St Pierre Groupe – the international branded bakery business with St Pierre, Baker Street and Paul Hollywood bakery brands in its portfolio – has experienced phenomenal growth over the past 12 months. Its flagship brand, St Pierre is quickly becoming a household name in the UK and America, whilst all of its brands have enjoyed double-digit growth in the past year. Rapid growth for a business in brand-building has taken its marketing team from five to 15 within just eight months. New recruits specialise in everything from social and digital media, PR and brand management. Here, we speak to Brand Activation Manager, Georgia Dales, to understand how the past 12 months has impacted the sector and how innovative marketing techniques have helped brands to thrive with a post-pandemic audience.
Georgia Dales previously managed consumer, trade and internal communications for Jackson’s Bakery, gaining experience in all aspects of bakery manufacturing, production and brand development. A specialist in shopper marketing, in July 2020, Georgia joined the team at St Pierre Groupe. As Brand Activation Manager, Dales works across all three St Pierre Groupe brands in all territories, including the UK, Ireland, America and UAE.
How has the bakery category been performing over the last year?
Generally, the category has had something of a resurgence over the last year. During the first phase of lockdown, bakery sales grew by 21 per cent and whilst they have stabilised since, overall sales are still almost 7 per cent ahead of 2020 value. Bread and bakery is a ‘comfort’ sector but it also includes some of the most versatile food products – and these traits meant that when COVID-19 hit, the bakery sector was able to cater to changing consumer-needs quickly.
I think the key thing for activation and marketing has been the acceleration of targeting in the digital space. Prior to the pandemic, bakery brands didn’t have digital targeting high on the agenda, but necessity is the mother of all invention, as they say. In-store, the bakery fixture was stripped back more than most thanks to COVID-19. People weren’t in shops to look around – it became a very functional trip. So, we had to keep a close eye on trial and error in engaging customers. People moved to online across the board and digital ads became key. Proximity ads and campaigns that could be turned on and off in line with real-time monitoring became a prominent part of our marketing mix.
What shopper trends are driving the market?
It’s an interesting question because the shopper trends haven’t been driven by the customer in the same way they might have been previously. Circumstances have dictated the trends instead and we’ve had to be innovative in finding new touch points for customers. Obviously, sampling and experiential events have been really difficult. We’ve spent the guts of twelve months planning events that couldn’t go ahead.
In the UK, in particular, as restrictions have been lifted slightly, shippers have become really important to interrupt the customer mission. I think post-pandemic, there will be more opportunity for in-store marketing that directly engages shoppers.
St Pierre is the number one brioche brand in America and part of our appeal is in our merchandising. American retailers have more of an appetite for ‘the experience’ and theatre – but this is becoming an increasingly popular feature in UK retail settings, too. Our Eiffel Tower stands have increased sales by more than 50 per cent – communicating the brand via unique merchandising works. I think we’ll see UK retailers move towards this idea of ‘the experience’ in order to tempt customers back in. Especially in a year where so many people have adopted online shopping – the retailers need to consider how they’ll secure renewed footfall. Delivering an experience worth leaving the house for seems like a good idea to me!
Do you think that some of the trends that emerged during lockdown will remain?
Trends, by their very nature, are temporary. That said, there’s been such a fundamental shift in consumer attitudes, that there are some ‘trends’ which will stick around long enough to be called habits.
One of these is meal boxes; consumers love the convenience. They answered so many needs during the pandemic that they’ve genuinely just become ‘the way’ people plan their food. The pandemic took away so many opportunities for marketers and meal boxes offered a genuinely insightful way to drive trial with key audiences. It’s especially interesting now, to see the meal box format taken on by retailers.
The move to online shopping was always going to happen, but it was definitely accelerated. We’ve been working hard to optimize our listings online to increase visibility and improve the online shopping experience. It’s also key for our brands, to drive recall with an audience who is increasingly opting for digital solutions.
Research shows that 13 per cent of shoppers shopped online for the first time in April 2020, at the height of the pandemic. As people return to store, we need to ensure that the brand experience we deliver online is reflected in-store too. From demonstrating usage ideas on pack and providing recipe cards in-store, we’re working hard to ensure a consistent brand experience.
The one that makes me laugh is the return of the QR code. We all thought QR codes were on the way out in the UK, but COVID-19 has really pulled them back into the limelight. I think, as consumers though, we’re on the verge of pandemic-fatigue – if we’re not already there! I suspect QR codes are likely to be packed off back to wherever they’d been hiding pre-2020, once things start to return to ‘normal’.
How will the new trends affect your own brand activity?
Driving trial is key for all three of our brands and finding new ways to get the product in the hands of our consumers is always a large part of what I do. For St Pierre, we know that once people try the product, their intent to purchase shoots up over 25 per cent. Over the past 6 months, we’ve run activity with numerous partners to better understand what drives purchase decisions when it comes to buying each of our brands. The next step is to apply these learnings in all of our communications – watch this space!
In grocery, direct-to-consumer delivery apps have exploded. Whilst it’s still a new channel, it’s one to watch because it’s another consumer habit that’s here to stay. More than ever before, consumers can get whatever they want, whenever they want it. There are new apps launching all the time, so we are looking at ways to communicate our brands through those, in a way that is relevant to our audience.
How have St Pierre Groupe brands been performing?
In a word – brilliantly. All three brands are in double-digit growth and in the past 12 months we’ve increased our presence in the major multiples twofold for both St Pierre and Baker Street. As Brand Activation Manager, it’s fantastic, opening up a lot of doors for activation. Each new listing has provided opportunities to engage directly with our target consumer and understand which tactics work best.
What are the key St Pierre Groupe products that wholesalers should be stocking?
St Pierre’s range of Brioche Burger Buns, Seeded Brioche Burger Buns, Brioche Hot Dog Rolls, Brioche Baguettes and Sliced Brioche Loaf are perfect for elevating everyday meals. Catering to a range of different mealtimes, they offer versatility for retailers and wholesalers alike and provide a ‘better’ or ‘best’ option for customers who are looking for ‘accessible quality’.
Baker Street’s Drive Thru range of Classic Burger Buns and Original Hot Dog Rolls are built for burgers and ready to handle even the heftiest of hotdogs. They deliver on the trend for ‘fakeaway’ which is driving sales in retail and wholesale environments.
All St Pierre Groupe products benefit from extended life, too, which is particularly helpful for retailers and wholesalers trying to manage stock in another unpredictable British summer. Buy too much and risk wastage, order too little and end up with empty shelves when the sun comes out – it’s a dilemma the trade faces every year – solved by St Pierre Groupe products.
How do you work with wholesalers to grow sales?
There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes and the forward planning schedules are very organised! We really have to look at what’s coming down the track for the year and then work with retailers to make investments work hard for everyone. The most important thing in the past year has been flexibility.
We are able to offer a brand experience which is key for both retailers and wholesalers. What’s more, as a business, we offer very attractive margins and so it’s looking at it all on balance. We invest heavily in customer research too, which is a benefit for our retail and wholesale partners. We can offer insights that demonstrate not only how we plan to drive sales, but also why we will be able to deliver on our promises. The bakery fixture is notoriously full of private label products, but we have a great track record for building brands that stay in the hearts and minds of consumers. Bringing that to life is key to our work with retailers and wholesalers in growing sales. The investment in our marketing and sales teams over the past 12 months speaks volumes. We’re looking forward to collaborating on joint initiatives over the coming year, identifying campaigns that will work for our retail and wholesale partners, as well as for our brands.
Do you have any merchandising advice for wholesalers to grow sales?
Recipe activations, driving usage ideas have worked really well for us, especially when they’re used in line with wider multichannel campaigns. I’ve mentioned our Eiffel tower displays, too – delivering the brand experience in-store can have such an impact on sales and we’re exploring opportunities to bring this to our partners in the UK market.
We recently launched POS toolkits, too. We’ve spoken to our partners to understand what they’d like from us; how can we cater to their environments to best engage their customers – and the POS toolkits are the outcome of this. We now have a range of bespoke branded shelf-barkers for convenience stores that are already helping to drive brand engagement and sales for retailers, while delivering key messages for the brand. My best advice would be for retailers and wholesalers to get in touch with us! We are happy to collaborate on ideas and working directly with our customers in this way, delivers the best results for everyone.
Do you have any NPD to talk about?
Last year, we launched a Baker Street seasonal range of Stollen to the consumer market. Stocked exclusively with Tesco, it flew off the shelves with value sales of more than £1.4mn over the festive period. This year, the range will be extended, and Baker Street has also developed new formats to cater to different channels; so foodservice and wholesale channels will have seasonal products that meet their needs, too.
What marketing activity do you have planned?
How long have you got?! We ran some phone box ads late last year to support our St Pierre Christmas campaign and they worked really well in supporting convenience. I think the key for us is in multi-channel and 360 campaigns. Our summer campaigns for both brands are running now, to support during the BBQ season and they’ve all been created with a joined-up approach from each marketing channel. Again, it comes back to our overall aim in delivering a consistent brand experience – no matter where a customer encounters one of our brands, their experience is the same.
We are obviously looking forward to getting back out to experiential events and trade shows, too. Previously they’ve been a big part of our marketing mix and would have been a large portion of my day-to-day role, but the past year has been difficult for obvious reasons. I can’t wait to get stuck in when restrictions allow.
We’re also in the process of designing new shippers to help disrupt the shopper journey in convenience where it’s not always as easy to influence purchase behaviour. Both St Pierre and Baker Street started their brand journeys in the convenience and wholesale sectors and so they’re really important channels for us. Once we understand what works, we’ll have some great case studies to present to the multiples too, to show them what they’re missing out on with merchandising! It’s another case of ‘watch this space’!