Upstart brands are giving Kraft Heinz a run for its money - so it's backing them

Ireland country manager David Adams wants to bring the American giant’s food startup programme here.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

IF YOU CAN’T beat them, back them – that’s the attitude of Kraft Heinz when it comes to the upstart brands that are taking a bite out of the convenience food colossus’s business.

In an interview with Fora, the company’s newly appointed Ireland country manager, Scottish native David Adams, suggested the company’s new ‘Springboard’ concept could roll out on these shores.

Launched in the US earlier this year, the Springboard campaign seeks out emerging food brands for Kraft Heinz to either partner with or develop through incubator and accelerator programmes.

The American firm, like many of its rivals, has been fighting to find its place in a world of health-conscious consumers looking for ‘craft’ foods instead of the kind of mass-produced, global brands that form the foundations of the company’s empire.

“We’re helping smaller, niche brands in the United States find their way in the market. It’s something that we’re looking at very closely in the European regions,” Adams said of Springboard.

“We’re very wary of the smaller brands … I’m a competitive guy. We want to be the best and number one in everything that we do. That’s not to say we don’t want everyone else to win.”

2745-153 David Adams
Source: Andres Poveda

Co-headquartered in Pittsburgh and Chicago, the Kraft Heinz group – which was formed in 2015 following a $100 billion deal coordinated by Warren Buffett and Brazilian investment firm 3G – is one of the world’s largest food companies.

Adams was appointed Ireland manager just one month ago and oversees a small team of 18 people at the company’s Dublin office.

Kraft Heinz is best known here as the maker of baked beans, ketchup and mayonnaise. It also makes HP sauce and a range of packet soups. The products sold here are manufactured in the UK and Netherlands.

HJ Heinz Company Ireland Limited delivered an operating profit of €8.9 million last year, down €1.3 million on 2016′s tally. Sales dipped €2 million to €53.8 million.

Although its Nasdaq-listed parent company reported better-than-expected revenues and earnings for the April to June period, analysts say Kraft Heinz has struggled in recent times to keep up with changing consumer tastes. Adams disagrees.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve struggled. It’s always a challenge adapting to consumer tastes. With such a global company with great scale, it becomes an even bigger challenge,” he said.

In fact, Adams is convinced that seemingly healthy food is Kraft Heinz’s “big opportunity”.

“People are becoming more and more conscious and aware of the health benefits that food can and can’t bring. It’s something that we see as being as a massive opportunity.”

New brands

In Ireland, Kraft Heinz has responded to health trends by rolling out a range of ketchup and beans with no added sugar or salt, which Adams said attracts new shoppers to the brands.

“It’s not only for existing customers, giving them an option to be more healthy with their ketchup; we’re also actually seeing new consumers coming into the market,” he said.

“We’re growing market share in beans and ketchup for the first time in about four years in Ireland.”

The company is also diving into its global portfolio of brands to appeal to the coveted millennial market on this side of the Atlantic.

For example, Kraft Heinz earlier this year launched its Bull’s-Eye BBQ Sauce brand in Ireland and the UK.

“It’s a brand of barbecue and hot sauces that is effectively a craft brand from America. That’s targeted towards 18 to 34-year-old year olds; the guy that drinks his craft beers, that goes to the music festivals,” Adams said.

When asked whether the company will launch other international brands here, he said “that’s the dream”.

Adams’s ultimate goal is to double the business in Ireland over the next five years: “I think we’ve got the opportunity to do it because I think there’s a lot of white space.”

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