Heilala on building brand advocates2020|25:58
Digitally Speaking: Heilala Vanilla GM brand and marketing Ruby Grant Taking on the US market is a big move. GM brand and marketing Ruby Grant shares how Heilala paired the nationwide reach of digital with a unique approach that turned high-end restaurants and chefs into brand advocates to drive demand for its products. Grant talks about Heilala’s “triangle approach” which sees high-end restaurants and chefs taking the role of brand ambassadors or influencers for their products, and ultimately helping generate demand and interest from premium food brands and manufacturers wanting to source high-end ingredients and then from home bakers and cooks wanting access to those same quality ingredients. “With this triangle approach we’ve found not only that it spreads our risk but that it creates this really successful cross-pollination for our brand reputation and recognition in the market.” “Building a unique brand story around our premium vanilla products has taken us out of the commodities market and helped us create customers – whether they’re chefs or home bakers – who are also really loyal advocates for Heilala.” Grant says Heilala realised it couldn’t take on the whole of the US market, but they’ve focused on going “narrow and deep”. Digital sales channels have enabled them to have widespread availability of their products, while the company’s focus on building relationships with high-end restaurants and chefs in their chosen base of New York (one of America’s foodie capitals with a strong dessert culture) has helped secure the profile they needed to grow their customer base in the US. “The combination of having these top chefs talking about us with the fact we had national distribution online, meant we could be picked up by national media. We were featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine and Martha Stewart, and then customers could either jump online and find us or in some cases find one of our premium retail partners.” Grant says the shift to selling predominantly online is a very deliberate strategy and one that has worked well for their move into the US and a shift from their approach in New Zealand and Australia. “In New Zealand and Australia, we're probably 70% retail, 30% digital or online. And in the States, that's definitely flipped the other way – we’re 70% online or through e-commerce and 30% bricks and mortar. The bricks and mortar or physical stores that we are in are typically quite high-end and they align with who we are and what we do, and they are more flagship stores to actually showcase the brand rather than being the traditional retail route that we were in previously.” Heilala Vanilla is currently branching out into a range of new non-edible but complimentary products – still using natural vanilla – including a facial oil and a range of kitchen cleaning products partially inspired by their COVID-19 pivot to sanitiser and the feedback they received from new and existing customers.