Nature's Path Serves Up Sustainability with Cereal

Nature's Path Serves Up Sustainability with Cereal

An awakening in every bite.

For the new conscious consumer, it's not just about selling tastier, crunchier and healthier cereal anymore. Nature's Path is serving its cereal with a generous and delicious topping of sustainability. And thriving in a challenging market for organics.
 
Building upon a highly effective test market launch in Toronto in 2008, North America's largest organic cereal brand, Nature's Path Organic, has unleashed its first integrated North American multi-channel consumer campaign this fall to promote its flagship cereal, Flax Plus Pumpkin Granola, under the banner of great tasting, healthy cereal and sustainability.

Going beyond marketing as usual, this is a campaign for a new brand era of authenticity and transparency -- a campaign that could only be run by a company deeply committed to sustainability. Most unusual for this campaign is the idea that a company could and should sell the higher calling of personal sustainability, defined as health and wellness, through the portal of great-tasting organic cereal, thereby making the brand a mouthpiece for the cause of sustainability through its products.
 
In a cluttered and increasingly competitive natural and organic breakfast cereal category, Nature's Path plays the role of the 100 percent organic, fiercely independent, family-owned David, to the publicly-held "natural" Goliaths: Kashi, which is owned by Kellogg's, and Cascadian Farms, which is owned by General Mills. Spending for Kashi, which has only a handful of organic products in its lineup, was $43 million this year, compared to Nature's Path's $5 million push for this campaign. Because consumers can barely discern the difference between organic and natural in the cereal aisle, an effective underdog strategy that powerfully targets a segment of the rapidly growing set of consumers looking for tasty, healthy food is critical.
 
{related_content}The natural and organic cereal category is just one area where companies and brands are vying for the attention and brand loyalty of the much sought-after "conscious consumer," for whom social and environmental values have become a determining factor in purchase behavior.

Originally defined as the cultural creatives through market research group LOHAS, and further characterized as the conscious consumer by egg brand development in Seattle, this consumer makes up about a third of the entire U.S. population.

"Consumers in this space want to be healthier, but they're also part of this bigger values-based movement that they aren't even necessarily aware of -- and yet, are craving. Helping them see how they are a part of something larger is a powerful idea. For our target audience -- intelligent, educated, questing, and inured to advertising as usual, we need to give them something real if we want to actually connect with them. It's all about encouraging systems thinking in order to drive change." says Hilary Bromberg, head of Strategy and Research at egg.
 
A comprehensive brand development process carried out in 2008 by egg, which specializes in sustainable brands and marketing to the conscious consumer, helped Nature's Path emerge with a thorough understanding of its brand, encapsulated by the tagline, "Eat well. Do good," which, along with the key pillars of taste and health, incorporates the company's fundamental values associated with sustainability.

The core component of sustainability for Nature's Path is embodied in their mission to produce only 100 percent organic products that do not use any harmful chemical pesticides or herbicides. The company's independent status also allows it to extend corporate governance on social and environmental issues beyond what a public company might otherwise allow for. Jyoti Stephens, Sustainability and Stewardship manager for Nature's Path, has recently produced the company's first comprehensive sustainability report.
 
The highly successful 2008 Toronto test campaign used an integrated approach that activated street sampling teams at major mass transit stops to hand out Buy One Give One To A Friend ("BOGOTAF" versus "BOGO") sample bags of the pumpkin granola, combined with transit signs, posters at fitness centers, and an interactive microsite. But the new brand voice was careful not to sound too earnest, with headlines like "An organic cereal company can't solve climate change, but it can cause cereal change," and "We've found that social and environmental responsibility go particularly well with milk."

In this space, when messaging around sustainability, it's important to find just the right presentation of the brand voice. In this case for Nature's Path, egg found that a sense of humor can help alleviate the cloying earnestness that has become a well-recognized signpost of greenwashing for wary consumers.

At the close of the 12-week test campaign, sales had increased an astounding 33 percent in a recession, with the rest of the category falling behind or remaining flat.

This year's North American launch picked up where the Toronto test market campaign left off, but took it to a new level with messaging and media that was directed more broadly into the mainstream. The overall campaign messaging incorporates an even more direct association with taste and sustainability -- two core components of the brand -- with copy that reads, "On the path to sustainability, look for the crunchy, toasted oat clusters along the way and The path to sustainability is sprinkled with tasty pumpkin seeds."

For some executions, a more lighthearted approach was used:

Step One: Get an electric lawnmower.
Step Two: Get a goat.
Step Three: Get a second-hand goat.
Where are you on the path to sustainability? 

Perhaps most importantly, the agency developed a mnemonic tool so that consumers could remember the brand name Nature's Path, which research had proven not memorable amongst a sea of Nature's "blank" brands.

Converting a popular allegory heard in focus groups over and over again, which captures the idea of the personal journey and awakening one discovers when starting to become more socially and environmentally aware, the agency created a funky 1970s-revival logomark using the words Get on the Path in the shape of a bare foot, thereby associating an individual's personal path towards sustainability with the company's mission and its organic cereals.

"We want this campaign to motivate people to learn more about the path to sustainability without any of the green guilt," says Maria Emmer-Aanes, director of marketing and communications for Nature's Path. "We've tried to make the campaign fun, quirky and a bit tongue-in-cheek to let people know that sustainability is a journey and that we all make mistakes along the way, but that the point is to get started."
 
The campaign uses coffee shop takeovers, street sampling teams in Portland, Boston and Vancouver, social media, an interactive online game, print advertising, train and bus wraps, television and radio. Promotional arrangements with CBS and Rachael Ray incorporate sampling tactics at Whole Foods, on-air promotions, and a contest featured in Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine.

All of the advertising encourages the public to become more sustainable by "getting on the path," no matter where they are in regards to the green movement, by directing them to a website (www.naturespath.com/getonthepath) where people can take a quiz to find out where they are on the path, and then share their stories there or through Facebook and Twitter.

The campaign tested extremely well in focus groups. Participants showed broad acceptance of the term "sustainability" -- a word that's become increasingly mainstream and would not have resonated with consumers even two years ago. And they expressed warm affinity with the company and the brand based on this approach. In a competitive category, during difficult economic times, for a company with an invisible name and no huge corporate parent -- this "sustainability as challenger" strategy is proving to be a powerful one.
 
Marty McDonald is founder and creative director of egg, a brand development and communications firm focusing exclusively on sustainable brands and organizations.

Images for photo illustration and inset courtesy of egg.