TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards: Whittaker’s commitment to chocolate wins it Long-Term Marketing Excellence Award

Small, Kiwi and family-owned, Whittaker’s has gone from strength to strength. From producing the humble Peanut Slab to over 100 products, this is a business that has stayed true to its beliefs and does not compromise on quality.

The Challenge

Operating in an extremely competitive market with four major multinational competitors who have much deeper pockets and significantly more resources, Whittaker’s knows what a challenge is.

Founded by James Henry Whittaker, the company is run by his grandsons, Andrew and Brian. It’s a beans to bar company that controls the whole manufacturing process.

Whittaker’s is always looking to find smarter solutions to build its brand long-term as opposed to short-term pricing objectives to gain market share.

It has to ruthlessly prioritise to ensure impact and stay true to its collective mission because ultimately, it is forced to act differently within its fiscal constraints. In recent times, a real challenge for

Whittaker’s has been the competition starting to mimic its approach.

However, it prides itself on its speed to market and maintain a pace that keeps competitors on their toes.

The Response

Despite being market leader, Whittaker’s continue to retain the mentality of a challenger brand and bring a mindset that intends to bring change and innovation to the category. One example is the recent Assortments launch into everyday gifting. Here Whittaker’s recognised an opportunity, transformed the category and contributed to the largest growth across the sector.

It is easy to see that the confectionary sector is cluttered with limited editions and it is becoming increasingly difficult to create noise. However, Whittaker’s recent Coconut Surprise for Plunket block was a good example of a limited edition that looked beyond the ordinary and turned conventions on its head.

Whittaker’s knew the only way to achieve its objectives for long-term profitable growth was to be smarter and better than the competition who often focus on short-term price-driven strategies.

So, it had to invest in the product and the marketing and drew insights from other markets (such as craft beer, coffee and candles) that had success in premiumising their categories.

Whittaker’s did this in three ways:

  • Investing in quality and continued improvement including in 2012 purchasing a Swiss 5 Roll Refiner machine to improve the quality of its Creamy Milk chocolate and the Creamy Caramel re-development. The ambitious goal was for the Creamy Milk block to be the number one chocolate in New Zealand. At the time, it was selling approximately 1/3 to Cadbury Dairy Milk. It had the difficult task of communicating its chocolate was improving even though consumers loved the original. So, it partnered with Nigella Lawson, encouraging consumers to join the switch.
  • Thorough innovation – creating iconic collaborations with Lewis Road Creamery and Tip Top. Whittaker’s surprised the nation with its first collaboration product, the L&P Block. Since then it has launched collaborations including Jelly Tip, K Bar, Lewis Road Chocolate Milk and Tip Top Ice Creams. Jelly Tip was the most successful launch in the company’s 122- year history which resulted in Whittaker’s achieving market leadership in the block market for the first time.
  • Adding value by using local Kiwi producers to create its Artisan Collection with the aim of building long-term premium positioning. It then followed with the Destinations Collection which celebrates the best global ingredients using world-class talent (Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley, Bill Bailey and Nigella Lawson) to launch the range. Whittaker’s knew that if it focused on these three key areas, positioning itself at the premium end of the mass market, it could continue to build on its quality story and achieve market leadership in the New Zealand block market.

The Result

This approach has led Whittaker’s to market leadership in total chocolate in New Zealand. This has been by continuously investing in the brand through innovation, marketing and quality.

Whittaker’s ambition to have ‘the world loving world-class chocolate from Porirua’ is brought to life through its communication.

It has strengthened this through online presence, especially on social media where it has over 875,000-plus loyal brand advocates who share the company’s passion for chocolate. Along the way, there have been many successes and Whittaker’s is deeply loved by Kiwis. It has won New Zealand’s Most Trusted Brand for eight years running, Reader’s Digest’s Most Trusted Brand from 2012 to 2019 and Colmar Brunton’s Most Loved Brand from 2012 to 2018. It has the largest FMCG Facebook page in the country alongside the best-selling milk chocolate, dark chocolate and caramel chocolate in New Zealand.

It has also had many successful charity partnerships over the years that build for long-term brand saliency. It has partnered with organisations ranging from the Breast Cancer Foundation to Starship.

For Whittaker’s, its investment in quality is paramount whether it be the product, the marketing, equipment, or people.

And its boldness, innovative attitude and vision of being world-class in everything it does ensures its legacy and products continue to be loved, and eaten, by people in New Zealand and around the world.

Category
Long-Term Marketing Excellence

Company
J H Whittaker & Sons

Marketing Initiative
Good Honest Chocolate Since 1896

Judges’ Comments
“A true exemplar of marketing-led business success. The full marketing mix has been applied strategically over an extended period, and we have a great New Zealand success story building one of the best brand stories of recent years.”

Marketing Partners
MBM, Wunderman Thompson, Sweeny Vesty, Twin Agencies

Finalists
FMG, helloworld Travel, Mercury

This piece was originally published in the 2019 Awards Issue of NZ Marketing magazine. To get a print copy, subscribe here.

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