Finding your NPD niche

Small brands are successfully finding their niche
Small brands are successfully finding their niche

Despite the tough economy, small brands are breaking into the mainstream, writes Nick Hughes.

Food and drink brands have a strong record of identifying a niche and making it mainstream. While success stories such as Bottlegreen, Dorset Cereals and Innocent built their brands in more prosperous times, there is plenty of evidence that those that tap into the right niche with a strong proposition can still win prized space on retailers' shelves.

Last month, US healthy frozen-food brand Amy's Kitchen gained listings in Asda and Sainsbury's after creating a UK-specific identity (Marketing, 13 April). Family-owned Amy's has been exporting to the UK for eight years, but hitherto its products had been sold predominantly in independents and health-food stores.

Amy's is looking to carve itself a niche as a natural, home-cooked and gluten-free brand in a frozen category that has long suffered from a perception of negative quality. 'We want to break down the barrier in consumers' minds between fresh and frozen,' says Damien Threadgold, UK sales director for Amy's Kitchen. 'There's nobody else apart from Birds Eye doing that over here and we see that as a huge opportunity.'

To break into the mainstream, the company needed to 'evolve without losing the relevance of the brand,' explains Doug James, managing director of Honey, the branding agency that revamped Amy's packaging. 'The specialist whole foods market can be far more artisan in America - over here, it had to become much more refined to have widespread appeal.'

In Asda, the Amy's range will sit alongside the supermarket's gluten-free lines, a growth area in itself and a niche that Asda is looking to further capitalise on with the imminent launch of its own-label Chosen By You Free From range.

Aside from frozen and gluten-free, James believes there is scope for growth in the lunchtime convenience market. He cites Higgidy Pies and City Kitchen as niche brands that tick the key boxes of convenience, health, branding and price.

Simon Dunn, managing director of food broker and brand adviser Product Chain, identifies healthy snacking and soft drinks as areas ripe for niche NPD, with recent coconut water launches a prime example of a product 'that's sweeping the world'.

While brands are still entering the market, Dunn warns that businesses looking to launch niche food products have to think carefully about how they build their property. He suggests 'seeding' products in carefully targeted channels before taking them to the mainstream. 'We have a market that has changed so dramatically in the past three years that you can take a product today and get it listed in 250 Tesco Extra stores, but it won't do anything. Or you can take it to Tesco Express or a Sainsbury's Local and focus on central London, and in time it will fly,' he claims.

Although negotiations with retailers tend to be harder, niche brands often have a 'unique story' to tell, helping them to 'get through the door', according to Threadgold. 'With Amy's we wanted to get the retailers to see how we do things differently and we're managing to do that.'

Niche trendspotter

Giles Brook knows a thing or two about taking a niche brand into the mainstream, having served as commercial director at Innocent Drinks between 2005 and 2009.

Brook left Innocent two years ago to co-found healthy fruit snacks brand Bear. He now also owns European distribution rights to Brazilian coconut water brand Vita Coco, which is benefiting from a raft of consumer PR.

Brook says it is more difficult than ever in the current economic climate to launch a brand from scratch. Nonetheless, he believes that brands with a compelling consumer proposition can still succeed. 'The category argument for Vita Coco is that it's not a duplicate offering, it's meeting a need that is not currently catered for and gives retailers the opportunity to add incremental sales,' he explains. 'Similarly, with Bear we felt nobody was doing healthy snacking well, so there was a core consumer need.'

Brook's approach has been to seed Bear and Vita Coco in the independent and impulse markets to establish consumer demand before taking them into multiples. By the middle of this year, he says Bear will be sold in virtually every major supermarket, while Vita Coco has won listings in Ocado, Tesco and Waitrose.

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

Oasis #springasmile digital campaign gets people doing good deeds
Coca-Cola: 'Don't approach bloggers with a fait accompli'
Tesco CMO Matt Atkinson: 'It is so important not to stereotype mothers'
McDonald's gives Ronald a new look ahead of global 'Fun times' social media push
In pictures: BrewDog opens first craft beer shop BottleDog for 'beer aficionados'
Facebook ad revenue leaps $1bn as it invests in targeting
Malteser or Maltesers? Mars takes Hershey trademark dispute to court
Apple Q2 profits top $10bn as iPhone sales soar
Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers