Thought Leadership

Hellmann’s underlines the enduring power of purpose

At Most Contagious Hellmann’s defends its purpose based strategy

Georgie Moreton

Assistant Editor, BITE

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Hellmann’s mayonnaise became the topic of much discussion earlier this year when it was thrust into debates in the financial press when shareholders questioned its purpose-driven strategy. Purpose and profit are often pitted against one another when it comes to business but at Most Contagious Christina Bauer-Plank, Global Brand Vice President, Hellmann’s at Unilever took to the stage with Regan Warner, Global Creative Director, Ogilvy to explain why mayonnaise can and should have purpose beyond tasting great.

In January this year British fund manager Terry Smith accused the company of ‘losing the plot’ over sustainability messaging. He said the company should be ‘focusing on the fundamentals of the business’ rather than defining the ‘purpose of Hellmann's mayonnaise.’ Hellmann’s was pushed into the media spotlight and Bauer-Plank found herself having to defend the brand strategy. Why does mayonnaise need purpose? Have we all gotten too ‘woke’?

Pinpointing purpose

The story of Hellmann’s mayonnaise begins back in a New York deli in 1913 where German immigrant Richard Hellmann was selling sandwiches. The mayonnaise on those sandwiches was so good that people wanted to buy the relish at home. In response Hellmann shut down the deli to work on perfecting the recipe which would go on to sell millions worldwide each day, living up to his desire to ‘democratise deliciousness’. 

While taste and quality are important it’s not enough to stand out to consumers where now 46% are ‘belief driven buyers.

Christina Bauer-Plank, Global Brand Vice President, Hellmann’s at Unilever

“That blue ribbon quality remains important” says Bauer-Plank. However, she adds: “While taste and quality are important it’s not enough to stand out to consumers where now 46% are ‘belief driven buyers.’” Beyond its original purpose and its commitment to the product, the brand needed more to hold on to its position as category leader. “Purpose is that additional differentiator and makes us stand out in culture, '' Bauer-Plank adds.

Purpose is a non negotiable

The climate crisis is the single biggest issue that this generation is facing and “huge brands have platform and the ability to lean in” explains Bauer-Plank. For Hellmann’s the answer to the brand's greater purpose was intrinsically linked to the product. Food waste is a huge contributor to climate change. So much so that reducing food waste could cut greenhouse gas emissions by around 8 to 10%. Mayonnaise has a role to play in helping make this change.

“Hellmann’s makes even the simplest meals delicious” explains Bauer-Plank, “Leftovers, sandwiches.. Our purpose journey started out in 2018 with leftovers and actually stepping to tackle food waste wasn't a huge step.”

60% of food wasted happens in consumers' homes, yet as Bauer-Plank explains: “No consumer sets out to waste food, it is an unintended outcome of modern life”. In line with this Hellmann’s is well placed to help combat an issue that people care about and want to change.

Putting insight into action

As a result, 2019 saw the launch of the purpose-driven campaign ‘Great Taste Without Worry Or Waste.’ The campaign had several different facets that all work to tackle the issue of food waste and position mayonnaise as part of the solution. 

The brand launched pop up restaurants that had no food where people were encouraged to turn up with leftovers and chefs would turn waste into meals. In Canada, a country that creates enough food waste each day to feed a stadium, the brand did exactly that and fed a stadium with food waste. There were also garbage trucks that carried the message ‘58% food produce ends up binned’.

Polarising debates of purpose versus profit are not helpful as purpose links intrinsically to brand and benefits category.

Christina Bauer-Plank, Global Brand Vice President, Hellmann’s at Unilever

A ‘fridge blindness’ campaign made use of the Hellmann’s app and saw master chef’s share recipes that were 3 parts basics 1 part mayo to create delicious meals for when people thought they had nothing to eat. Using creativity in combination with the product the brand has been able to educate and inspire, allowing people to be more resourceful with food, combatting waste and also showcasing unique ways to use mayonnaise. 

An Animal Crossing food waste island and a Superbowl ad starring footballer Jerod Mayo and comedian Pete Davidson saw the brand insert its purposeful messaging into pop culture and champion ‘laughter over lectures’.

Beyond awareness and inspiration the brand is also rallying for policy change. Where current date labels and best before markings can be confusing for consumers Hellmann’s is advocating for policy change in the US to standardise labelling to reduce confusion and waste. The brand also had a presence at COP26 where food waste was left off the agenda, a Hellmann’s greenhouse waste art installation meant that the issue could not be missed by policy makers.

Purpose is that additional differentiator and makes us stand out in culture

Christina Bauer-Plank, Global Brand Vice President, Hellmann’s at Unilever

Purpose equals profit

The campaign has positioned the brand firmly within popular culture and has not only made positive change but has reaped great results for the brand. “This is a success story, Hellmann’s is Unilever’s fastest growing brand. We saw 10% growth in 2020 and 11% in 2021” adds Bauer-Plank.

“Purpose equals performance and grows brand power” says Bauer-Plank, “200 million people engaged. Hellmans became a thought leader in the food waste space, the biggest voice talking to consumers showing brands can do well by doing good.”

For Bauer-Plank, “polarising debates of purpose versus profit are not helpful as purpose links intrinsically to brand and benefits category.” Yet she warns that “purpose cannot be a substitute for brand fundamentals.”

The results, impact and the ability to make real change has shown naysayers that purpose and profit needn't be debated. As for Bauer-Plank the 3Ps of great product, purpose and popular culture are the recipe for success.