How KP Snacks is becoming a marketing-led organisation

In just 8 months KP Snacks marketing director Kevin McNair has halved strategic agencies, in-housed social and introduced an innovation hub all in a bid to streamline the brand to keep up with its diverse portfolio and changing consumer trends.

In the eight months since KP Snacks’s marketing director Kevin McNair joined the company, he has halved the number of strategic agencies, in-housed social media, introduced an innovation incubator and streamlined processes.

The changes may seem dramatic, but they are all part of his plan to modernise the company and ensure it can deliver the best results for its diverse portfolio, which includes its namesake KP, classic favourites such as Skips and Discos, and newer brands like Tyrell’s and Popchips.

He explains: “In the past, KP Snacks was treated like a trade-led organisation and the challenge is how do you now take it to become a brand marketing-led organisation.

“A lot of that is about getting the basics in place. It’s about making sure we have very clear brand positioning; that we’re really clear on the role that each of those brands plays within the category; and how are we connecting category to brand strategy.”

KP Snacks is investing significantly in both growing its core brands and acquiring new ones. It has bought three brands in a couple of years: popcorn brand Butterkist and premium crisps range Tyrrell’s last year and Popchips in March.

READ MORE: Popchips looks to first national TV push to grow the sub-category it pioneered

These acquisitions have acted as a catalyst, forcing KP Snacks to streamline its agency relationships – something McNair spotted as an issue as soon as he arrived.

He explains: “A lot of [marketing] was very traditional in its approach and we needed to make sure that the brand teams were getting up to speed with where marketing is today, while also making sure we’re fit for purpose in the future.”

Measuring marketing success

McNair inherited a 150-strong agency roster but has cut this dramatically, halving strategic agencies from four to two, and brought social in-house. He also created one brief template to be used by all brands, a change from the previous six.

“It was important that we had a KP Snacks way of doing things – from insights through to brief writing and judging creative. We need a consistent language,” he says.

Bringing social in-house has allowed brands to be more agile but has also meant KP Snacks is making the most of its strategic agencies.

McNair explains: “It puts an emphasis on strategic agencies to be thinking about ideas and creating that brand world that you want to be in. That is then executed very quickly if we need to by [the in-house team].”

He is also changing the way the brand measures success to include long-term goals. Previously, he says, the business had looked more at short-term gains such as whether there was a monthly sales uplift after particular activity.

“Of course we still need to make sure the activity we’re deploying is having an impact on short-term sales. However, what we also need to do is make sure it builds long-term equity for our brands. It’s getting that balance right,” he states.

An important part of that is a focus on creativity, not just in its marketing but also in product development. With barriers to entry in the FMCG market coming down, McNair believes creativity “must be at the heart of the company”.

He explains: “I have seen with bigger FMCG companies, particularly with food and drink, that they can be relatively slow from an innovation perspective because they haven’t been creative.

“Innovation is the lifeblood of any organisation. We have to keep asking how do we make sure we stay ahead of the competition but also innovate along the lines of what those small agile players are doing?”

To foster that culture, KP Snacks has set up an innovation incubator. It sits centrally in the company, rather than as a separate hub, so all the brands can tap into its thinking and develop and entrepreneurial spirit.

He explains: “[You need] a bit of a hybrid [between a separate startup and in-house team] which is about linking to the brand teams so they can start thinking how do they apply [innovation] to the brands we have and how do we create new propositions.”

Building a strong product portfolio

While the move away from eating out has badly impacted many in the food business (notably high-street chains like Byron Burger), the snacking market has seen a boost. “High street restaurant [chains] are really suffering at the moment and people are having more occasions at home so as a result [are snacking more].”

According to figures from Mintel, the overall UK market for snacks (which includes crisps, nuts, popcorn, and savoury snacks) reached £4.1bn in 2018, up 5.9% from £3.9bn in 2017. Within this sales of crisps reached £1.45bn in 2018, up 2.9% from £1.41bn the year before. And KP Snacks is growing ahead of the market, according to McNair.

“KP as a business has, dare I say it, the best portfolio within the British market because it manages across all demographics, all consumer needs and all channels”, McNair says. “We believe having a great portfolio, marketing [the brands] well and executing them in-store at key seasons is absolutely fundamental to all of the success we’ve been seeing.”

Two brands that KP Snacks is set to invest more heavily this year are Tyrrell’s and Popchips. Tyrrell’s will be launching a new campaign later this year about the quality and providence of its ingredients with the aim of justifying its premium price point. Popchips will focus more on sampling to drive awareness and shift perceptions of the brand as not just a healthier alternative but one that tastes good too.

McNair explains: “You still have to have taste at the core. If you are a ‘better for you’ [brand] and you don’t taste very good people are going to stop buying you because the fundamental thing people want, whatever the occasion, is taste.”

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