When Del Monte Foods appointed Bill Pearce as its first CMO in May 2008, the goal was to deliver category-changing marketing that would drive the organization forward, the company said at the time. Going by top-line results, you could argue that he delivered. The company reported a first-quarter profit of $58.6 million, versus a year-ago loss of $10.1 million. On Pearce’s watch, the company has rolled forth eye-catching campaigns, such as the “nude fruit”-themed “Fruit Undressed” ads—via lead consumer goods agency, Smith Brothers Agency, Pittsburgh. The advertising is part of Pearce’s strategy to reinvigorate Del Monte by more “consumer-centric marketing,” the former Taco Bell marketing chief said. Pearce, a veteran of the Campbell Soup Co. and Procter & Gamble, spoke with Brandweek about Del Monte’s new marketing focus.
Brandweek: When Brandweek last chatted with you in December 2008, you talked about “top-tier growth,” “top-tier share” and “top-tier [employee] job satisfaction” as some of your goals for the job. How far along are you with that?
Bill Pearce: I think we’re making very good progress. If you go back to our September earnings and benchmark versus our peer set, we’re doing very well. That [speaks to] growth in share, and more importantly, what I’m feeling best about is the build out of our organization. Our marketing capability has improved dramatically, and I think people are generally excited and feel good about where we’re going.
BW: Earlier this month, Del Monte Foods consolidated consumer promotions and shopper marketing duties for its consumer goods and pets business under two different agencies—Catapult Action-Biased Marketing and Draftfcb, Chicago, respectively. What brought about this decision?
BP: It goes to what we’re trying to do. I talked about top-tier growth and top-tier share, [and this is part of our effort to achieve that]. It’s not just what you do on TV, but how you surround the consumer on the integrated marketing [front]. We wanted to [increase] our ability to communicate with the shopper in-store, and that really requires ramping up our shopper marketing capabilities. And frankly, the consumer trend—how people shop—has changed over the last couple of years. So it’s really also about making sure we have shopper/consumer promotion capabilities in line with the [current] shopper marketing [trends].
BW: Will the eat-at-home trend be just as relevant, especially with signs of the economy improving?
BP: When you look at the Technomic [restaurant and food industry research firm] data, which tracks the number of meals at home [and out-of-home], the at-home meal occasion is just as relevant as it was 12 months ago. One of the biggest impacts of the recession is families spending more time together and wanting more quality time [often via a meal] together. So, that insight of making “meals that matter” is a great way for moms to express their love and appreciation for the family.
BW: Del Monte Foods dialed up ad spending by 11 percent in its latest quarter. Which brands are you focused on marketing in a recession?
BP: On the consumer side, you’ve seen our Del Monte ads [for our canned fruits and vegetables business] on TV for the first time in 10 years, and we will continue to support [that campaign]. We believe that the brand is extremely relevant, and we’ve got a very creative way to reframe it in consumers’ minds. [Spots, also via Smith Brothers, show the value and nutrition of buying Del Monte’s canned foods over fresh or frozen brands.] On the pets side, we see continued upside in the pet snacks business, and we recently launched a new campaign for Milk-Bone [“It’s good to give,” via Draftfcb in Irvine, Calif.]. We will continue to support that as well as our work on Pup-Peroni [ads show dogs communicating with their owners with the help of signs], which has been on air [since January].
BW: Was the “Stretch your dollar” canned foods campaign a defense against private label? How effective has it been?
BP: We look at the economy as a catalyst to change the conversation with consumers, so private-label development wasn’t really the driver. Rather, we saw the opportunity that, when consumers are in a pinch, they can’t gamble. They want brands they know and trust, and they don’t want to make mistakes. So we have been benefiting from that trust and quality that is the hallmark of the Del Monte brand.
BW: Marketers have cut back on new product pipelines in a recession. Do you see much of Del Monte’s innovations coming from line extensions or category-changing new products? Do you have an example of this?
BP: Fruit Chillers [Freeze & Eat Tubes is a good example]. You can think of them as line extensions, as we do have the Fruit Chillers [fruit cup snacks] product. But it was a totally reworked proposition with an entirely new target audience. So, a focus on kids, a new product form, a handheld, versus a cup, like one you’d eat sorbet or ice cream out of with a spoon. And we view that as more than a line extension. It’s been well received. It opened our brand to a whole new user base and to new occasions that fit in with today’s lifestyles and [busy] moms’ needs.
BW: O.K., with all this talk about food and pet snacks, what’s your favorite Del Monte product?
BP: Milk-Bone. It’s the brand I remember most from my youth. I can’t think about that brand without smiling and thinking of [the pets I’ve had], from the dog that I got for my fifth birthday to my black Lab that I have at home now. I smile every time I think about the brand and I can still see the expected look on my pet’s face when I was a five-year-old and I see it every time I give my black Lab [a Milk-Bone treat.] I’ll give one to her tonight when I come home.