How an Italian Wafer Brand Targets U.S. Moms and Millennial Foodies on a Local Level

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Unless you grew up in a household of recent immigrants you may never have heard of Loacker wafers — but Crystal Black Davis, the VP of marketing and deputy to the president at Loacker USA, would like that to soon change.

Black started with Loacker’s U.S. operation in 2014, the same time the company set up state-side. The Italian-based parent company was established 92 years ago. Davis moved to Loacker after running her own imports company from 2002 to 2014.

Leaving entrepreneurship wasn’t an easy decision to make, she says. In the end, it came down to the product. “I knew the brand was quality and they would be successful if they introduced them into the U.S.,” she says.

Recently, Davis spoke with Street Fight about her challenge in bringing an established brand to a new market and finding customers on a local level.

How different is the marketing for Loacker’s products in the U.S. than elsewhere?
The consumer targets are different in each region. In the U.S. there are two specific hyper targets that we go after that we don’t necessarily go after in other regions.

Here we place a strong emphasis on family; in particular, mom. We want to make sure we build trust with her and provide the environment where she feels comfortable giving our products to her family. That’s not necessarily what the company is geared to across the globe.

The other target is the “millennial foodie,” which is a nebulous term. We have a specific archetype in mind. Typically, it is an older millennial or younger Gen-X within specific cities.

Which cities?
We don’t want to give too much away.

What specific things is Loacker doing in hyperlocal marketing to promote its products?
For in-store shopper marketing — and outside of the store — we are very conscious that if we spend money then people have to taste the product. We aren’t a sugar wafer and not what people think of when they think about wafers. We are a cream wafer, and once people taste it they recognize the difference.

Even in print adverts there is typically a free sample available. We do [free samples] quite often.

[For instance,] we have a back-to-school campaign with online retailer Zulily. For the month of August, every Zulily box that ships out will have a free sample. We want to make sure that people taste the difference and there is always a call to action on where to buy it.

We do in-store demos quite often, not just in standard grocery stories and not just specialty stores such as Eataly.

What have you tried in the U.S. that you thought would work but that didn’t end up being a success?
We had a huge campaign. It was very successful in terms of engagement but not in terms of conversions.

We had a roadshow for three years running and took a beautiful trip across the country including Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Orlando., D.C. and then New York. We spent a week in every market and in Chicago stopped even for a little longer than a week.

We were out on the street and stopped at parks and campuses and passed out 12,000 samples per day.

But the conversion to [increased] sales was very low. A lot of people we were engaging were college-age students and they were not the type of consumer who would remember or go out of their way to get the product.

What do you consider the best practices for hyperlocal marketing for snack foods?
I think the lesson that we learned with the road show is that we were trying to be everything for everyone

You need to be laser-focused and you have to talk to the particular person [targeted] in a particular voice. Very specifically; we are going to target mom, for instance, and make sure she knows where she can find us. I would recommend that people be very specific. Other [types of products] have the luxury to be very general.

The snack food industry in the U.S. has some massive players such as Frito Lay. How do you differentiate yourself from those kinds of bigger players?
I know we can’t compete dollar-for-dollar. We are a 92-year-old startup. Yes, we are the global leader in wafer cookies but we are relatively unknown in the States. We try to leverage our global position and our longevity. It gives us a lot of muscle.

When we are in stores, we aren’t just passing out samples. We are doing so in conjunction with promotions [to help convert the promo to sales.] Often times we will capture data on consumers and then can build a relationship with the consumer outside of the store.

We try to optimize everything to build that relationship with consumers.

You are working with some large companies such as Whole Foods and Target. How has that compared with the strategy for Loacker elsewhere?
Universally, we are selling to standard hypermarkets but also smaller roadside stores.

[In the U.S.] we have a strong hold in ethnic and gourmet stores, and Stop & Shop, and now in mass merchandisers and all 8,000 7-Eleven stores.

How do you tailor different products and tastes to different regions?
There are products and flavors that fare better in different markets. Lemon fares best on the east coast and dark chocolate on the west. But for the most part, hazelnut [wafer] will be the constant product. That’s our core item.

Simon Constable is a Street Fight contributor. He has written about business and economics for a wide variety of publications. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.