How digital marketing boosted Idahoan's Foods' ability to meet demand

Some CPG brands found themselves with the long end of the stick in 2020 (if there was a long end to be had). Makers of canned tomatoes and toilet paper, for example, were dealing with stock-outs rather than disappearing demand. And shelf-stable packaged potatoes were one of these hot-ticket items.

Business boomed for Idahoan Foods, manufacturer of a variety of dehydrated potato products. And the brand was uniquely positioned to address a spike in demand, thanks to prioritizing investments in a digital go-to-market.

Wes Myer, Idahoan’s director of retail marketing, explains how the brand adjusted during the circus that was 2020—and why it’s a thrilling time to be a marketer today.

Lisa Henderson: How did digital help Idahoan to weather the volatility of the Covid pandemic?

Wes Myer: In the last part of March 2020, we saw tremendous spikes, not only in our brick-and-mortar business, but also in ecommerce. Fortuitously, we had actually launched our direct-to-consumer (DTC) website and bolstered our presence on Amazon around late February in an effort to grow our ecommerce sales. So, by the time the pandemic hit, we were in a really good position to cater to changing customer needs.

As a manufacturer, it does not necessarily matter if we sell our product online or in store. It needs to be available across all outlets our customers want to buy in. That’s the key.

What challenges has Idahoan faced as a result of all the growth?

Like other manufacturers, we didn’t expect the pandemic. We didn’t expect the spike in demand. We didn’t expect that behavior in purchasing patterns to shift so dramatically.

But we are a nimble company, which I believe helped us to excel. From a supply chain standpoint, from a sales standpoint, we’re able to adjust quite well to fit the needs of our retail partners and customers, as well as our consumers—the end-users.

Marketing had to react a little differently, as well. Fortunately, we had Epsilon as a resource at our fingertips. We essentially built an entire program from scratch starting in early March to address the spike in demand through the next few months. We hit the ground running, figuring out ways to adjust, adapt and completely change our marketing message to make it relevant for that time and that customer.

How did you adjust your messaging for the pandemic?

Based on buying behavior and the information that we monitored weekly, we saw that we had an influx of new buyers—in fact, millions of new households. We knew that some of this was a panic buy. The question became how to convert this panic buy into a healthy ongoing purchasing pattern. 

"The digital marketing path has become so relevant for us in being able to tailor to specific audiences based on buying behavior." –Wes Myer, director of retail marketing, Idahoan Foods

Leading up to the pandemic, a lot of our messaging was around acquiring new households. It sounded like, “Hey, have you tried our mashed potatoes?” But during the first six months of the pandemic, we shifted messaging to focus on increasing and extending the usage of our products, including sharing recipe ideas.

How did you adjust the messaging for different audiences?

The beauty of Epsilon, and digital marketing in general, is you can tailor messaging to very specific audiences. We adjusted variations of our message for a few different audiences, including: Those who purchased for the first time during the pandemic, as well as lapsed users (who hadn’t bought our product in the last 12 weeks, but had purchased at some point in the past).

What have you learned during the pandemic that you’ll use going forward?

As a manufacturer, we have looked at this as a portfolio approach, and we’ve learned a lot. The digital marketing path has become so relevant for us in being able to tailor to specific audiences based on buying behavior.

We reached out to a variety of audiences that fit our profile. For example, we might have targeted those who buy packaged side dishes, including rice and pasta—but they weren’t buying us. We’d give them an introduction to our brand and to our products and invite them to see our website. We found it to be very effective.

We also tested out some new social media channels and ran our very first TikTok campaign. We were able to spend a small amount and drive a ton of impressions across the new, younger audience in TikTok users, which was very eye-opening for us.

Do you think new data availability will change the way CPG brands market to consumers?

Overall, as a food manufacturer today, especially in center store, CPG brands have so many data points at their fingertips. In fact, there are so many data points out there, manufacturers need to ask themselves if they are armed with adequate resources to leverage those data sets.

And it’s not just being able to read the data or interpret the data—but act on it. Those are very different things. We’re a small team, and we do the best that we can at interpreting and acting on our data. But ultimately, like many other CPGs, we rely heavily on our partners like Epsilon. It’s a great time to be a marketer. There are so many tools, resources and data at our fingertips.

It’s a glorious time to be a marketer, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it. But I’ve got to tell you, there’s no way we could be effective at our jobs without having great partners on board.

**This article was originally published on Adweek, May 2021.