Samantha Dolan – Aunt Bessie’s

Samantha Dolan – Aunt Bessie’s

Samantha Dolan is Head of Marketing at Aunt Bessie’s. Sam’s role within Aunt Bessie’s overarches across communication, marketing, promotions, pricing and packaging, along with her team of 6. Sam explains how innovation has changed for Aunt Bessie’s from when it was family owned, to now being owned by Birds Eye: “Aunt Bessie’s is only a 25-year-old lady, but our business has been producing Yorkshire puddings since 1974. When we were a family owned business, there was a huge emphasis on growing the products more at “breadth”, which meant innovating fast and growing to get a bigger product line with a lot of NPD pieces. Being a part of the Birds Eye family has meant that there is now more focus on the “depth” of innovation, so working across a couple of pieces of NPD and making them Bigger, Better and Bolder. Both have their merits but being a part of the Birds Eye family has meant huge opportunities with retailers, a bigger knowledge base, being able to do things at scale and more opportunities of working together.”

Innovation: finding the why

According to Sam, innovation has to be from the core and has to make sense from a brand perspective. Sam: “It always has to be category specific – Mondelez in the confectionary category do really well, where they keep throwing new pieces of NPD out there, but it works in the impulse environment. I also worked at Cadbury and its very important to keep the consumer engaged so they don’t go to another brand.”

“There is always a lot of information available around the what and the where, but the key challenge for marketers is finding the why so it makes sense in the everyday life of consumers.”

Research plays a massive role at Aunt Bessie’s and consumer insights are very important to the whole process, but taking other factors into account is important as well. Sam: “At Aunt Bessie’s, everyone who is working is a consumer, and they are asked to bring their experience to the table. Speaking to consumers at the top end of the funnel at a general level and then filtering through to the category is very important. In addition, having an understanding about what’s happening generally in their world – not just within a category – is key as the target audience in frozen foods is very generic. There is always a lot of information available around the what and the where, but the key challenge for marketers is finding the why so it makes sense in the everyday life of consumers.”

Milk, biscuits and crisps

Sam gives us an example of how great innovations can come from commoditising categories. “I previously worked at Arla Foods, and they were thinking about all the functional things in milk, and wanted to produce a better tasting, longer life version of milk. This turned into Cravendale milk, which was very well received and is now worth over 200 million. Another great example is when a new category is formed like breakfast biscuits. There was a gap in the market; nowadays everyone has a busy lifestyle, so breakfast on the go became increasingly more important. But it had to be healthy. As a result, Belvita was born and turned out to be hugely successful.”

However, not all innovations make it. Sam: “Around 2 years ago, Aunt Bessie’s launched vegetable chips. They tasted great and were made of healthy low carb sweet potato, parsnip and carrot. But they didn’t set the world on fire, the problem was they were 18 months ahead of their time but also it didn’t make sense to consumers for Aunt Bessie to launch a healthy alternative to our traditional range of roast potatoes and chips.”

Run your own race

Sam gives us some recommendations for young brands: “Come up with a concept, not a product. Co-creating with consumers along the way is very important. Sometimes innovations fail because people go too far from where the original insight came from. So, staying true to the initial concept tested is very important. Today’s NPD is tomorrow’s core. Next to that, innovation must come from the core and make sense to consumers as part of the brand they know.

“Not everything will work every time or the first time, be ready to fail and learn from it. Don’t give up, if you truly believe in the concept, break it down and see where it went wrong. There are lots of factors which go into making an NPD a success – finding white space, creating a great product, robust research, right timing, right place and backed by solid advertising and marketing. And last but not least, always run your own race, know what your competitors are capable off but keep your eyes on the finish line.”

Find out more about innovation at Birds eye on the 17th of October at the Brand Growth Event in London.