Filling a whole

Clare Dowdy speaks to RHM off-shoot The Enjoy Organic Company to find out how to package, brand and market a company in the dynamic organic sector

“I said, let’s have a new brand.” And just over a year later, that’s what she had. Harriet Rhys Williams may sound relatively casual about the launch of The Enjoy Organic Company, but it was a big undertaking, particularly for parent group Rank Hovis McDougall.

The last major new RHM brand was Mr Kipling in the 1960s. “It did need to be well researched. Launching a company is a high profile thing to get wrong,” Rhys Williams admits. Indeed, more than £1m has been spent on research and development – and that’s before getting to market.

The style and philosophy of the company, which aims to launch a comprehensive range of cross-category organic products, seems to stem from Rhys Williams’ own kitchen in her terraced house in London’s West Kensington. She had been working on RHM’s business development from home, holding meetings in this room. She was asked to look at all the health markets for business opportunities, and after some research, found that organic “was the hot spot”. Coincidentally, that was also her particular interest.

The scheme received the go-ahead from the board last May. Rhys Williams felt that it was important for the organic brand to be operated as a separate company, which meant setting up the whole infrastructure from scratch. “The fact that it’s on its own is really important,” she says, hence the inclusion of the word company in the name. “It’s the right way because we have to be absolutely focused on it.”

And Enjoy Organic really has been put together from the ground up – right down to installing IT systems, finance systems, and phone systems, as well as buying computers.

One of Rhys Williams’ first tasks was to find out what the barriers to entry were. Of the people she surveyed, 75 per cent said that they would be interested in eating organic. But despite this enthusiasm and the sector’s high profile, the market was still relatively small. According to AGB, the organic market is worth about £700m, and it is growing at a rate of 40 per cent a year. “Most people expect it to be over £1bn by 2002,” she says.

Perceptions are changing just as quickly. Between Rhys Williams’ first research study in spring 1999 and the second in December 1999, the number of people interested in eating organic rose dramatically. “Before, it was so much the preserve of an elite,” she says.

Once RHM was convinced that there was a potential audience for the new brand, Rhys Williams got cracking on finding suppliers for the initial 29-strong product launch.

At the end of last year, she brought in organic consultant Simon Wright to put her in touch with suppliers. “We started sourcing all the manufacturers, because although we are part of RHM we don’t have to use its manufacturing business if we don’t want to,” she says. Actually, the bread is made by RHM.

By Christmas 1999, the team was starting to grow, with a part-time supply chain person, and a sales director in place. However, it was not until Rhys Williams got the final go-ahead to launch on 18 January this year that she could recruit anyone full time. There are now ten staff, all based in Marlow, in a vacant corner of RHM’s building. As for the future, the organisation “will grow as the sales grow”, says Rhys Williams.

But with the supermarkets jumping on the organic brand wagon themselves – Iceland stole a march last month when it bought up 40 per cent of the organic crops for the next three years – why would the supermarket chains be interested in stocking a branded range?

Rhys Williams acknowledges that “the supermarkets have done a huge amount to expand the market.” But she still sees a specific role in these chains for Enjoy Organic as a cross-category brand. “In supermarkets there’s a role for an organic beacon brand like this, because many people are still confused,” she says.

“Supermarkets can really see a role for a brand in the organic sector because it has got such a long way to go. We have done so much work to make it [the brand] perfectly right, to bring people in. The retailers have been very supportive,” she adds.

Everybody – not just supermarkets and Enjoy Organic – is aiming to bring organic into the mainstream. Three organic or healthy eating retailers have pledged to create chains in London, or even nationally, in recent months. They are Planet Organic, Greenways and Fresh and Wild. So Rhys Williams is entering what will soon become a more crowded market, hence her push to be accessible to consumers that were not previously interested in organic produce. “Our main competitors are existing non-organic brands, so that’s the rate of sale we would expect to have,” she says, citing Enjoy Organic’s version of honey nut cornflakes.

And this will be achieved through her brand’s potential to stretch across so many categories. “No one else is doing a cross category range on this scale,” says Rhys Williams. The current range includes breads and rolls, breakfast cereals, cooking sauces, frozen ready meals, pasta, rice and noodles. These will be followed by two more ranges in the autumn and two more at Christmas. “I can’t see at the moment any really obvious limits to where it couldn’t go. As long as you start in a wide variety of markets people will accept it,” she says, adding: “We need to do something sweet quickly.”

Despite this rush into the mainstream for many players, Rhys Williams sees a place for niche organic brands. Even when people are buying organic produce from conventional retailers, “there will always be organic consumers who care about things, like whether the food is local and minimally packaged. And there will still be a role for specialists, like Green & Black’s chocolate,” she says, to link the organic movement back to its roots.

With parent RHM currently being sold, Rhys Williams can’t disclose projected sales figures for her company. But with £4m being spent on the launch, the aspirations are clearly sizeable.

In the meantime, Rhys Williams is keen to stay true to the original values of the company, which was literally homemade. “I would love to have the office in a normal house with a garden. That’s the kind of environment that would be right,” she says. “It’s important that the spirit of organic doesn’t die.”

The Enjoy Organic Co

  • Aims to be the number one organic brand, with sales of £50m in five years
  • Launched 29-strong range in June
  • Prices are no more than 20 per cent above the non-organic product equivalent
  • All food is certified by the Soil Association

    The sector

    Sales of organics increased fourfold in value between 1994 and 1999, at constant prices. The market was valued at £390m in 1998, rising to £550m in 1999.

    Comparable brands include: Seeds of Change, which is owned by Mars and has launched soups, pastas and sauces, Yeo Valley, Rachel’s Dairy, Kallo, Dove Farm Foods, Whole Earth Foods and Green & Black. Hip and Baby Organix produce organic baby food ranges.

    Source: Mintel, November 1991

    The branding and Web design

    Rhys Williams looked at 12 consultancies for new product development, eventually short-listing four: The Fourth Room, Grey Futures, Added Value and Haines McGregor.

    Haines McGregor was appointed in June to work on product development and positioning, and to develop an understanding of the barriers and pitfalls that the new company would encounter. ‘Normal people didn’t feel that organic food was designed for them,’ says Rhys Williams. In response, she says: ‘We spent the year designing organic food that is accessible to normal people.’

    When it came to designing the ranges, ‘it was a really hard nut to crack’, says Rhys Williams. ‘The initial problem was that we tried to design it too much. But we have developed the proposition so that it now reflects the products – it is literal and vibrant.’

    According to Haines McGregor, the design aims to be interactive, inclusive and involving; open and honest; using communication rather than marketing.

    ‘I was a bit sceptical about having the design carried out by the same group which worked on the initial consultancy work,’ says Rhys Williams. ‘But I had no idea that the benefits would be so big. I didn’t write one design brief. It cuts out so much time.’

    Haines McGregor is also creating the website, which aims to be different and inclusive. It is conceived around a house, where the user enters a variety of rooms for related information – events in the living room, ingredients in the kitchen, company details in the study, kids’ games in the playroom.

    Rhys Williams sees the site as a portal for other complementary products and services, with links to smaller suppliers. There will also be organic news and reviews.

    The communication

    The Enjoy Organic Company aspires to be the sector’s equivalent of Direct Line insurance.

    ‘We think we have seriously delicious foods, but because people are jaded, how do you communicate it?’ Rhys Williams says, by the usual language describing such products.

    Ad agency Clayton Healey came up with the idea of taking the Enjoy Organic message directly to the consumer. Regional events such as local shows will be targeted, so that the public can meet the team behind the company. Once they have tried the products they are invited to write a poster. These posters will be photographed with their author, and will go up as ads in that area. ‘This is so much more fun and real,’ says Rhys Williams. ‘If we just went on TV and did another glossy ad – who would notice us?’

    The Enjoy Organic experience is being recreated for these events in a double decker bus, where consumers can get a feel for the brand. Dressed in brand colours, the bus has been fitted with a kitchen downstairs and a living room upstairs. In July, the brand is linking up with Heart FM and sponsoring an area of the Lambeth Country Show.

    Harriet Rhys Williams

    1991-93 McKinsey & Company, business analyst

    1993 RHM, trade marketing manager for the £200m grocery division.

    1995 Bisto Foods. Sets up new business unit The Innovation Team

    1996-97 Head of Innovation Team

    1997 Bisto Foods, marketing director

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