Strong branding is key to better margins as Scott Casey finds out…


Two years ago Noble Foods embarked upon the most ambitious branding exercise in the egg sector this decade, creating the Happy Egg brand.

Now worth £43.9m and accounting for 9.4% of free-range sales, the Happy Egg brand is an industry success story, pointing to the power branding has to attract a premium price and drive consumption across the egg sector.

“We’ve always believed that to drive a category forward it is important to have healthy, vibrant brands,” said marketing manager for Noble Foods, Steve Horton.

“Brands can do different things that categories dominated by ‘own label’ just can’t. There was a real desire to launch a brand to be part of our attempt to build the overall egg category.”

The outline was straightforward: The brand had to have personality, consumers needed to believe in it, retailers should want to stock it and it had to be mainstream. It was for those reasons Noble Foods decided that its brand had to be free-range.

The images of hens riding around on ATVs, now synonymous with Happy Eggs, were born in these early days, from the first brainstorming session with Springetts brand design company in London.

“It [the concept] was absolutely loved by the consumer research groups. Basically we built up this concept of the Happy Egg Company, as a name and a series of pictures,” said Mr Horton.

At the launch, Noble invested in two bursts of TV advertising over 12 months to push the brand, as well as advertising in consumer and trade magazines, creating a website and running online promotions.

In-stores account managers and marketing managers came in to analyse the category, look at promotion and advertising and advise where Happy Eggs should be placed and how retailers could lift all sales of eggs.

“What we were looking to do was to re-appetise it – to get eggs back on TV, do it with some personality and build category value, getting people buying more eggs.”

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Then, after a year of hard work to build the brand, disaster struck when animal rights group Viva! and Channel 5 broke into a Happy Eggs farm, broadcasting videos revealing what were claimed to be poor conditions.

“We suspended the farm and immediately called Freedom Foods. They went in on the same day to see what was going on,” said Mr Horton.

“From a marketing point of view it was extremely upsetting after all the good work we had done. Clearly we think a lot of what was done was very unfair. We don’t believe their footage represented the true conditions on the farm.”

Around 160 consumers complained to Happy Eggs – a small number for a national news story – and Noble Foods responded personally to the concerns raised by everyone.

Following this incident, and in an effort to explain better to consumers where their eggs come from, Happy Eggs is planning to open a series of show farms to explain the methods of production.

“Obviously this is quite difficult because of biosecurity risks, but we’ve convinced the company to set them up so we can actually bring people on farm,” said Mr Horton.

This year will also see a second round of magazine and press advertising, including radio for the first time, the launch of a range of naturally occurring larger eggs and an iPhone game, where users play with hens around a farm.

The other face of Happy Eggs – its branded restaurant Pancakes and More at the Metro Centre in Gateshead – has already notched up success this year, with non-stop business during pancake day in mid-March. Noble is currently looking for a second site within the UK to launch another Pancakes and More.

There is good news too for Happy Egg farmers, as the company is to pass on some of the premium price paid by consumers for the brand.

“We are aiming to provide a better return to farmers over the long term. There are a lot of benefits to being a Happy Egg farmer, like the security of the brand. However, there is no doubt we absolutely should be working to provide a better return for farmers based on building a strong and viable brand. It’s something we are working on actively right now,” said Mr Horton.

Nobody could accuse Noble of not having ambition when it comes to promoting its brand, but Mr Horton has even loftier goals for his product. “We would like to see an egg brand in the top 10 brands, and that’s our objective to break into that.”