CORPORATE CASE STUDY: Chock full o'Nuts emphasizing its Big Apple flavor

To revitalize the Chock full o'Nuts coffee brand, Sara Lee kicks off a campaign that reaches out to a younger demographic who recall it as a quintessential part of old New York.

To revitalize the Chock full o'Nuts coffee brand, Sara Lee kicks off a campaign that reaches out to a younger demographic who recall it as a quintessential part of old New York.

Chock full o'Nuts was once as much a part of New York City as Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodger great who was a Chock executive in the late 1950s, and the Rockefeller family, which became upset when it was mentioned in an old Chock ad jingle. Today, 71 years since its first coffee shop opened, corporate parent Sara Lee wants to reconnect Chock with its New York roots. Hoping that nostalgia will attract not only baby boomers, but also a younger demographic that enjoys retro images of old New York, Sara Lee has launched an integrated campaign that emphasizes Chock's Big Apple pedigree. "The overall goodwill that the company has is so strong," says Karen Page, a New York-based food and beverage consultant who did consumer research for Chock. Page found that Chock's appeal reaches into younger demographic groups, whose members recall going to the old Chock coffee shops with their parents and grandparents. "You don't have a story like Chock full o'Nuts' come around very often," Page says. "If they can channel the goodwill they have, they can do something really exciting." But other coffee and food pros say Chock has its work cut out for it in today's increasingly crowded retail coffee environment. Starbucks is seemingly everywhere these days, and Dunkin' Donuts has increased its efforts to remind consumers about its coffee offerings. Additionally, new competition, such as a planned chain backed by a Columbian coffeegrowers group, is set to appear on the scene. "It's a real mature market," says Suzanne Brown, who runs Brown Marketing. Playing up New York roots Chock coffee shops, which sell a variety of soups, sandwiches, and baked goods, along with their signature coffee, were once ubiquitous in New York City. Wall Street's financial district in the early 1970s routinely would include people lined up at Chock outlets for their morning coffee, and again at lunch to pick up quick meals. But in ensuing years, although it continued to sell strongly in supermarkets (today it remains the top seller in New York grocery stores), Chock's retail sales began to decline. In response, Chock reestablished a retail presence, then dubbed Chock Express, in 1993. And in 1999, consumer powerhouse Sara Lee bought the brand in a $238 million stock deal. Sara Lee recently announced a new business strategy that puts each of its brands into one of four categories: strategic investment, support and grow, sustain, and manage for cash. Its new Senseo home coffeemaker, for example, is in the strategic investment category, which houses brands that the company envisions will bring in double-digit annual growth in coming years. While Sara Lee hasn't publicly said where Chock fits in this new approach, the new campaign seems to indicate its parent has high hopes that it can increase retail sales, first in New York, and then in other East Coast cities. Chock began doing consumer research in the summer of 2002 to find out what messages would help it re-establish a retail presence and consumer loyalty, notes Jennifer Stein, brand manager for Chock's caf? efforts. Research also asked what consumers thought of the coffee landscape, and found that they generally thought packaged supermarket coffees were bland and boring, says Angie Hancock, associate brand manager for Chock. Finally, research tapped into the general ennui among consumers when it comes to major branding efforts. "Consumers are rebelling against the corporate giants," says Hancock. Based on the research, Chock decided its best messaging strategy would be to emphasize its New York authenticity and heritage. It also sought to differentiate its taste from that of its competitors. "Chock full o'Nuts offers a bold, fuller-flavored coffee than our competitors," says Hancock. To reinforce that, Chock recently launched a new offering, New York Roast, formulated to appeal to New York coffee tastes. "New Yorkers traditionally have enjoyed a full city roast, a coffee darker than others," explains Brown, and Chock's New York Roast is aimed squarely at that taste preference. As 2003 drew to a close, Chock kicked off the $2 million to $3 million integrated marketing campaign, which included ads featuring real New Yorkers at city landmarks. PR agency The Original Media Group also was brought on board to garner media attention for the rebranding effort. "To be New York's coffee, we felt that PR was crucial," explains Chock's Stein. "The buzz factor was important." That's because the target market for Chock today starts with well-educated, high-income 25-year-olds, a group more likely to respond to PR-generated buzz about a brand than to traditional advertising. Chock is targeting what Stein calls "urban pleasure seekers" and trendsetters. "They value diverse experiences, and they're always looking for that new thing," she says. The New York media has been receptive to the Chock comeback story. Its new campaign has been covered in The New York Times and Newsday, as well as in trade publications BrandWeek and AdWeek. One aspect of the ads brought Chock some unexpected publicity. While the new campaign features New Yorkers, the Chicago office of BBDO prepared the ads - a point some New York writers have chided the company for. Hancock doesn't see any lasting negative impact, and notes that the company used BBDO Chicago so it could get more creative attention than it might have from the agency's larger New York office. Similarly, Chock picked The Original Media Group, a smaller, independent PR firm, because it wanted the attention a boutique shop could give it. Future efforts The next wave of Chock PR will revolve around a concert it is sponsoring - Chock Loft Live - in New York's SoHo neighborhood, with music group Live. A new website invites visitors to enter a contest for tickets to the April 22 event and features a guide to city activities, as Chock plans to be evident at various New York events this summer. "New York is a bunch of neighborhoods, and we want to be very neighborhoody," says Stein. "Where New Yorkers are, we want to be." The company also will continue to expand the number of retail outlets it has in the city and surrounding areas. It currently has 150 outlets, but that includes Chock products sold at various movie theaters in the region. Tailoring new outlets to individual neighborhoods might be a major plus for Chock, says Brown. "They have a real opportunity to be innovative by combining their New York name with New York's diversity," she says. "As long as they emphasize their regional roots, they're going to have a loyal following." Chock also is likely to appeal to tourists wanting to experience the real New York, she adds. "When tourists are in New York, they want a taste of New York and all that that means," she says. Chock has worked hard at reinforcing its New York roots, getting named the official coffee brand served at Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden. Similarly, in 2002, it was named the official coffee for West Point, just a short trip from New York City. Still, for all its New York roots, Chock will need to make its history relevant to younger consumers, says Stacey Bender, president of The Bender Hammerling Group, an agency which specializes in food clients. She thinks Chock should first target baby boomers who remember its glory days and then, as business builds, go after younger consumers. Brown disagrees, saying the demographic battleground for coffee outlets these days starts with consumers as young as 15. She explains, "PR will help them reestablish the brand, but they have a lot of education to do, especially in reaching the younger generation that frequents coffee shops." PR contacts Brand manager, Chock full o'Nuts caf?s Jennifer Stein Associate brand manager Angie Hancock

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