Marlies Voorneman – Yakult

Marlies Voorneman – Yakult

Marlies Voorneman is Marketing Manager and MT Member for Yakult Netherlands. She is an innovative marketeer with a strong sense for trends and commercial insights. She has worked for Yakult in various roles in communication, sales and marketing. Yakult is a fermented dairy drink with Lactobacillus casei bacteria. It is a brand with a long history, originally from Japan, and celebrates its 25th anniversary in the Netherlands this year.

Main ingredients for growth

Marlies explains that Yakult looks at the bottle sales per day. “Drinking Yakult is a daily habit. When a new consumer is created, this consumer most likely will drink a bottle every day. So, we refer to the number of bottles per day that we sell. We also look at market share and KPI’s with regards to brand positioning, so for example top of mind position, brand image and credibility.”

According to Marlies, every country Yakult is positioned in, is responsible for their local market strategy. However, they try to share as much information as possible through the European office. “The ingredients for growth differ per country. They are also determined by the phase in the product life cycle. In the Netherlands and the UK, we were the first in the market, we build-up the category. In other countries where we introduced our product later, this needs another strategic approach. We focus on bringing our relevance to the attention. Through relevance we realise growth. Aside from that, we realise a lot of our growth through recommendations from peers and (para)medics. We inform these (para)medics about our products, based on research and talking to them at congresses. The ultimate goal is to get recommended when a consumer visits their dietician or doctor. We know that such a recommendation almost always results in trying our product. Which is why you need to cherish your loyal consumers. They are our most important ambassadors, which is a very important element in our category.”

Consistency is key

Marlies: “Consumers often tell us that Yakult truly revolves around what’s inside, and we are very consistent to this. We are not focused on developing many different flavours, that’s not our strategic goal. We are not an impulse product. On one hand you could say that 3 products isn’t that many. But on the other hand, you could say we have a strong positioning with these 3 products. We are very consistent in our strategy, and that is very important. It works the same in innovation. We base our positioning on our identity and ideas that came from scientist Dr. Minoru Shirota – the founder of Yakult –, instead of constantly changing it.”

Innovation: not everything is detectable

Marlies explains that Yakult is always working towards being more innovative. “Not everything is directly detectable of course, which is typical of innovation. Behind the scenes you put a lot of effort in it, in multiple areas; product optimisation, product development, communication tools and strategies. We try to be innovative in every area, but only a fraction of that is immediately visible. Innovation is also integrated in your mentality and mindset. The continuous drive to improve.  Innovation is deeply integrated in our organisation, it’s in our DNA. When you look at our history you can see we are very progressive. Dr. Shirota was progressive, and we try to do the same. We have a rich history, but also have a strong vision to move forward.”

Marlies: “And that’s something you also notice in our organisation when it comes to making decisions on innovation. It’s always in a team effort. When we want to explore something, a European project team is established with representatives from different countries and departments. You can think of marketing, communication and science. Every country has its own science department. Setting up such a team gives a lot of diversity and input. Sharing knowledge between ourselves is something we are always striving for.”

Main source for innovation

Marlies: “We continuously inform ourselves what’s happening in our category and the health maintenance market by screening media, trendwatchers and conduct research. We notice that there are no longer just a couple of big trends but a growing number of smaller, and more blending trends. We gain a lot of insights, but what is truly relevant? We sincerely ‘listen’ to our consumers, and also try to meet them in person regularly.  We welcome around 15.000 consumers in our factory every year, who are interested in our product and curious how such a factory works. Listen carefully what is being said and asked during these visits, is a good example how to stay connected to trends and needs of your local market. That’s why we handle our social media and customer care by ourselves instead of delegating this to an external agency.  We are in contact with our consumers every day, and that is a conscious decision we made. That’s how we stay close to our consumers and know what is relevant for them.”

Nowadays the world is complex, and we notice this among our consumers. How reliable is this source for information? And with current health issues like added sugar and salt in nutrition, people are wondering how to make the right decisions for their healthy lifestyle. People want, and are looking for, validation.”

Innovations needs to be relevant

According to Marlies, relevance is one of the main reasons why innovations fail or succeed: “Successful innovation starts with relevance. That is a key criterium. What is the essential importance for the life of your consumer? Innovating just to innovate could lead to an unsuccessful product. We try to create relevance at any level in our organisation. An example of this is our sponsor strategy. We no longer sponsor events to just put our name / logo out there, we want to motivate and stimulate people in their efforts to live their healthy life.  We decided to start our own programme: Yakult Start to Run, which is a very effective running programme from the Dutch Athletic Union. This programme is aimed at people that are inactive but want to make a change in their lifestyle. During a course of 7 weeks they can participate in a programme with a certified trainer, which leads them to be more active when it comes to walking, nutrition and even clothing. All to stimulate people to exercise in a responsible way. The goal after 7 weeks is to have them run continuously for 3 kilometres. However, it’s not the most important result. In 87% of the cases people decide to enrol in the local sports club. To me, that’s an innovation related to activation. The things we do must be relevant in such a way that it accomplishes something.”

In 10 years…

Marlies: “I see our products still being on the shelf. And we might be represented in other categories and markets as well. The current Yakult bottles will still be here 10 years down the line, because we are that relevant to our consumers.”