Hormel's outreach bridges old and new

From its iconic Spam to new Web sites, the 116-year-old company's PR plans continue to evolve

From its iconic Spam to new Web sites, the 116-year-old company's PR plans continue to evolve.

Spam, the blue-tinned, canned meat is a familiar sight to many customers. Introduced in 1937, it is just one of many brands that have become a continuous and thriving part of Hormel Foods' 116-year history.

Over the course of that time, marketing strategy - both internal and external - has been changing to keep up with a constantly in-flux society. Since current CEO Jeffrey Ettinger took over two years ago, a slew of new initiatives have been introduced to keep Hormel and its traditional brands current.

One of the first things to go was the old mission statement, a short missive that held on for 20 years: "To be a leader in the food field with highly differentiated quality products that attain optimum share of market while meeting established profit objectives."

"I'm not even sure what it means," says Julie Henderson Craven, VP of corporate communications at Hormel. "It says nothing about people. There's nothing about it that makes you passionate about the company."

The new mission is an entire program called Our Way that will include a redesign of its internal magazine, intranet system, and internal awards. Our Way focuses on the "founder's charge to 'originate, don't imitate'" and four basic elements - people, process, product, and performance.

"It talks about legacy, promises to suppliers and employees, and touches on communities where we do business, sometimes where we've had facilities for 100 years," she says.

Being part of the community has always meant actively taking part in various CSR efforts. The company partnered with America's Second Harvest to launch the first Minnesota Hunger Summit in 2006. It also took part in the Ohio Hunger Summit in 2007. (Hormel began donating money and goods to America's Second Harvest in 1979.) But now there is an emphasis on both doing good and discussing it.

"When we first started talking about a CSR report two years ago, some folks said it sounded like blowing our own horns," says Craven, who attributes it to the "Minnesota nice" attitude. "It sounded like bragging to go through and talk about what we do. [But] we can't assume that people know this."

Hormel has also had to adjust its messaging in order to speak to a population with shifting eating habits due to national epidemics of obesity and other health problems. A population on the go has also made quick and easy preparation a selling point.

"The perception is that processed food can't be healthy," says Craven. "We have both new products and products in development that show you can have it both ways: convenience plus health and wellness."

One brand in particular that has tapped into both of these desires is Jennie-O Turkey Store. A wholly owned subsidiary of Hormel Foods, Jennie-O offers everything from fresh turkey to turkey kielbasa.

This is the second season that Jennie-O has teamed with NBC's The Biggest Loser, exclusively providing show contestants with meal options, and providing consumers with recipes and tips to promote a healthy lifestyle.

"People think of the show as having a human story with an entertainment element," notes Craven, "but it's also educational."

"Lean protein is an important part of fit-ness training, so it was a natural fit," adds Bryan Oakley, MD with Burson-Marsteller, Hormel's AOR.

"Eating [out] and cooking skill have changed a lot," says Craven. "It's provided both a challenge and opportunity for products like fully cooked and microwave bacon."

Taken together, the traditional offerings and the newer items are intended to reach across age, income, and other demographics. Hormel has also turned to the Internet to reach the public, introducing both HormelFoods.com and HormelFoodsRecipes.com in October 2007. Currently, the sites include plenty of recipes and videos demonstrating how to prepare some of the suggestions. More interactive elements are in the works.

While now employing digital methods to interact with its audiences, Hormel has also had lots of practice bringing its age-old brands to potential consumers.

"Spam is the original convenience food," notes Craven. "It doesn't require refrigeration and can be used for simple and not-so-simple things. It's an iconic brand. It's always been a little tongue-in-cheek. Part of the fun is introducing it to new customers."

At a glance

Hormel Foods

Chairman and CEO: Jeffrey Ettinger

Headquarters: Austin, MN

Revenues and latest earnings: For 12 months ending October 28, 2007, net earnings were $301.9m. Sales totaled $6.19bn, up 8% from same period last year

Kraft, Tyson, ConAgra, Smithfield, Sara Lee

Key Trade Titles:
Supermarket News, Progressive Grocer, National Provisioner, Meatingplace, Meat & Poultry

Marketing team:
Julie Henderson Craven, VP of corporate communications; Jessie Dienst, supervisor, external comms; Joan Hanson, supervisor, Studio H; Victoria Spyhalski, supervisor, digital comms; David Treier, supervisor, internal comms

Marketing services agencies:
Burson-Marsteller, PR and digital AOR; BBDO, Advertising AOR

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