But another source doubts how much growth McCain will be able to extract from potato products. He says: “Its strength in frozen potatoes is only an advantage up to a point. A lot of its products seem unhealthy and that feels quite backward looking. It will be a challenge to keep growing, both in that market and in snack products.”

Jerry Wright, marketing director at Bird’s Eye, says frozen food has had a bad press, but he believes that in the short- to mid-term there is growth in the market from focusing on health, nutrition and freshness.

Avoiding ‘demonisation’

Due to the categories that it is competing in, McCain may find it increasingly challenging to avoid its products becoming demonised. Eyles is determined that McCain’s portfolio should be beyond reproach. He says: “A vast majority of our products have only 5% or 6% fat. We need to reassure people of that. There is a lot of similar advertising out there and some seem to feel the need to apologise for their brands. We want to be proud.”

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