Have you heard about all the things that millennials have “killed” in the last few years? Cereal, chain restaurants, beer, napkins…the list goes on. And last year, they officially killed canned tuna. As a millennial, I laugh at these lists because I always use what’s on them (love you, cereal). Maybe it’s because I am considered an older millennial, but another case in point: canned tuna. I’ve been eating it as long as I can remember (I will share my easy tuna melt recipe below!). But last week, after attending the Pittsburgh Technology Council event, CMO Insights: StarKist VP of Marketing & Innovation, I learned my tuna habits were in line with boomers and I need to get on board with the new trend: pouches. It’s how StarKist became the number one tuna brand in the United States. Here’s a look at how they did it.
Adapt to Consumer Trends
Andy Mecs, VP of Marketing and Innovation at StarKist (the presenter at this session) has truly done his homework (along with the rest of his team). I’m not sure how much you know about tuna (anyone else think of Andy and Jim on The Office?!) but consumption of canned tuna has dropped 42 percent in the last three decades. Fresh fish, however, have been on the up. And speaking of those darn millennials, their habits have changed too — it’s all about convenience (think grocery delivery a la Instacart and meal delivery services like Plated) and different health trends (think keto, Whole 30, etc.). That said, the team at StarKist knew they needed to switch things up and under Andy’s leadership, StarKist focused on convenient health food and its “Tear.Eat.Go.” campaign. Its pouch products had tremendous growth and StarKist is approaching a 50.0 share in the category. Holy mackerel! (Oh my gosh, did I just say that? I am so corny.)
It’s also worth noting that StarKist’s headquarters is right here in Pittsburgh, PA. It was very fun that they brought their mascot, Charlie, to the talk.
Use Social Listening
This is a no-brainer today, but StarKist really listened to conversations on social media to gather insightful data about tuna. People are sharing these new services and health trends that I mentioned on social media. Think about the people you follow — influencers, friends, members of Reddit threads and Facebook groups — these are the people you trust and get information and suggestions from. If the @ketoguido (best name ever) is going to make a recommendation, I am going to listen (not that I am keto but I like his meal ideas). Not only that, but gathering overall conversation people were having, in general, was key to determining how to deliver insights-driven product offerings and marketing. The findings were that consumer preference was shifting toward the pouch. The target demo for StarKist is females 25-45ish (hi, that’s me!) and for many women in this target, we don’t have time to fuss. We’re busy with kids, pets, work, taking care of the home, doing the shopping — the list goes on. With a pouch, you don’t have to drain and stir in other ingredients. You simply, tear, eat and go. That resonates with us. It’s fast and convenient.
If you follow Candace Cameron Bure on social media (or let’s be serious and just call her what she is: DJ Tanner), then you want to know all her secrets because girlfriend looks AMAZING. She does a lot of workouts on Instagram, but she is also a spokesperson for StarKist. Smart! They activated her via TV spots and social – hitting on all of their key messages. They also tap into other influencers to promote the plethora of new flavors. I am still in awe over the fact that I just ate some delicious buffalo chicken from a pouch! (Thanks, Andy for the free samples. Since I love quick and healthy and eat tuna anyway, I am SOLD.)
And, as I said on LinkedIn the other week, influencer marketing continues to explode and will only expand in 2020. Just consider these stats (via The Shelf):
- The size of the influencer market is anticipated to be $2.3 billion in the next year (and that’s just Instagram and doesn’t include YouTube or the ever-growing TikTok).
- 81% of millennial women say social media is the most effective way for brands to reach them (I am one of them!).
Here are some final takeaways from Andy (not the prettiest photo but great principles).
My top tip? Always listen to what your audience wants, and be open to change and adaptation. What worked when StarKist first started in 1917 is not going to work today. The core product – the tuna – remains but it’s HOW consumers are consuming it that makes all the difference.
Easy Tuna Melt Recipe
Bet you didn’t think this business post would include a recipe? I make a mean tuna salad (that I also use for egg and chicken salad, too). See below. StarKist has a number of recipes on their website as well.
- One can (no, POUCH!) of StarKist tuna (plain)
- 1.5 tbsp. mayonnaise (I prefer Duke’s)
- 1 tbsp. yellow mustard
- 1 tsp. relish
- 1 tbsp. finely chopped celery
- A few dashes of salt, pepper, and paprika
- 1 slice American cheese
- 2 slices of bread of your choice, lightly toasted
Combine the first six ingredients and adjust to your taste preference — add a little more mayo or less mustard — you get it. Dollop your tuna mixture on top of one slice of bread (there will be a lot so you can make two sandwiches out of this) and place the cheese on top. Turn on your broiler (or toaster oven) and broil until cheese gets melty. Place your other slice on top and enjoy! Could also throw a nice tomato slice on this.