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May, 2024

‘No long-term brand plan, two marketers’: SPC CMO reshapes portfolio for shifting food tastes, goes back above the line, shakes-up agency roster, eyes offshore expansion

What you need to know:

  • Peta Allsopp is eight months into her tenure as CMO at iconic Australian FMCG, SPC, one of a new team of executive leaders brought into the 107year-old business to rejuvenate its growth prospects and trajectory.
  • While SPC boasts of 87 per cent brand awareness and is number one in most of the categories it plays in, there was no strategic brand plan in place nor longterm approach. So Allsopp has set about building one.
  • Building out bench strength internally through channel agnostic, deep category knowledge and focus has been a critical part of getting the right team in place to pursue growth.
  • Alongside this, Allsopp has recruited a select group of agency specialists as a way of tapping ‘superpower’ expertise in media, brand strategy and brand fame.
  • While long-term innovation and growth are in Allsopp’s sights, she’s well aware of the need for short-term sales focus and has already brought Goulburn Valley back into market through the group’s first above-the-line work in years.
  • With a keen commitment to building the pipeline against customer needs, morphing tastes and changing values, SPC is looking at both Australia’s cultural diversity as well as its shift towards more convenient, readymade meal choices in the freezer through the launch of its new brand, Street Eats.

When Peta Allsopp joined SPC as chief marketing officer last August, she stepped into a fresh executive leadership team geared up to return the 107-year-old Australian FMCG to growth.

Among her peers were newly installed CEO, Neil Brimacombe; Customer Officer, Jamie McCloskey, who had chalked up six months and who Allsopp had worked with previously; Chief People Officer, Michelle Strong, who started a week before; recently installed CFO, Gavin Hoggett; and Chief Operating Officer Matt McMichael, who’d been in the business under two years.

“What I’ve come to understand working with this group of people over the last eight months is we have great, empathetic leadership, but we’re also really holding people to account and working towards a high-performance culture – that’s important for our business,” Allsopp tells Mi3. “It’s about making sure we are driven by innovation, continuous improvement and accountability, while being a place where people want to work … and want to do an amazing job to win.”

So far, so good. The bad news? There was no brand plan in sight. Nada. Not a speck.

“There was no long-term thinking, everything was very short-term. There were no brand plans, no key category plans that stated we were going after this space for the next five years,” Allsopp says. “And I had a team of two. So I had to rebuild the marketing team, which I’ve been doing for the last few months, in line with where we need to focus.”

The lowdown on SPC

Shepparton Partners Collective (SPC) is in private ownership hands once more, having been sold off by Coca-Cola Amatil in mid-2019 to a private equity group for $65 million. In the five years prior, it benefitted from a $22m cash injection by the Victorian Government, saving 2,700 jobs. But it needed more concentrated focus at the helm.

Under private ownership, it’s since launched a new corporate brand, a ready meal service called The Good Meal Company, plus a dedicated nutritional healthcare company, SPC Care. It’s entered the beverage market with its Helping Humans better-for-you drinks range plus purchase of juice brand, Pom. It’s also sold off IXL and its Kyabram factory. In 2022, SPC raised $111m in growth capital to fund expansion including backing from The Australian Industry Superannuation Trust, Peregrine Corporation and the selling and leaseback of its Shepparton property to Charter Hall.

By early 2023, SPC’s chairman, Hussein Rifai, stated SPC was back in the black. Yet it wasn’t out the woods. Last year, SPC was hit with bad flooding days before the harvest, leading to a significant loss of tomatoes. It was promptly followed by a hailstorm that caused significant damage, hampering financial results.

Enter a fresh executive leadership team and new CMO, Allsopp. There may not have be a big brand plan when she arrived, but there’s plenty to work with brand-wise, she says.  

As well as the dominant Goulburn Valley and SPC brands, which run across several categories including fruit and ready-made meals, the portfolio consists of Ardmona canned tomatoes, as well as The Good Meal Co frozen meals business supplying customers in the healthcare sector, hospitals and retail. There’s also a brand of more functional fruit SKUs called ProVital.

“We also have a direct-to-consumer site that enables anyone to go online and order freezer meals, whether or not you’re on the NDIS system,” Allsopp continues. “What I identified was there was a heap of the best-kept secrets in Australian branding around a few of the products we do have.

“We go into retail, we’re in food service, we’re in the care industry, we have industrial products. Not only are we wide but also very deep in our channels. We have the ability to export internationally to the Asian region as well. There was all this offering, but no real brand plan.”

As marketers, we know it's more important to remind than to tell, because people know this already, but they need to be reminded constantly to create mental availability of your brand. So when they come to the shelf, they're reminded about those attributes you told them and go 'oh that's right'. For us it's about that continual reminder the brands they know and love are still there, and they are still holding up to the truths they've known for such a long time.

Peta Allsopp, CMO, SPC Global

Step by step

A critical step therefore for Allsopp was the marketing team’s bench strength. “It’s about how I can bring people into the business that will learn, grow and develop, to give them a career trajectory within SPC,” she says.

Emphasis has been on strong brand understanding and strategy to dive into the minutiae of SPC’s brands and what they stand for, supported by deep category capability. Today, every person in the team has responsibility for a category SPC plays in while remaining channel agnostic.

“Where are we playing? Where can we play? Where does private label have a role? It’s about having a complete category understanding, brand understanding and importantly, understanding how we bring in innovation to move the category forward,” Allsopp says. “That’s because we are playing in established categories. We need to look at what we do to provide newness and excitement for consumers.

“Consumers are changing the way they eat and we need to make sure we’re providing solutions for them. We also have to consider what it means for the retail customer, in food service and for industrial customers. So that was the capability I was looking for – diverse thinking, being broad in what we need to do, but also being single-minded in the problems we’re solving for consumers.”

Agencies are the other spoke in the capability wheel. Historically, SPC had a long line of agencies it used intermittently.

“One agency did this job for one cost, agency two did that. Everything was briefed out and no one was certain. I spent the first two months talking to a number of different agencies and understanding what their strengths and superpowers were,” Allsopp says. “Now I feel I’ve landed on a strong agency portfolio that has superpowers in different areas.”

From a media agency, SPC is now solely working with Avenue C. “What I love about them is there’s no BS; they talk straight which is what I like to do. And they only hire the best people in the business – there are no juniors at Avenue C,” Allsopp comments.

“When it comes to creativity, what we really need to drive is two things: We’re creating brands, then we’re making brand fame.”

From a brand creation piece, SPC began working with Hulsbosch. “We then want to make our brands famous, and have a smart group of people to help us accelerate our brands and be at the forefront of consumers’ minds while also changing people’s perception of how they might see our brands. So Akcelo is the team we’ve chosen to partner with,” Allsopp says.

Building the portfolio plan

From there, emphasis shifted to building out the brand portfolio strategy. Initial usage and attitude (U&A) studies in October found consumers loved SPC’s brands. Not only does it have 87 per cent brand awareness, it’s number one in most categories it participates in.

“We then did some research showing us where could we unlock categories we’re currently not playing in that consumers would love to see us, and the ability for our brands to stretch. That’s really important from a growth trajectory perspective,” Allsopp says.

“It was also understanding how Australia is made up. More than 30 per cent of Australians weren’t born in Australia. We have this amazing culture of diversity; not everyone grew up eating baked beans on toast. So it’s really important we acknowledge that and ask: What are people eating, and what’s the share of stomach we can take for our brands? What’s the type of innovation we need to be developing to ensure our brands are relevant for years and years to come?

“We can’t just bank on 107 years of history, we have to consider how consumers are going to resonate with our brands moving forward. That’s about us stepping up at the pace against what our consumers are doing now.”

For example, Allsopp says diversity of multicultural Australia means a different mashup of foods and flavour. “They don’t just want spaghetti bolognese or the curry anymore. It’s how we bring the melting pot of culture in Australia together in food. That’s what we’re bringing moving forward for our frozen food opportunity as well,” she says.

Another concurrent shift Allsopp points to is consumers moving towards more convenience in meals. “People aren’t necessarily buying six to 10 ingredients and putting it together. They want you to hack their life for them,” she says.

These trends led SPC to launch a new brand last September now selling through Coles: Street Eats, a mash up of quesadillas in various flavours.

“There are meals on a plate and meals in the hand. With Street Eats, we’ve been able to satisfy that meal in your hand,” Allsopp says. “To have that win and the customer coming back to us asking what else we can provide them with in this space is fantastic.”

Listening to consumers is a must for Allsopp, who kicked off in-depth research groups in October last year across different categories.

“As a team, we can sit in a room and come up with all of these great ideas, which is fine. But unless we ask the consumer what they want and what they are likely to buy, then we’re probably listening to the wrong people,” she says. “To hear it from the horse’s mouth really changes your perspective. Even when it comes to our customers like Coles and Woolworths, sitting in those conversations and getting their understanding of consumers and where they want to take their businesses is important too.”

A learning Allsopp picked up during her time as a buyer at Coles, then while working on the Coles Local project, was the importance of providing the whole customer proposition, localised for that consumer, and solutions for preferred occasions.

But equally, it’s a mantra worth applying to SPC’s international expansion plans. “Our vision for SPC is a better food for the future – better food for the future for Australia, but then from a global perspective too,” Allsopp says. “It’s about how we take this incredible food we’re creating and localise it for the Asian population for consumers in Singapore, who have a very different lifestyle to us, or consumers in Vietnam who have a very different lifestyle for us.”

I'm saying no to brand partnerships, such as TV brand partnerships. That's not where our consumers are getting inspiration. That's what I'm saying no to. It's about where our consumers are going, where are they seeking inspiration, and therefore, that's where we should be.

Peta Allsopp, CMO, SPC Global

Goulburn Valley returns above-the-line

In between the big longer-term brand plays is recognition marketing must keep the sales ticking over. To do this, Allsopp has just undertaken Goulburn Valley’s first above-the-line campaign for years, dubbed ‘‘Where Flavour gets its Flavour’. The eight-week campaign focused on celebrating the flavour of the 45-year-old product’s premium Australian fruit ingredients, the fact it’s different to what consumers might get with other brands, and that it’s grown and packed two hours outside of Melbourne.

It arrived 18 months after Goulburn Valley gained a new premium design system, fresh logo and brand platform, ‘Taste the Good Life’.

“We have this incredible delicious, premium fruit brand. We know more than half of Australians are buying packaged fruit and their preferences are Goulburn Valley and SPC,” Allsopp says. “We hadn’t communicated above-the-line for such a long time – people still talk to me about the song, ‘SPC baked beans and spaghetti’ – it’s the last time you heard about SPC.

“As marketers, we know it’s more important to remind than to tell, because people know this already, but they need to be reminded constantly to create mental availability of your brand. So when they come to the shelf, they’re reminded about those attributes you told them and go ‘oh that’s right’. For us it’s about that continual reminder the brands they know and love are still there, and they are still holding up to the truths they’ve known for such a long time.”

The campaign also cemented brand perceptions and mechanisms allowing SPC to compete successfully against the growing private label space increasing its dominance in every category available in the supermarket today.

“Consumers are absolutely value driven, especially now with the cost-of-living crisis – we are very aware of that. But value doesn’t just necessarily mean a private label product; value is what you get for what you buy,” Allsopp argues. “Australian fruit tastes different than non-Australian fruit; it’s a different level of quality. For our business, it’s about how we talk to the quality and freshness of Australian fruit versus brands that aren’t necessarily Australian.”

Positive impact from that eight-week ATL campaign for Goulburn Valley, including audience reach of 4.6m through out-of-home and 450,000 engagements across social channels, is enabling Allsopp’s marketing team to build out a bigger FY25 and FY26 program.

“We’re applying the same structural thinking to how we grow SPC, The Good Meal Co, Street Eats and ProVital – it’s about using the same rigour externally and with the rest of the team to ensure they’re brought on that journey,” Allsopp says.

Buy-in inside and outside ultimately comes back to being consistent with the message for Allsopp. “We know with brands it’s so important to be consistent. When it comes to that conversation in the boardroom, it’s again about being consistent, being accountable for results and doing what you say you’re going to do,” she comments.

“There are short-term promotions and there’s long-term brand building. The good thing is everyone in that boardroom understands the difference. Tick. But you have to start somewhere. We have a strong ELT aligned behind growing our brands. It’s a matter of making sure everyone is on that journey and kept in that loop about how we’re going to do it.”

Marketing strategy is as much about what say no to as what SPC pursues, and Allsopp says she’s said no to lots of things.

“I’m saying no to brand partnerships, such as TV brand partnerships. That’s not where our consumers are getting inspiration. That’s what I’m saying no to,” she says. “It’s about where our consumers are going, where are they seeking inspiration, and therefore, that’s where we should be.”

By contrast, she is interested in expanding out SPC’s collaboration on product with the Australian Open on the signature Peach Melbourne dessert, which features its peaches along with soft serve ice-cream. 2024 was the second year of the product offering but the first SPC promoted directly to consumers.

“Our plan is to take SPC globally. The tennis is a premium licence shown all over the world. If we want to start to build our credibility internationally, what a great platform to start that from,” she says. “Next year, it’s about how we drive that even further, how we make that an even bigger proposition for consumers at the tennis.”

First-year milestones

Allsopp is now focusing on building that five-year vision. “We’re going to start work on projects this year we won’t put into market for another 2-3 years but as a business we’ve decided need to be a priority – because it’s a priority for our consumer, customer and something we can do. It’s not a short-term vision, it’s a long-term vision of growth,” she says.  

When her year-one milestone arrives this August, Allsopp is hoping to have a really strong marketing team (it’s now sitting at eight staff), and a collaborative culture across the SPC business.

“We have strong plans from top all the way down, and we’re having a lot of fun. Because we’re in food: We’re in fruit, beans, meals,” she adds.