It’s been three years since Campbell Soup acquired Plum Organics, and the arrangement has gone pretty much as Campbell CEO Denise Morrison and Plum CEO Neil Grimmer planned it when they made the deal: Plum would give the larger company an instant presence and credibility in the fast-growing organic baby- and toddler-food markets, which Plum helped create, and the former startup would gain from access to Campbell’s considerable resources in logistics, marketing, retailing and nutritional research.
Plum’s latest move to take advantage of such synergies was to launch infant formula, in March, the first of what the company promised would be several product innovations this year. Plum’s Grow Well Organic Infant Formula uses organic lactose as its only carb rather than the industry standard of adding corn syrup solids.
“It’s one of those areas where we felt there was real opportunity,” Ben Mand, senior vice president of marketing and innovation for Plum, told brandchannel.
Plum also plans to launch a new line of organic cheddar crackers for toddlers this year called Mighty Dinos, and in its development leveraged the expertise of Campbell’s Pepperidge Farm baked-snacks brand, which makes iconic Goldfish crackers. Plum also has been showcasing a new line of Mighty Mealtime toddler meals and is introducing a line of meatballs for children that initially debuted as an exclusive to Target.
brandchannel talked with Mand about the Plum brand, its relationship with Target and the infant-formula gambit.
bc: How has the Plum brand evolved lately, or hasn’t it? What are you ultimately standing for?
Ben Mand: We’re a brand [founded] by parents for parents so really what we’re trying to do is come up with products that solve parents’ and kids’ needs—we want to be that advocate for the very best food from the first bite. We’ve always innovated across a number of different segments. We were the first one to launch [organic purees in] pouches, and we know that the pouch is powerful and actually satisfies some core needs in several categories. But we think there are some needs outside of that.
bc: How does that apply to your incursion into infant formula?
Mand: When you look in the baby food category and snacks, the penetration of organic is really strong. But when you look a organic formula, it’s actually small. Lots of parents buying organic baby food aren’t buying organic formula. There’s an inherent disconnect in not thinking about formula as food. We have a duty to help consumers understand this is food and to help them understand the importance of being organic in formula as well as food.
bc: What have been the ripples from your relationship with Campbell?
Mand: It’s enabled us to live our mission in a stronger, bigger way. There are really important technical skills that they bring to bear for us. We run independently, and it’s a symbiotic relationship. They also help us with patenting and with processing technology, as well as for nutrition science where they have experts on staff we can tap into and bring them out here [to California] and have sessions with them to make sure we’re doing better every day.
bc: How do you decide what new categories to enter next?
Mand: Each has a rationale. What are parents doing right now and where are those gaps? Parents start out very strongly in the baby aisle and at some point start shopping the rest of the store. But depending on where they’re shopping, many of the products in the rest of the store aren’t designed for the small toddler. That’s one reason we have come up with mac and cheese in our Mighty Mealtime line. Meatballs are another example; they can be a great meal builder. Parents can cut them up and press them or put meatballs in pasta or give kids fruits and veggies on the side. But it’s got organic protein and grains and veggies so it’s a real wonderful product.
bc: How is the relationship going with Target, in which the retailer selected Plum as a handful of what it calls Purpose-Driven Brands for special treatment and display in the grocery section?
Mand: It’s going really well. They’re really focusing on organics and nutrition, and if you think about the Target brand and who they’re attracting to their stores, it’s a really nice fit for us. Our parents are shopping at Target and are aligned with what they want to do, so it’s a natural partnership for Plum in that regard.