Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Culture and community drive The Skinny Food Co’s local marketing strategy

NDA, in association with Control v. Exposed (CvE), is running a series of articles discussing the increased role of local marketing in a post-COVID world. In the latest in the series, we talk to Wayne Starkey, co-founder at The Skinny Food Co

Lockdowns and other restrictions have put the brakes on distance travel and have dramatically turned consumer’s focus to their local environment and community. How have consumer expectations of brands and their relationships with them changed?

While many have become more inclined to shop local, I think the biggest change from an expectation standpoint relates to those choosing to switch to online. With Amazon offering next day delivery, it has created that expectation across the board. We are a lot smaller and with floods of orders coming in, have been forced to switch to a two-shift operations pattern to keep up with demand and expectation.

How are businesses reacting to this shift in mindset to think local?

I think it comes down to being even more strategic than before with retail partnerships and strategy. We were fortunate to already have relationships with some of the biggest supermarket chains pre-COVID, and have seen how powerful stores such as SPAR and Holland & Barrett are from a hyper-local standpoint.

It comes down to accessibility really, and as a brand you always want to break down barriers for consumers to be able to enjoy your products.

What is your brand doing differently?

Pre-COVID we were just The Skinny Food Co, but we now sell over forty different third-party brands on our website. It is about being able to support like-minded businesses that share our values, under one delivery fee. Unless you go wholesale or to a distributor, you are not really going to get that service.

How are brands pivoting to enable local strategies?

For me, the changes seen from a distribution/wholesale standpoint have been most interesting. We’ve seen a noticeable shift from distributors/wholesalers away from sports nutrition to food, and the fundamentals that contribute to a balanced, healthy diet. I think it is down to demand – people want healthier alternatives, and for us something we are working hard on in continuing to support local communities is a smooth shopping process. People want a slick service where they can enjoy their order in 24-48 hours.

This new focus on local has been accelerated by the pandemic but was it already in play?

It’s certainly been accelerated, but the likes of SPAR & Co-op are among the leaders. It circles back to accessibility. Not everyone has a vehicle or strong transport links. They don’t need to do a five-to-ten-mile trip because the options are there.

What are the main barriers to going more local and how can they be overcome?

I think product diversity is massive as space is more limited in localised stores. Unless you are a huge brand then getting that space can be very difficult. You must bring something essential, but unique to the table. Timing is also everything. If you are a new brand trying to gain space on the shelves it can often be six to 12 months just to get a range review.

Will the shift to local continue or will we see another shift to more mass-market messaging when restrictions are lifted?

Local is always going to be there if the price point is not too high. For us, the next year is going to be very interesting with new laws coming in around bulk purchase of high sugar products. With promotions around unhealthy products set to come under increased legislation, I think a big shift will be seen towards healthier options becoming more prevalent, both on a mass-market and local level.

There seems to have been a misconception that digital is not good for local marketing and can be expensive – is this a view you share? If so, why?

Yes it can be expensive, but I believe there is absolutely a place for it as part of a local strategy. I think it circles back to believing in your brand and understanding customer loyalty. For us, we are happy to invest as we know our customers buy into our products in the long-term and will repeat purchase. We still have people purchasing today that did on day one, and our repeat order rate is 47 per cent.

What new opportunities has technology brought for local marketing?

The way social media has evolved has certainly paved the way for effective local marketing. Aside from geographical targeting as the obvious, you can now control for so many variables whether that be age, gender, interests etc. It means you can pinpoint your customer. The ROI is better as it is not a ‘blanket’ approach.

How can ‘digital’ now help amplify ‘traditional’ local opportunities such as regional press or TV?

For starters, it is a very direct way to engage with potential customers. Content is also evergreen, and it means consumers can digest detailed information on a product before physically seeing it. Whether it be media or Google reviews, Trustpilot or general news stories around your brand, it helps consumers get a more complete, credible feel for your brand.

In terms of language and content, across different media and channels how should a brand go about building a local strategy?

For us, culture and community were at the heart of everything we did starting up and are things we’ve stayed true to, to this day. Trade shows were massive for us so that people could actually try our products and talk to us about them. You have to understand that yes, the big brands will get a lot of attention, but you shouldn’t let that divulge from your strategy. Our challenge from the off was to educate buyers around our products being healthier alternatives, not diet products.

By retaining our authenticity and telling our story we were able to engage effectively with buyers. They recognised our products looked great, tasted great and provided genuine health benefits.

What is the role of personalisation in hyper-local marketing?

I think it is something we are seeing more of, because quite simply put a lot of brands are manufacturing their products overseas. Purchasing is influenced by trust and consumers want to be connected to the community. So, yes, I think it is effective, but there should be more transparency around its usage as a marketing tactic. 90% of our products are manufactured in the UK, and this will soon rise to 95%.