Conagra Brands was preparing a campaign meant to provide meal solutions to Kroger shoppers when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. and changed everything.
“COVID-19 certainly impacted what we were planning on doing,” Conagra senior director, shopper marketing Bob Waibel said in a July 9 Path to Purchase Institute webinar. “All in-store marketing was either postponed or cancelled including sampling and signage. Our focus became entirely digital. This allowed us to engage with the shoppers with a custom recipe how-to video.”
The manufacturer had intended to stage in-store recipe preparation and sampling for grilled chicken tacos incorporating products from Conagra’s Birds Eye Steamfresh, Ro-Tel and PAM, as well as a cauliflower rice and chick’n burrito bowl made with Birds Eye and Gardein items. The sampling stations would also dispense recipes and coupons.
“It was fairly straightforward,” Waibel said. “We looked to expand relevance and use cases for our brands by showing how they can be incorporated into really simple, easy to make recipes and meal solutions.”
As the pandemic led shoppers to rush to stores for big stock-up trips, Kroger wanted to minimize in-store activity to allow employees to focus on meeting shopper needs. A second CPG that was initially going to partner with Conagra for the taco recipe had to pull all shopper funding due to supply issues related to COVID-19, forcing Conagra to quickly switch to Kroger-branded products instead.
Money that Conagra had intended to spend on the sampling events was reallocated to digital support. Conagra spent 75% of its budget with Kroger Precision Marketing on display ads, Pinterest ads and a kroger.com landing page. The other 25% was spent with RichContext, which produced shoppable Facebook and Instagram ads.
“It’s not enough just to make shoppers aware that they can buy our products at Kroger,” Waibel said. “We need to make it as easy as we can for them to add those items to their carts. We want it to be as frictionless as it can be.”
The program was conducted in flights from April through June, kicking off on April 10 with targeted banner ads running on websites such as delish.com and realsimple.com. The ads spotlighted the plant-based burrito bowl and linked to the kroger.com landing page. The manufacturer used KPM data to avoid waste and duplication when targeting prospective buyers.
“We want to make sure that our brands are showing up and standing out when consumers are signaling that they have an interest,” Waibel said. “Being able to show up on these offsite platforms was important.”
The landing page hosted a cooking video produced by The Mars Agency, a text-based recipe and an ingredient list with add-to-cart capability. The landing page switched over to the taco recipe on April 28. The Mars Agency had closed its office before scheduling the second photoshoot, but the team made do with minimal staff and handled video production remotely to ensure employee safety.
Before the COVID-19 lockdowns, Conagra had contracted to have stanchion signs outfitted with recipe tearpads promoting the campaign in stores, and these appeared on May 24 as restrictions began to lift, running through June 20.
Despite the disruptions, the campaign was a significant success. Sales increased 13.5% during the promotional period and RichContext’s paid Facebook and Instagram ads had a 3% clickthrough rate. The campaign likely benefited from an increased interest in meal solutions as most consumers were stuck at home.
“Especially in this time, with the circumstances over the past few months, this really has proven to be exceptionally relevant given the environment we’ve been living in,” Waibel said.