In 1886, Henry J Heinz came to the UK carrying a suitcase filled with Heinz tomato ketchup. He had started his condiment and pickle business 17 years prior, but the US businessman decided the time was right to convince Britain his ketchup was the best. Little did he know that the glass-bottled sauce would spark a love for the brand lasting more than a century, and which would see the UK come to view Heinz as its own.
As the brand celebrates its 150th anniversary since its founding, Britain’s love for Heinz is something Vicki Sjardin, its vice-president of marketing for EMEA, says is just as tangible today.
The landmark offers a welcome dose of optimism in the aftermath of parent company Kraft Heinz taking a big hit on the book value of two of its other big brands – Kraft and Oscar Meyer
Warm, affable and unafraid to show her personality in what can sometimes be a stiff, corporate world, Sjardin’s enthusiasm for Heinz is infectious, but she takes her role seriously.
“[At an internal conference] I was talking about the 150th campaign and I said: ‘Look, you would expect me to be excited because I am responsible for our brands but would you believe me if I said that there was a picture of me on the Serengeti with a can of baked beans?’” she says.
“For me to be responsible for Heinz it is a privilege. There are very few brands as iconic as Heinz. To do that in its 150th year is fantastic.”
The responsibility of brand guardians is to build on the good will and the brand love of the marketers that have gone before.
Vicki Sjardin, Heinz
The brand has launched a campaign across TV, radio and digital to celebrate the milestone, using the line ‘150 years of clean plates’. Sjardin shares the brand’s thoughts behind the slogan.
“How do you know when you’ve had good food? You have a clean plate and the role Heinz plays in making food tastier and cleaning those plates is what we’re dramatising…we’ll be bringing that to life,” she reveals.
The celebrations have already started thanks to a partnership with its original UK stockist Fortnum & Mason. It has launched limited-edition versions of it ketchup, baked beans and tomato soup, featuring specially designed labels in the store’s famous Eau de Nil blue colour to mark the occasion.
“All of those products have a little story to tell, but really [the campaign is about] celebrating our values and the things we [feel are important],” Sjardin explains.
The brand has designed special store windows at Fortnum’s flagship store in London. It has also launched a limited-edition ketchup ‘caviar’ – where the sauce is formed into small spheres similar to the expensive delicacy – of which there are just 150 jars.
“Heinz is a brand for everyone; it’s loved by everyone. You can find Heinz in Michelin-starred restaurants but you will also find it in roadside cafes, so the idea of doing the caviar is to really create a product that is special. It’s the Heinz people love but [presented] in such a different way.”
The brands within the wider Kraft Heinz business are perhaps less loved, though, if the results it revealed last month are anything to go by. The company, which was formed by the $49bn (£38bn) merger of Kraft Foods and Heinz four years ago, posted a net loss of $12.6bn for the final quarter of 2018, writing down the value of Kraft and Oscar Mayer by $15.4bn.
When asked about Kraft Heinz’s latest results this is the only time Sjardin becomes more guarded.
“The role for marketing is to continue to build strong brands that are relevant to consumers, to understand our consumers and shoppers and find a way to bring relevant communication. That’s the role marketing will continue to play.”
Building on heritage
The history of Henry J Heinz isn’t just something being brought up for the anniversary; the legacy of his ideas can be found in the form of the ’57 varieties’ tagline printed on the label of nearly every product.
Sjardin explains its origin: “In many ways [Henry J Heinz] was the original brand builder. The 57 actually came about because he saw a shoe brand that had 21 varieties and he thought that, as a way to talk about the quality and a breadth of the range, he should really have a [similar] slogan. So he combined the favourite numbers of himself and his wife and decided it would be ‘Heinz, 57 varieties’.
“That kind of innovative spirit, along with that insistence on the highest quality and transparency of ingredients, together with some very strong marketing skills, has made Heinz the brand it’s always been and has driven it to the leading position it has today.”
So, what would Henry J Heinz think of the company now it has more than 150 brands, nearly three times the number of varieties he first claimed all those years ago?
“I think he would be very proud,” Sjardin says. “The campaigns and the creativity, whether it’s 57 varieties of ketchup or now caviar, he would think fondly of the creativity that we’ve shown.”
Sjardin is clearly passionate about the brand’s history, including some of its iconic campaigns – most notably ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’, which was first introduced in 1967.
But ensuring the brand continues to create marketing that matches this level of impact must be quite daunting given there is far more competition today, both in terms of products and when it comes to fighting for consumers’ attention.
“How we continue to communicate our brands’ values and beliefs in creative ways that resonate with consumers is always a challenge. It’s what marketers think about, dream about, worry about,” she says.
“The responsibility of brand guardians is to build on the good will and the brand love of the marketers that have gone before and I truly believe, by being true to those brands, I and the team will continue to be able to do that,” she says.
The purpose of Heinz
Prior to taking up her current role, Sjardin worked for more than a decade at Unilever, most recently on Dove, a brand with a very clear purpose. And while Kraft Heinz might not be known for ‘purpose’ in the same way Unilever is, she claims it is just as purposeful.
Unsurprisingly she says this all heralds from its founder. “Henry J Heinz had a purpose that is still true today. He said ‘doing common things uncommonly well brings success’. That sense of quality and responsibility – to bring something as simple as a tomato ketchup, but to create that in such a way that it is still the leading tomato ketchup brand in the world – is something we believe in here,” she explains.
“Our brand’s purpose can be something as simple as having spaghetti Snap Pots [individual portions] because we know that for mums, helping them put a really fast, easy meal on the table is invaluable. As a mum of two kids myself I cannot tell you the stress and pressure of putting meals on the table that my kids will eat.”
The brand has settled on an overarching purpose, though: ‘Helping people make progress in their lives through brands’.
As someone who has risen through two FMCG giants, what is the secret to good marketing? Sjardin says there isn’t one but she is opinionated on what makes a good marketer.
“The skill of marketing is firstly understanding your brand. If brand X is to walk through the door what does it believe and why, because that provides your guiding principles.
“Marketing is where left brain meets right brain, creativity meets discipline. You can have all the creativity in the world but if you don’t understand how you operationalise that, how you make that a reality, it doesn’t work. Or you can be very disciplined and be magic by numbers but then there’s no spark.”
In many ways [Henry J Heinz] was the original brand builder.
Vicki Sjardin, Heinz
This diversity of thought is something the company is keen to encourage. It has its own marketing academy called Ownerversity, which includes workshops and mentorship programmes with the senior leadership team. Kraft Heinz’s training is what Sjardin believes sets it apart from other FMCG firms.
She explains: “I think it’s the ability to not conform to what a marketer is supposed to be or do. It’s the ability for our marketeers to be competent and trained in many different elements.
“Classically trained [FMCG] marketers have a skillset and a tool box that is very clear but it’s very similar for all [FMCGs]. So if you had to brand build you would understand brand foundations, design principles, innovation processes, etc. You would understand broadly the communications [aspect], but you wouldn’t necessarily be expected to [fully] understand PR or communications or digital.
“What makes Kraft Heinz marketers different, and what we are training them to be able to build, is a very different skillset. My expectation for my marketers is that they understand what a good brand-building strategic plan looks like, but they can also understand social channels and they will also look at digital,” she says.
“Their first thought will not be ‘how can I make this into a cookie-cutter 30-second TV commercial and let somebody else worry about the print and PR’. They will think ‘how will this resonate with my consumer?’. It may be an editorial idea, it may be a digital one or maybe it’s a product.”
The importance of packaging
Whether it’s the iconic glass bottles or its Fortnum & Mason collection, packaging is something Sjardin can wax lyrical about.
She says: “Packaging is more important than ever. If packaging is your physical embodiment of what your brand stands for, it’s critical that you get that right so that, visually through the product, people can understand what your brand is. If your brand was a person what would that look like?“
However, with the advent of social media the way packaging is being seen is changing. Kraft Heinz recently appointed its first UK integrated shopper marketing agency, Live & Breathe, in a bid to analyse this more.
Sjardin explains: “We need to understand that shopper path. An aesthetic that works on a physical supermarket shelf may not look as pleasing on social. Brands are increasingly looking to understand how their brands will show up in the physical space but the [shopping landscape] is much more broad now than ever before. It’s not just a supermarket shelf it’s also an ecommerce shelf.”
Previously, the brand would think about getting its products onto a supermarket shelf and a consumer would pick it up, put it in their basket and carry it home, but it now has to think about all the ways consumers choose to shop.
However, it is not just aesthetics Sjardin is passionate about. She is clear that a functional need has to be fulfilled. “Packaging for us is really important, there is nothing more frustrating than a bottle leaking and going all over the place. It can’t only look aesthetically pleasing, it needs to deliver use.”