CMO50 2021 #12: Yash Gandhi

  • Name Yash Gandhi
  • Title Head of marketing
  • Company Baiada (Steggles and Lilydale)
  • Commenced role November 2015
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 9 staff
  • Industry Sector FMCG
  • 2020 ranking New to CMO50
  • Brand Post

    Yash Gandhi is the first to suggest his role is “possibly a little more unusual” than that held by many CMOs in Australia today. As marketing chief of poultry giant, Baiada, he sits across both iconic B2C brands, Steggles and Lilydale, along with a significant B2B FMCG operation.

    “Despite being one of Australia’s leading companies, as Baiada is privately owned, it often feels like working for a family business - we’re hands on, sleeves rolled-up and pragmatic with short decision- making chains,” Gandhi comments.

    “The nature of our business involves working in a ‘B2B’ structure as one of the largest suppliers to the Australian grocery trade, QSR operations as well as the rapidly growing home meal delivery sector. Yet we also market direct to the consumer with two of Australia’s most loved food brands: Steggles and Lilydale Free Range.

    “This complexity is challenging. At times, I feel like I’m working against myself - developing business growth plans for mutual success with organisations my brands are competing directly with. In short, our biggest competitors are also our biggest customers.”

    So how do you juggle such a mix? With creative flair, says Gandhi. “Creativity is the saviour of my sanity and the heart of our marketing success - finding innovative ways for customers to engage and enjoy our products however and wherever they choose to buy them,” he says.

    Innovative marketing

    Creativity came to fore in what Gandhi describes as his favourite moment over the past year: Doubling down on a new marketing strategy and brand positioning campaign for Baiada’s Lilydale free range chicken in the middle of the pandemic.

    “We overcame various hurdles to deliver something we’re not only proud of, but has grown our brand and made a positive contribution to the business,” he says.

    The ‘Dedication you can Taste’ platform focused on making Lilydale the indisputable leading free-range brand in the country. While Lilydale had been the pioneer for free range chicken in Australia over 20 years ago, the rest of the market had caught on and taken advantage of the foundations the brand had already laid. This resulted in competitors copying brand codes and claims in a bid to steal market share and “snag shoppers who didn’t know better”, Gandhi claims.

    What’s more, Lilydale’s main distributor, Coles, launched its own Lilydale ‘lookalike’ at a lower price point. This posed a massive threat to the Lilydale brand.

    “Instead of succumbing to a price war, we double downed on brand building,” Gandhi says. “Being a vertically integrated business, we manage everything from eggs to shelf – unlike our retail counterparts. We demonstrated to Australians it was our ‘dedication’ that made the difference. We broke category norms to cut through and deliver our marketing message that spoke to our core audience in a way the supermarkets never would.

    “In doing so, we cemented our premium pricing and positioning in a commoditised category.”

    Work included updating Lilydale’s branding, refreshing packaging and repositioning the brand, and overcoming strong market forces to remain one of Australia’s most preferred free range offerings. The initiative has since been shortlisted in two categories at Effie Awards in recognition of its effectiveness and excellence.

    “Receiving two Effie Award nominations was the cherry on the top,” Gandhi says.

    Business smarts

    Meanwhile, a first for Gandhi has been developing and launching a new brand and products in the emerging plant-based food category.

    You only have to look at leading supermarket shelves and mainstream QSRs to see the explosion of interest in plant-based foods. It was also clear to Baiada the emerging category had growing consumer demand and was expanding at pace.

    “But we are a ‘poultry’ business. To explore opportunities, like plant-based food, we had to think differently and position ourselves as leading ‘protein’ producers,” Gandhi explains. “For us, there was no greater risk than sitting on the side-lines and not be part of this emerging category, which was growing at over 30 per cent year-on-year.”

    The company has found its solution in a pea-based protein. According to Gandhi, this delivers taste, flavour and texture “unlike anything else in the market”.

    “After years of research and development and working collaboratively with product team, operations, finance and various aspects of the supply chain, we found success in producing a commercially viable plant-based offer that you’d be proud to eat and serve,” he says. “All our consumer testing and research led us to believe we had a strong offer.”

    At time of CMO50 judging, Baiada was just a few months away from launching its new plant-based food brand into the Australian market. The task has required a startup mindset and employing brave, inventive and iterative strategies to scale the brand at speed, Gandhi says.

    “It’s been my most cherished experience and something I genuinely felt excited about over the past year,” he says. “It’s something that truly appealed to my entrepreneurial spirit.”    

    Data-driven approach

    With main grocery buyers of 18 to 65 years of age its core target market, Baiada has a very wide customer base to address.  

    “You’d expect that to a certain degree in a commoditised category like milk, bread and poultry,” Gandhi agrees. “Not only did that lead to huge waste of our precious marketing dollars, we also had limited understanding of what channels were working for us and why.”

    This is why it was critical to dial up data-driven marketing as the business worked to reposition and re-energise the Lilydale brand.

    “We had to seek out our core, most valuable segments within the main grocery buyer groups, particularly for our Lilydale brand,” Gandhi says. “A segment who would be more receptive and loyal to the brand, one that valued welfare over price and were willing to pay a premium in return for quality. They were also the ones who bought into our ‘Dedication you can taste’ philosophy.”

    As a result, as it kicked off the new Lilydale free range campaign, Baiada not only cast the net wide, but through data-driven marketing tools including a real-time holistic view of campaign performance, quickly analysed every aspect of the campaign, from segments to channels, and optimise accordingly.

    “This gave us the depth of understanding of why and what messaging was performing on what channels and with which segments,” Gandhi says. “We strategically optimised our campaign spend and performance by diverting funds from underperforming channels to those that were. This allowed us to improve overall efficiency of our marketing dollars in real time by unifying data and insights and demonstrating the value of our spend on specific channels targeting specific segments.”

    Thanks to the combination of brand smarts and data-driven marketing, the ‘Dedication you can taste’ campaign has been the best performing marketing campaign in the brand’s history.

    Customer-led thinking

    A very real physical challenge Baiada faces in engaging with consumers happens at the point of product selection. As Gandhi puts it, to help consumers make product decisions, it needed to “solve the paradox of choice for our freezer category consumers”.

    “Coles’ freezer aisle was only frequented by shoppers looking for peas and ice creams. Shoppers would actively avoid going down the freezer aisle and would only be attracted to it by discounted value offers,” Gandhi says.

    “The frozen poultry section was no different. A nugget, is a nugget, is a nugget. Having four different brands trying to sell a similar product at different price points with varying degrees of quality only confused the consumer and devalued the category. Consumers were overwhelmed by choices on offer and difficulty to navigate the category.”

    Working closely with sales team and partnering with the Coles freezer category team, Gandhi and his team managed to find a partner, brand, business and consumer aligned solution.

    “More importantly, by taking away the paradox of choice, we made shopping the category a better experience for consumers,” he says. “In doing so, we’ve made Steggles the number one brand in the freezer too.”

    Commercial impact

    Multiplying growth with a new approach has also been in Gandhi’s sight as CMO. As he points out, growing branded sales in a commoditised category, with the two giant supermarkets driving their own private-label agenda, is not easy.

    “By growing your branded sales, you attract a better margin, which positively adds to your bottom line – but you’d expect that from a good CMO,” he says. So Gandhi has taken it a step further and created a new business approach aimed at multiplying growth.

    “Following the success I enjoyed pitching business for agencies, I have developed a pitch team. A lean, mean, cross-functional team, each with their own area of expertise and with one common goal in mind: Growth,” he says.

    As the Covid-19 global pandemic hit and crisis ensued, Gandhi then doubled down on Baiada’s core strategy. Being in the primary industries in the middle of a pandemic, the organisation had to rationalise product range to manage restricted working conditions, yet somehow provide reassurance of supply to key customers.

    “That meant working tirelessly with sales, ops and product development to ensure we could optimise our product range without compromising on quality,” Gandhi says.

    On the marketing front, in a year like no other, where other brands were on the “high horse of purpose driven marketing and the temptation to cut marketing and advertising costs to a minimum was ever-present”, Baiada kept the emphasis on selling, he says.

    “After carefully considering our options on how we adapt our marketing approach, we decided that it’d be best not only to stick to our overarching marketing strategy but double down on it,” Gandhi says. “Our executive leadership team needed little convincing given how tightly aligned our marketing strategy was to our business objectives. All we had to do was put it into action.

    “We balanced our short-term sales activations with more emphasis on long-term brand building to drive growth. A year on, we continue to reap the benefits with both brands enjoying healthy brand metric scores and sales growth.”

    That didn’t mean some fun couldn’t be had by all. In the middle of Covid, with more people doing home workouts than ever before, Gandhi says his marketing team found an opportune moment to remind health and fitness buffs that Steggles Turkey is the ultimate lean protein meal.

    “We made subtly branded workout songs for Steggles Turkey - and put them in Spotify workout playlists. It turned out to be one of the best radio ad campaigns of 2021 winning various local and international creative awards,” he adds.

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