Marketing mojo rebuilds confidence in Maple Leaf Foods after Listeria deaths

From Kristin Laird at Marketing

"Putting a fork in it" Maple Leaf Foods style. Photo via Marketing Mag.

“Graham, formerly CMO at Rogers Communications, started working with Maple Leaf Foods as a consultant following a listeria outbreak in 2008 that killed 22 people and prompted massive product recalls.

That same year, the company posted a third-quarter loss of $12.9 million. In the fourth quarter, Maple Leaf said the recall cost the company an estimated $59 million to $69 million before taxes and profits were down 40%.

The company also had a dramatic fall in the Marketing/Leger Corporate Reputations ranking—which asks consumers if they have a good or bad opinion of the company—dropping from 21 to 76 in 2009 and a further 10 spots in 2010.

With its reputation in tatters, the company set to work on rebuilding consumer confidence. In May 2010, Graham, who became CMO earlier that year, told Marketing, “I think you’ll see it come back, if we do it well. Confidence is not something that’s bought. It’s earned.”

It’s safe to say Maple Leaf Foods has earned it back. Over the past 18 months, the company has refocused and revitalized its efforts around consumer-focused product innovation. It introduced healthier and more convenient products across many of its brands including Schneiders, Dempster’s and Prime. And it made great strides with its aggressive marketing plan, as multiple brands can now be seen and heard across a variety of platforms—from traditional TV spots to online communities.

Maple Leaf’s strategy is paying off. Third-quarter results released in October 2011 showed overall profitability of $43 million compared to a $19.9 million loss for the same period last year. And in the 2011Marketing/Leger Corporate Reputation survey, Maple Leaf Foods climbed 30 spots to 56th place on the top 100 list.

Graham’s presence at Maple Leaf Foods has “made a significant difference” in its approach to marketing, says Ken Wong, associate professor of business and marketing strategy at Queen’s University. “Product innovation clearly is what gave Steve the material he needed to build some brand reputation,” says Wong. “He’s been given great stuff to work with and done great stuff with it.”

He adds that Graham has “enormous experience in the management of brands and the translation of those brands into advertising and promotional activity.” Since beginning his career at Procter & Gamble in 1979, Graham has carved an extensive executive resume that includes stints as worldwide vice-president of marketing at AT&T and group marketing manager at Coca-Cola.

In 1999, during his time at AT&T, Graham was ranked No. 1 on Advertising Age’s list of “The 50 Most Powerful People in Marketing.” “Graham, 43, struck gold last year with the introduction of the wireless Digital One Rate. The flat-rate plan changed the way wireless service is marketed, shifting the balance of power from the manufacturers to the providers,” said Ad Age….”

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2 responses to “Marketing mojo rebuilds confidence in Maple Leaf Foods after Listeria deaths

  1. Andrew

    Excellent post!

  2. What an inspiring story Kristin! I guess this just proves that with the right kind of marketing strategy, creativity, and a whole lot of determination, anyone can get past company losses. I think the problem with some businesses is that they take their potential market for granted. I mean, who does respond to seemingly robotic emails? No one! Customers need to feel that they are given the chance to speak out and that their voices are actually heard. What about Maple Leaf Foods’ online marketing strategies? Can you give us any tips on how we can do it ourselves?

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