CMO interview: How innovation and marketing agility are driving growth at Freedom Foods

Freedom Foods GM of marketing and innovation shares how he's combining commercial acumen, brand strategy and innovative product thinking to drive rapid growth

Tom Dusseldorp
Tom Dusseldorp

Tom Dusseldorp is the first to admit not every marketer would want to be in his job.

As general manager of marketing and innovation for Australian specialty and allergen-free food manufacturer, Freedom Foods, he holds a strategic and significant role in a business experiencing rapid, fast-paced, international growth.

According to its most recent financials, Freedom Foods chalked up 86 per cent net sales growth across its 30-strong product range in FY2016, a figure that doesn’t just cover Australia but also increasingly North America and China. In addition, operating EDBITA increased 41 per cent year-on-year to $21.5 million.

Freedom Foods also commands a significant presence in the health food aisles of Australia’s leading supermarket chains, and provides services for a range other food producers through its growing manufacturing plants in NSW and Victoria.

But with great opportunity comes great responsibility. Dusseldorp is tasked with fuelling further growth through new product lines and brand expansion, and therefore has a direct commercial accountability and transparency some marketers still lack. This also requires him to build the business case for a marketing and then prove it.

“It’s stressful, and there is a lot of expectation and risk,” Dusseldorp says. “You need to be willing to fall on your sword.”

On the flip side, Freedom’s rapid growth and entrepreneurial culture ensures Dusseldorp holds a place among the country’s strategic marketing leaders.

“I’ve worked in businesses where there has been pressure on margins, where the first function out is marketing because it’s the discretionary spend in P&L. That can be limiting for a team of dynamic marketers,” he says.

“At Freedom, we don’t have big budgets to start with, but we are opening opportunity to generate those budgets. It’s a very entrepreneurial environment we’re working in. It’s up to me to identify the consumer need, then develop and deliver the product range that’s going to tap into that, formulate the P&L and a commercial plan to show how we’re going to support, fund and drive it.”

He points out one of the key pillars at Freedom as an organisation is measuring delivery.

“Everyone is very busy, and they value people who come in and get things done,” Dusseldorp says. “And it’s clear who has done what; there’s no hiding at Freedom. It’s the kind of organisation where your input is clear and valued.”

Brand and strategy building

Dusseldorp earned his marketing stripes building brands in the food and drinks categories. He started his career in agency land, working for a number of agencies before reaching senior account management at Publicis Mojo. He then jumped client side with Pernod Ricard, holding brand roles across the RTD and spirits portfolios, before going global to run the Chivas Prestige range in London. Returning to Australia five years ago, Dusseldorp looked after champagne and spirits categories locally before deciding to seek out a new challenge. He was attracted to Freedom Foods because of its growth aspirations as well as the chance to build brands.

“It’s hard to find a company that’s firstly in growth, but also that needs you to be a more entrepreneurial marketer, who is willing to take some risks but gives you autonomy in return,” he says.

Dusseldorp joined Freedom initially as marketing lead for the beverage business, tasked with establishing a strategy that could deliver ambitious growth in the non-dairy and dairy beverage category. This led to the launch last year of Milklab, specifically for the barista market, available in dairy and innovative non-dairy varieties including almond, soy and coconut milk.

“Milklab was based on a simple insight: Coffee has advanced so far that you can get a single source coffee from the beans of the deepest darkest regions of Guatemala at your local barista, but they’re still pouring the same old milk,” he explains. “If you think about percentages, you’re really drinking a milk beverage, but milk innovation for the cafe market hadn’t gone anywhere. That was a big market opportunity for us – there are billions of cups of coffee consumed every year, but most brands were just offering a barista milk and it lacked credibility.”

Dusseldorp says a key to the brand’s success was winning over external influencers and own the barista market. Milklab subsequently won the New Product category at the 2015 Fine Foods Australia Awards.

“We acknowledged the power of the barista and made them feel part of the process,” he says. “Milklab was created to tap into that, and is both dairy and non-dairy milk. That’s the other innovation – non-dairy milks for coffee haven’t evolved much either. But there is nothing more disastrous than a split coffee – it goes up there on the list of disastrous issues for the planet these days.”

The Milkbar launch set the new marketing bar internally, and led to Dusseldorp’s promotion to CMO across the group seven months ago, overseeing the wider cereal and snacking divisions.

“Our success helped convince the Freedom Foods management team as to what a functioning marketing team can bring in terms of adding value and opportunity to the business. It was a big turning point for us,” he says.

Up next: Ways of fuelling innovation as a CMO

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments
cmo-xs-promo

Latest Videos

More Videos

Thanks for your feedback, Rabi. While we introduced the ROO concept using a marketing example, I also believe that it is pertinent to man...

Iggy Pintado

Introducing Return on Outcome (ROO) - Brand science - CMO Australia

Read more

Thanks for your insight, Philip. Return On Outcome (ROO) requires balanced thinking with the focus on outcomes as opposed to returns.

Iggy Pintado

Introducing Return on Outcome (ROO) - Brand science - CMO Australia

Read more

Beautiful article.

Hodlbaba

15 brands jumping into NFTs

Read more

"Blue" is really gorgeous and perfectly imitates a human customer support operator. Personally, I won't order a chatbot development for m...

Nate Ginsburg

Why the newest member of BT’s contact centre is a chatbot

Read more

As today’s market changes rapidly, the tools we use change, and it is important to adapt to those changes to continue to succeed in busin...

Anna Duda

Report: 10 digital commerce trends here to stay

Read more

Blog Posts

How the pandemic revealed the antidote to marketing’s image problem

What does marketing truly ‘own’ in most organisations? Brand and campaigns, definitely. Customer experience? That remains contested ground.

Murray Howe

Founder, The Markitects

Still pursuing a 360-degree view of the customer?

On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” It may have been true in 1993 when this caption to a Peter Steiner cartoon appeared in the New Yorker. But after 30 years online, it’s no longer the case.

Agility in 2022

Only the agile will survive and thrive in this environment and that’s why in 2022, agility will need to be a whole-business priority.

Sam McConnell

Melbourne bureau chief, Alpha Digital

Sign in