Kettle Foods: an America's Hottest Brands Case Study

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Kettle Foods
Tony Pettinato
In 2009 big global marketers such as Pepsi and Unilever clamored to hitch a ride on the crowdsourcing bandwagon. But one smaller company, Kettle Foods, has been successfully leveraging the wisdom of a fanbase of loyal snacksters for more than five years now.

"We started by running a very humble little online program where we asked consumers to choose among five flavors, using a 'crave-o-meter,' and winning flavors would be produced," recalled Michelle Peterman Hunt, 43, VP-marketing for Kettle Foods.

It wasn't long before Kettle's Salem, Ore.-based headquarters became inundated with fan mail, and folks realized what a wealth of information consumers provided. The company appointed an in-house "chief flavor architect" to comb through fan suggestions and choose possible new flavor combos, each taste-approved by company founder Cameron Healy. "Asking the fans for innovation advice has proven to be very successful," Ms. Peterman Hunt said. "They've been very important to our journey."

Kettle fans have been responsible for birthing an array of tasty flavor combinations, from Tuscan Three Cheese to Fully Loaded Baked Potato, set to hit shelves next year. Spicy Thai, a tasty mix of ginger, cilantro and spices that's been called "fusion food on a chip" was a fan-created flavor that the company counts as the most-successful product launch in its 25-year history.

While other snack food brands are busy altering their recipes to become trans-fat and preservative free, Kettle's flavors have never been cooked up in a lab -- they're made the hard way, staying true to the company's all-natural promise.

Sustainability is baked into everything at Kettle Foods, which boasts the first LEED Gold-certified food factory in the country, and uses a fleet of VW "Biobeetles" that run on recycled cooking oil.

Michelle Peterman Hunt
Michelle Peterman Hunt, VP-marketing, Kettle Foods
Kettle has nearly doubled market share in the $500 million premium potato chip category in a matter of five years. In 2005, Kettle brand chips had 10% share, and that's grown to 18% in 2009, according to AC Nielsen data. A one-time West-coast brand, the company now has distribution in national channels and has expanded its presence from health-food stores to supermarket aisles.

All that growth led to Kettle tapping its first-ever ad agency of record, Cultivator Advertising & Design, Denver. The move was made mainly to help maintain a consistent representation of the brand across its portfolio of products, which includes tortilla chips, nuts and nut butters.

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