Bunny Logo Hops Ahead of the Eco-friendly Pack

by Jim george
The right message and audience give Annie’s Homegrown a 25% premium in pasta meals. Psychographics play a key role.
‘Friendship pairs’ produce psychographic insights
In a departure from many brands, Annie’s Homegrown avoids using traditional focus groups to gather consumer input.
Marketing a cause-related brand, the company believes that all consumer opinions count. Focus groups lose some “one-on-one” validation of the marketing strategy through factors including the risk of one or two individuals dominating a group discussion, Vice President of Marketing Laura Kuykendall says.
Instead, Annie’s Homegrown opts for “Friendship Pairs.” The company conducts its consumer research through Converge Marketing, Attleboro, Mass.
Bill Wietecha, Converge Marketing President, explains the procedure this way. First, the firm conducts consumer interviews about the brand at grocery stores and malls across the country.
Next, the researchers invite several hundred of the brand’s loyal consumers to provide more extensive input about the product line, brand message and packaging.
Researchers invite these interviewees to bring a “friend” who doesn’t purchase the brand.
This approach provides Annie’s Homegrown measurable insights on how consumers relate emotionally to the brand.
“Many people were able to tell us the ingredients, that it has real cheese … They were so passionate about their feelings, the specific things they love about the brand,” Wietecha explains.
With these and other recent insights, marketers at Annie’s Homegrown were assured consumers would accept modifications to the logo and core packaging color of purple.
Marketers also determined that consumers believe these changes properly contemporize the brand’s values as the product line expands from natural food stores to mainstream supermarkets.
Where to go for more information...
© Market research services. At Converge Marketing, contact Bill Wietecha at 508.222.0188 or

Annie’s walks the walk
The packaging sends the message, but Annie’s Homegrown lives the eco-friendly “lifestyle” through several ancillary programs.
1. Cases for Causes. Through this program, the company has donated thousands of cases to not-for-profit organizations that help women and children and protect the environment. The company believes that honoring organizations that face challenges and create solutions reflects a corporate commitment to socially conscious business practice.
2. Environmental studies scholarships. As original Annie’s “fans” grow older, many of these early consumers—the brand is in its 15th year—have reached college age. The company has begun a program that awards at least 25 annual scholarships of $1,000 each to students who study environmental science at U.S. colleges and universities.
3. Growing Naturally. This interactive
educational curriculum provides kids the opportunity to learn organic farming by planting their own herb gardens and tracking the plants’ progress. Kids learn the benefits
of growing products organically.
Can a niche brand charge a 25 percent premium over national competitors at retail and sustain double-digit sales growth? At Annie’s Homegrown, the answer is “yes.”
To the casual observer, the Wakefield, Mass., company appears to be just another marketer of pasta meals. But a closer look reveals subtle differences that enable Annie’s to carve a distinct niche under the organic and natural foods umbrella.
That niche attracts what company Vice President of Marketing Laura Kuykendall calls the “proactive” consumer. With a growing stable of brand loyalists, Annie’s Homegrown is the leading brand in entrees and mixes at natural/organic specialty food stores. It ranks No. 2 in macaroni & cheese sold in mainstream grocery stores.
The marketing strategy goes far beyond selling “staple” products such as macaroni and cheese to a passive audience; it beckons consumers who desire what Kuykendall describes as a more healthful alternative to national brands and who want to act on their concern for the environment.
Other marketers have hopped on the eco-friendly bandwagon, but Annie’s Homegrown succeeds because consumers perceive it as genuine. The marketing strategy:
- Makes packaging the store. The design, visual elements and the materials used support the positioning.
- Cultivates two demographics of consumers—moms with kids, and college students. Both groups enjoy the product line and support the brand message.
They are also beginning to develop brand loyalties.
The concept is to build a stable of premium quality, better-for-you foods that taste great. The company develops its own product formulas, which then go to several contract manufacturers in the East and Midwest for production.
More than 50 SKUs make up the product line, ranging from pasta meals to macaroni and cheese, canned foods and, recently, snack foods. Each recipe contains no artificial ingredients or preservatives.
Voice of the Founder
In essence, the brand reflects the organic-farming lifestyle of company Founder Ann Withey. She assists in new-product development and writes those folksy messages on the company’s packaging, collateral materials and Web site.
The signature design element that ties the brand’s visual communications together is “Bernie the Bunny.” Bernie is a line drawing of a rabbit that symbolizes the company’s mission.
“Bernie carries a message from Ann that’s sincere and serious—the greater good about Ann as environmentalist and peacemaker,” Kuykendall says.
The rabbit icon also symbolizes the company motto “Eat Responsibly. Act Responsibly.”
Decoration of the packaging goes beyond Bernie’s image. Graphics, materials and even the printing process all support the brand mission.
“The consumer knows this is an honest, trustworthy brand,” notes Ronald Meacham, Vice President at Thomas J. Paul Inc., Rydal, Pa., which designs the packaging.
The range of the packaging settles primarily on paperboard cartons (6-ounce to 12-ounce sizes) and metal cans (15 ounces).
The cartons are white, clay-coated, 100 percent recycled paperboard. The company uses water-based inks and finishes the packaging with an aqueous coating rather than varnish to purposely avoid a glossy look.
“That’s where the authenticity of our brand comes through,” Kuykendall says.
Cartons and labels are printed in flexography with four- to six-color process.
A key element of the package design is Ann Withey’s homespun communiqués about each product’s origins. Every inch of the package communicates these values—right down to the “Certified Organic” stamp on lids of the canned pasta meals.
On cartons of Shells & White Cheddar, Ann writes, “It takes a lot of hard work to grow the organic durum wheat that makes up these great shells. Our American family farmers do what they do because they have incredible respect for the land.”
In approaching package design, Meacham says the creative team asks three basic questions. What do we need? What don’t we need? What are our equities?
Foremost, the equity lies in Bernie, whose image pops out of a circular “porthole” flanked by wheat stalks. There’s also some visual equity in the typography of the Annie’s Homegrown brand name above the logo.
The creative team found that even within its signature icon, consumers will accept a little playful variation across the product line.
For example, Bernie waves on packages of bunny-shape pasta for kids. On labels of Peace Pasta & Parmesan, Bernie sports a head band and flashes the peace sign amid a background of psychedelic colors.
Purple is the brand’s defining—but not exclusive—color. Generally, it signals the macaroni and cheese products, but Annie’s Homegrown has been introducing other colors to signal some pasta line extensions.
Two-tiered consumer base
The product ingredients and packaging elements are carefully cultivated to appeal to a psychographic consumer profile: people who base their buying decisions both on cost and the values that a brand represents.
Market research has identified two tiers of consumers who fit the profile and present Annie’s Homegrown with age-specific opportunities—moms with kids, and college students.
Moms want more healthful foods to feed their families. They take the time to read product labels, which gives an edge to brands such as Annie’s Homegrown, which see packaging as a versatile communications tool.
Kids, on the other hand, heavily influence mom’s buying decisions. They are being introduced to the “save the planet” movement. The basic products in the Annie’s Homegrown line appeal to their palates, and one line extension in particular appeals to emotions through product licensing.
Annie’s Homegrown licenses “Arthur,” an animated character. Cartons of Annie’s Homegrown pasta and canned pasta meals both provide the vehicle for Arthur’s message about social responsibility and sharing.
Arthur begins “talking” on the outside of the package. On paperboard cartons, the communication continues on the inside of the carton. Then, it directs attention to the company Web site.
After moms and kids, the second core consumer for the brand is college students. For them, boxed and canned pasta meals are “comfort food” they remember from their youth.
But as they enter young adulthood, college-age consumers care equally about what’s on the package and what’s in the package, Kuykendall says.
“They’re starting to spend their own money, make their own brand choices,” she adds.
With this marketing approach, Annie’s Homegrown has gained distribution in natural food stores in all 50 states. The brand is steadily moving into mainstream grocery stores and into some markets in Canada.
The author, Jim George, is the Senior Editor of BRANDPACKAGING magazine.