Bush’s Beans was founded in 1908. Since then, it’s been a pantry staple, becoming a necessity for any American summertime grilling event or kid-friendly dinner plate.
While Bush’s has long offered dozens of flavors of canned-bean products, this January the company ventured outside of the canned foods aisle with the launch of a new line of snack foods: bean-based chips and dips.
Working with Cincinnati-based independent agency Curiosity, the brand developed a campaign called “Now That’s Good,” with short-form spots highlighting the flavor bursts in the new snack products. Focusing on a new, younger group of consumers, Bush’s needed creative that would play well on social media. And while it looks like Bush’s has been doing that so far, the question remains as to whether the brand will be able to sustain the new approach.
While Bush’s has long been a leader in the business of canned beans, the company’s research confirmed one thing for certain: “Consumers love to snack,” said Bush’s director of innovation Scott Daniel.
The research also showed that even though consumers know bean-based snacks are healthier than traditional options, “the taste aspect is sometimes what’s lacking,” said Jeff Warman, chief creative officer at Curiosity.
Bush’s also wanted to tap into a younger audience that values an active lifestyle and healthier snacking options. To do so, the brand needed to connect with consumers over social media platforms. The creative needed to “really pop in their feed,” said Warman.
Targeted ads for the new products debuted across social platforms in Raleigh, N.C., and San Antonio during three snack-centric events this spring: the Super Bowl, Grammys and Oscars. The brightly colored spots were six or 15 seconds long—short enough that someone scrolling through Instagram wouldn’t get bored and move past before receiving the message.
After a year and a half of product testing and consumer research, Bush’s landed on a winning chip texture and five different flavor options. It also developed dips—original and black bean—to accompany them.
“Obviously there’s a great heritage there,” said Siegel+Gale’s senior director of strategy Melanie McShane, who did not work on the campaign. “It’s about campfires and tailgates, and [consumers] understand that brand.”
But Bush’s also had to convince consumers that the brand could hold its own in the snacking category. To reach the younger, more active audience that the campaign was aiming for, Bush’s passed out bags of chips from the bed of a branded pickup during an event at Duke University in February. The team was planning more in-person activations for later this year but had to cancel those plans due to COVID-19.
“Recognizing that every business in America is being forced to pivot during this crisis, Bush’s team is no longer executing the experiential activations that allowed consumers to sample the products,” said Trey Harness, president and chief client officer of Curiosity. “Thankfully, the digital and social plans were scheduled to end at the end of March, so there are no decisions to be made in regards to changing media spend.”
For a new product launch, “you have to be a little more courageous, more bold in decisions you make,” said Warman. “That came to life creatively through the look and feel of the campaign ad and all the assets we created.”
On some level, Bush’s was poised for this kind of pivot. The company was doing plant protein before it was cool.
It’s still too early to share sales numbers, the brand said. But after one month, the “Now That’s Good” campaign had garnered more than 21 million impressions across multiple platforms, including YouTube, social media and display. During the Super Bowl, Oscars and Grammys, it generated more than 11 million impressions.
As for the activation at Duke, the brand handed out around 4,500 bags of chips to sports fans. “It was a really nice on-the-ground litmus test for reception of product and creative,” said Tom McCoy, vp of client services at Curiosity.
When asked whether the brand would consider moving into other categories following this experience, Daniel gave an unhesitating yes.
“We believe that the beautiful bean has a lot of potential to help consumers strike that balance between great taste and great nutrition,” he said.
1. Listen to your consumers. Bush’s made a smart move by serving up the category of foods (snacks) that customers are most excited about right now, said McShane. That’s a mindset that the brand will need to maintain beyond this launch to continue to grow.
2. Lean into what you know. “We’ve been doing plant protein for a very long time,” said Daniel. And because of that, it looks like the company has been able to successfully move into a new category.
3. Take risks. The company’s foray into the snacking category shows that “it’s OK to be brave,” said McShane, even for legacy brands with more than 100 years of experience. “What’s seen as a fairly static, dependable brand is actually bold enough to take that step and is met with success.”