How to tranform a business

Burton’s Biscuit Company has been on a two-year transformation mission. Michael Barnett learns how to change corporate culture from chief marketing officer Stuart Wilson.

burtons

At Burton’s Biscuit Company, a business transformation has been underway since 2010. The organisation more than trebled its year-on-year profits in its most recent accounts to January 2011 and gained both a new chief executive and executive team.

Yet the transformation is more than financial, claims chief marketing officer Stuart Wilson. He says it also represents a wide-scale shift in corporate culture at the firm.

“The transformation is on several different levels. Clearly, it’s a transformation in business performance from a shareholder’s point of view. And in terms of a strategic transformation, we will be a far more branded organisation,” he argues.

Wilson is referring to five biscuit brands that are expected to drive future growth at the company, which is the second-biggest biscuit manufacturer in the UK after McVitie’s owner United Biscuits. Burton’s five key brands are Maryland cookies, Jammie Dodgers, Wagon Wheels, Lyons and Cadbury Biscuits – which Burton’s licenses from the Kraft-owned chocolate maker.

Focusing tightly on a set number of growing areas, such as core brands, is an important part of transforming an organisation. Much of Burton’s boost in performance has been put down to the successful performance of the Cadbury licence, under which Burton’s manufactures Cadbury Fingers and other chocolate-covered biscuits.

stuart wilson

As well as creating new branding for many of its individual biscuit products, the company has undergone a corporate rebranding. It changed its name in November 2011 from Burton’s Foods to Burton’s Biscuit Company.

Wilson, who became chief marketing officer in September 2010, says the name change was intended to reflect the company’s single-mindedness as a maker only of biscuits (see box, below). It previously made savoury snacks such as Potato Puffs, but these had been discontinued by the mid-2000s, owing to the highly competitive nature of that sector.

Wilson says: “We wanted something that better represented who we were. We didn’t want to lose our heritage – we did explore whether we should change the name [from Burton’s], but we felt it had real merit and gave everybody a reference from the past to the present to the future.”

As part of its new corporate brand identity, Burton’s added a new motto to its logo: ‘Making every day more of a treat’. This is a clear acknowledgement that treats are its core business – and treats, as opposed to less indulgent kinds of biscuit, are a higher-value and more profitable product segment, which is why Burton’s concentrates its efforts there. It is faster growing than the value market too, Wilson says.

But he adds that the company also wanted the slogan to have resonance for employees. Getting the entire organisation engaged is a key part of successful transformation. He notes: “If we can make coming to work every day more of a treat, that goes a long way.”

Employee relations haven’t always been plain sailing since the business transformation got underway. Burton’s closed a biscuit factory in Moreton, Merseyside, in December 2011, with the loss of 219 jobs, which angered local MP Angela Eagle. The company did, however, revise its original closure plan and retained the chocolate refinery on the site in co-operation with the Unite trade union, which preserved 60 jobs that would otherwise have been lost and led to a capital investment of £2.8 million in the facility.

Wilson says Burton’s UK manufacturing is an important element of the business and the brand, despite its being majority-owned by US and Canadian investors since 2009. “We think it is important that we are a British-based company. All our manufacturing is done in Britain. We now have four manufacturing sites, three of which are making biscuits and the other is the chocolate refinery,” he explains.

Britain remains important for Burton’s future sales growth, despite its ambitious international expansion targets. In 2010, around £40 million of Burton’s £320 million turnover – one-eighth – was made outside the UK. There are targets to treble overseas sales over five years. Currently, however, most sales still come from Britain and with a 10% share of the biscuit category, Wilson says the company is far from reaching saturation point in its home market.

The Britishness of its brands, particularly Cadbury, is also helpful for marketing purposes in this country, he adds, as are the brands’ established links with traditional occasions and festivals. There was a marketing push to ensure that Cadbury biscuits and Jammie Dodgers featured at street parties for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June and Christmas is obviously an important period for sales.

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It might seem strange that Cadbury, a licensed brand that doesn’t belong to Burton’s, is such a large part of the business, but Wilson says the company treats it like one of its own. He says: “The consumer doesn’t see the difference, so the approach to marketing is no different. We approach it as we would any of our brands.”

Wilson has had to work hardest on Burton’s own biscuit brands to realise the kind of performance the company wants from its business transformation. It has needed to innovate and sometimes reinvent long-established products.

The company has overhauled the branding, communications and packaging of Wagon Wheels to appeal to teenagers and has also introduced several new product variations across its brands. These include Toffee and Choccie Dodgers, expanding on the original jam formula.

Burton’s has used the Lyon’s marque to consolidate several other brands under one banner, including Viscount and Jam Teacakes. These are intended mainly to serve the value end of the market, with a proposition that focuses on traditional biscuits.

The intention of Burton’s new product development is to bring in new consumers, as well as creating new associations with specific occasions. And targeting teenagers is an attempt to expand the company’s age range of consumers upwards.

With the relaunch of Wagon Wheels, however, there has been a more profound change, Wilson says.

“It is a brand that is reasonably familiar to people of my age, in their mid-40s. Our whole thrust is that we are going to go back to what the brand was when I was a teenager. But we are going to go and talk to a new generation of teenagers, for whom the old brand had no relevance or meaning. So we are going to take all the core meanings of what the brand was about, but change the identity and presentation.”

All these initiatives have had positive results so far and have increased the brands’ market share, says Wilson. And the principles behind the Wagon Wheels rebrand reflect the business transformation of the company as a whole.

Burton’s is branching out, reaching into new international growth markets and making itself more relevant as a 21st-century business. But it is also trying to keep in mind where it first put down its roots.

Stuart Wilson’s lessons on…

…Rejuvenating product brands

When you start a new job, assuming the brand is not as successful as it used to be, go back and look at what the brand was doing at its most successful. That is what we have done with Wagon Wheels. Understand what message it was trying to convey, and why what’s wrapped round that message – the way it is presented – may no longer be relevant. Strip that back but keep the core proposition.

We have done a lot of work with Jammie Dodgers, for example. We took an old favourite that we all grew up with and expanded the franchise. Last year we launched Toffee Dodgers, and this year we have done Choccie Dodgers. From our point of view, it is about bringing ‘new news’ to those brands and making them work hard, in terms of either current or potential new consumers. That means new usage, more usage occasions and different packaging formats.

…Corporate rebranding

We have visually transformed the brand from Burton’s Foods to Burton’s Biscuit Company. To our outside stakeholders and employees, that has been very tangible, both in terms of visual identity and the messaging that goes with it.

We make and sell biscuits and Burton’s Foods felt a little bit like a conglomerate. We do puff our chests out and say we are the only major biscuit company in the UK that only makes biscuits, and we are single minded about that. Our frame of reference can be broader than that, in terms of sweet snacking but we make biscuits, so let’s be proud of what we do. It gives us a collective sense of identity.

…Going back to your roots

With entrepreneurial roots that go back to the founders of the business, we would still like to think that we could keep the essence of that. We pride ourselves on an entrepreneurial approach and we think that is a differentiator compared with our competitors. I spoke recently at a company management conference and I used a lot of the old images of the business. They really do resonate – people like to reconnect with history.

…On the importance of a home market

Our business model is based clearly on having success both in Britain and internationally. We operate in a big biscuits category, of which we have about 10% in the UK. That means there is still 90% of that category to get and that is part of a bigger snacking market. From my point of view, the opportunity is still significant in this marketplace. The majority of our revenue still comes from the UK but clearly there are significant opportunities to develop overseas as well. Not only do we have British manufacturing, we also have a chance to take our British products into other countries.

A history of Burton’s

1874 George Burton starts a bakery in Leek, Staffordshire

1935 George’s son Joseph Burton starts Burton’s Gold Medal Biscuits (BGMB)

1938 Lyons Biscuits launch

1948 Wagon Wheels launch

1949 Associated British Foods (ABF) acquires BGMB

1956 Maryland cookies launch

1957 Cadbury Fingers launch

1960 Jammie Dodgers launch

2000 ABF sells BGMB to private equity firm Hick, Mace, Tate & Furst and a merger with Horizon Biscuit Company creates a new company, Burton’s Foods

2007 Duke Street Capital acquires Burton’s Foods

2009 Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Apollo Global Management take over ownership

2010 Burton’s Foods begins its business transformation plan

2011 The company rebrands as Burton’s Biscuit Company

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