Hershey is one of the strongest indulgence brands in the world. But when a food offers little more than a sweet treat, it’s becoming increasingly suspect in a market that has shifted away from junk food.
Still, that didn’t stop Peter Horst from recently jumping ship as head of the Capital One brand to come to the chocolate icon as senior vice president and CMO, with responsibilities for global innovation and the global snacks business.
And now that he’s ensconced at Hershey, Horst is attempting to leverage the brand’s storied past, legendary products, and more recent displays of innovation ranging from new sub-brands to an aggressive effort to become known for its sustainability chops.
“We make no bones about the fact that we’re in the confection business and that a chocolate bar is a treat—not masquerading as a core food staple, and not presenting it as anything other than what it is,” Horst told brandchannel. “There’s a place for treats, and that’s perfectly fine.”
Horst shared more with brandchannel about why Hershey became his personal “place for treats.”
brandchannel: Why did you decide to come to Hershey?
Peter Horst: One thing that drew me to Hershey is an amazing set of iconic brands that were just rich with history and deep with emotional resonance—and as a marketer, incredible to work with.
The second thing was a very powerful sense of the company’s real interest in growth and innovation, building the business geographically into new categories and broadening its footprint across segments through organic innovation and other means.
The third thing was the core values underlying the company, and its culture and people—something you feel when you walk through the door.
bc: What are your priorities?
Horst: Understanding the company and my role and what are the leverage points for propelling the company forward. Where will I create the most value? It won’t be looking over the shoulders of our dozens of brand managers around the world or micromanaging scripts. It’ll be making sure we have absolutely killer positioning that is globally consistent but locally relevant, resting on catalyzing consumer insights.
bc: What challenges are you finding in marketing indulgent brands and products in an era in which better-for-you is rising?
Horst: It’s about being really clear with the consumer what we are and what role we aspire to play in their lives. We also bring a very determined agenda around providing the consumer with all the information they want to have about the foods they’re eating—where they come from, who’s making them—so they can make good choices.
We’ve devoted a ton of energy, for example, to a simple-ingredients agenda. Part of that agenda is about transparency, so they can understand what they want to about origins and nutrients. And part of the agenda is about sustainable, responsible sourcing—doing the right things as they relate to suppliers and providing all that information to consumers.
bc: What is your reaction to rival Mars’ recent move to encourage that an “added sugars” disclosure be put on US food labels by the federal government?
Horst: Consumers should understand total sugars, so that is what we’ve focused on. We also want to help consumers avoid doing improper math—totaling “added sugars” and “total sugars” together, where you end up with a bad number. If you’re in a business that is about added sugar, you want to make sure there isn’t consumer confusion.
bc: You also are doing a lot with new brands and products in areas like protein.
Horst: We are doing more wholesome snacking and portable proteins, more functional, good-for-you meal supplements and meal replacements. One of them is Krave, the beef-jerky company that we acquired. Also Brookside’s fruit-and-nut bars, a brand that we’re feeling really good about. It’s a new platform that has taken us into new spaces, and we see it as one of our core global brands that we’re in the process of taking around the world.
It’s an amazing product. If people try Brookside, the language they use to describe its unbelievable deliciousness is really quite striking. We’re building an ad campaign around the amazing things people say about Brookside.