Dionne van Delft – Hero

Dionne van Delft – Hero

As a Marketing Manager, Dionne van Delft is responsible for the Benelux marketing team for Hero Baby and Organix. Within Hero most product innovations are internationally centralised in the Group; especially where it concerns Formula Milk, which is highly complex in composition and in regulatory requirements. Hero’s baby food brands, Hero Baby in Belgium and Organix in the Netherlands, offer more room to include local needs in product development. Dionne: “We have to find a balance; in the Netherlands there is a strong demand for innovative products, but at the same time we must team up with other countries to guarantee a sufficient volume base.”

Continuous focus on building penetration

Dionne explains that at Hero they define growth KPI’s based on Byron Sharp’s work. “We consequently set targets on both mental and physical availability, the drivers of penetration. However, for the Baby category we see some exceptions from the general rules: in formula milk loyalty is still an important driver of brand choice. This is slowly eroding among millennials, but overall it is something we can’t ignore. Penetration remains key, and to achieve that we focus everything on growing the brand awareness and the physical availability in retail. A big hurdle for growth in Formula Milk is the legislative limitations; these prohibit us from communicating anything about the differences in product composition compared to for example private label products. We are different, but we are not allowed to explain anything about that to consumers. Therefore, our communication is much more focused on the role that we want to play for mothers, how we can facilitate them. This makes the communication rather emotional than functional. A good example of this is our service platform, Mama is alles, with which we want to support new moms and help them find their new role. After the re-branding (from Friso) we have built the new brand with an increase in media support; we are now back at a stable level, but with an adjusted strategy. We have to be present on a continuous basis, as the consumer base is renewing all the time, so we aim to be always on.”

Be ready for the future without losing attention for the short term

“Innovation definitely is important. In the food-range this becomes the clearest; Organix was one of the first brands with a clear ‘no junk’ philosophy and thus a single-minded focus on pure ingredients and quality. We now see many new niche brands entering the market, often with similar claims and with short innovation cycles. Which results in a continuous battle to stay relevant. I think that one of the strengths of Hero is that – even though we have established brands – we act on a high speed. Innovation can be in small aspects but can also build towards long-term objectives. You need to find the right balance, on one hand ensure that the offer remains relevant and that you hold on to what you have, and on the other hand work to address future challenges. With innovation we mainly refer to products, but our service platform ‘Mama is alles’ follows the same rules. For each innovation we define objectives, but the nature of these objectives differs.”

According to Dionne, Hero doesn’t take inspiration from just one source for their innovations. “We combine consumers’ needs, retailers’ demands and the strategic direction of our brand; all 3 elements need to be addressed but the balance is different for short term and long-term innovations. A successful innovation is always a combination of elements; a strong product idea on its own is no guarantee for success, you need to ensure physical availability and sufficient support. And the innovation needs to fit the brand story – this is something that is more important these days than ever before.”

Answering to millennials’ requirements

Dionne: “Ideas can come from very different sources. Some examples: on a global basis we cooperate with universities to explore trends, we have recently had a Spanish and a Swiss university explore the theme ‘naturalness’. But we also locally we cooperate with a.o. Wageningen University and the HAS in Den Bosch.”

Consumer trends strongly impact Hero’s category. Dionne: “Millennials are an important part of our consumer base, and this is a group with high standards. General consumer trends that influence innovation include an increased demand in personalisation and an increased interest for the environment. Specifically, in our category, I recognise major changes in behaviour that influence consumer needs.  Moms are more and more on-the-go and more different category entry points become relevant. Millennials change their eating behaviour, the number of eating occasions increases, and snacking moments have become more important. This is something that they translate to their babies as well. Moreover, there is an increased sentiment that home-made food is better than pre-prepared food; there is much more attention for health in general. Organic becomes more and more a prerequisite in baby food. And lastly, millennials are active information seekers; they are less likely to follow authorities’ recommendations, they find their own information sources.”

You need to run fast to remain where you are

Dionne: “I think that one of the major challenges of innovation is the fact that product life cycles become shorter, resulting in a limited time to earn back your investments. Another challenge is the increased globalisation on one hand, making local nuances more difficult to address. And the high speed of innovation that smaller brands can achieve – partly because they are more flexible in choosing suppliers, but also because of rapid decision making. I am happy that the decision-making processes at Hero are fast. Like many other companies we work with stage gates for decision making. Some of these are on a global level, some local. Decisions are always based on data, but there are no fixed consumer research requirements for each stage gate.”

Avoiding innovation pitfalls

Dionne explains that Hero has learned a lot throughout the years: “An important element is the international cooperation in which we have had to find our way. Discussing common innovation pitfalls, most of these I don’t recognise at Hero. I can’t recall that we have ever been late with innovations – on the contrary we have experienced some situations in which we were too early. For instance, with our Coconut Water introduction, which was launched before the trend had sufficiently peaked, or our range of frozen baby food, which was based on a relevant insight, but came too early to be adopted. We now see new brands launching a similar concept and I am curious to learn if it will be picked up now; the underlying insight is still valid. The key prerequisites of innovation are well-established within our organisation: the importance of innovation is recognised throughout the organisation and it gets the right attention and budget allocation. Of course, we can’t afford to develop everything that we want – the organisation needs to make choices.  And it can be a challenge to find the right balance in focusing between short term and breakthrough innovations; the growing pressure of small new brands force a strong presence in the here and now, but makes a long term focus even more important. As a large brand we have unique capabilities to make long term differences, and so we must keep our focus on the spot that we have set on the horizon.”

“Our market is extremely dynamic and has demanding consumers. For us this is key to continue our line extensions and packaging upgrades at a high pace. And at the same time, wanting to keep working towards that spot on the horizon!”