There's been a whole heap of chatter about Anchor's new light-proof bottles over the past few weeks, plenty of it negative. But one month after the first bottle was produced, Fonterra Brands' group marketing manager Craig Irwin says the innovation is already paying dividends in terms of increased sales and share.
He says the team knew to expect some negativity, because "when you're Anchor and Fonterra, you tend to be up there as far as topics of conversation. But it's been "somewhat more than expected".
"For all the noise, however, lots of New Zealanders are quietly going out and buying it," he says. "... The first cuts of grocery and share data show we're up."
He was unable to go in details about the increase in sales because the new bottles have only been on the shelves for three weeks, but he says "short term, we're definitely seeing more people buying Anchor".
Obviously, this project is about creating a point of difference on the shelf and trying to give customers a reason to pay more for what is ostensibly the same product as that offered by its competitors. But the "big, hairy goal" is to promote more overall milk consumption in New Zealand. Per capita, it's been heading down for some years. And he says the category has basically been left to flounder, with no-one "making it interesting or engaging" for consumers.
"Milk hasn't been on the radar, except when it comes to the price of it, so this is about getting it back on the radar—but because of taste and nutrition," he says.
He says there's nothing stopping its competitors from replicating the triple-layer bottle as it isn't patented (the term Light Proof is trademarked, however), and he hopes competitors react.
"Whether they follow us this way or do something different, it will drive some really good competition."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5vkwCEZxV0So far its tracking research is positive and he says Colenso BBDO and Assembly's glass cows campaign has really resonated with consumers, with great TV cut-through being backed up well instore so that "consumers don't forget who it's for".
He says it envisaged raising awareness of the product as one of the biggest challenges. The mainstream and social media attention took care of that. And now it's moving on to the education phase to try and help bust a few myths and misperceptions about the bottles and the reasons they were created.
"We're just on to that phase a lot earlier than we expected," he says.
As many brands have found, social media tends to skew towards the negative. And in what could be seen as a quintessential first world problem, one of the biggest complaints on Anchor's Facebook page was that you couldn't see how much milk was left. It hasn't got any solid research into what 'normal' New Zealanders think as it's still very early days, but as things are now starting to settle down he says it's starting to see people "get it and buy into it".
"It's quite a big change for consumers," he says. "You get it home and you can't see the milk so you have to change some habits. But people figure out that life goes on and start to realise it's actually not that much of an issue."
He says social media can be the "talkback radio of the two thousands", but it does give brands an insight into what consumers are talking about and a chance to rectify it.
"As much as it can be negative, it's important to be there, otherwise you've just got your head in the sand," he says. And when the community starts answering detractors on your behalf, that's the sweet spot.
He says it's important to "triangulate" online sentiment with sales results, customer service and other research. And it's doing that by taking its comparative blind taste test to supermarkets around the country. So far 25,000 Kiwis have sampled it, with 85 percent preferring the taste of the light-proof milk. Its tests before the launch showed 70 percent preference, so that gives Irwin confidence that the difference is clearly discernable and the product is better.
Another big complaint was that milk spends all its time in the dark fridge, so many saw it as a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, seemingly forgetting that it's not just sunlight that affects milk, it's any light (Irwin says it generally takes about three days to get "from us to you" and the milk spends a good chunk of time in fluorescently lit supermarket chillers).
Another criticism was that while the bottles were light-proof, the tops weren't. That would have been an embarrassing oversight, and the schadenfreude detectors went off, but there's a foil cap underneath.
As for recyclability, he says it uses only one gram more plastic than the old bottles and, while he admits recyclers do get slightly less per tonne for coloured plastic, it's certainly not the first company to use coloured plastic and it is still just as recyclable as the old bottles (it has received more than 50 nominations for the Unpackit awards and a stern rebuke from Wanaka Wastebusters' Gina Dempster).
Irwin says he has a kerbside bin made from the new bottles, companies like Marley will use it for drains and Fonterra's Milk in Schools campaign is also making use of the recycled plastic.
"From a purist point of view, the packaging is meant to protect the product," he says. "And up until recently milk bottles were a great way of letting lots of light in, so once you talk to the recyclers and explain that consumers weren't getting the best product, they understand the need for it."