Firm milks itself new dairy niche

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 September, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 September, 1994, 12:00am

TWO years ago, there were only two types of fresh milk on sale in Hong Kong - skimmed and full fat - and the market appeared saturated.

But, when the marketing people at Nestle Dairy Farm put their heads and research tools together, they not only found a new product, they found a new market for milk that was substantially larger than they had imagined.

Nestle Dairy Farm launched its innovative calcium-enriched milk, Hi-Calcium, in February last year, with a carefully planned marketing campaign that won it the gold prize in this year's HKMA/TVB marketing award for excellence.

The success of the campaign can be shown by the sales figures.

By the end of 1993, despite the fact that main competitors Kowloon Dairy had quickly brought out a similar product in May, Nestle Dairy Farm had not only increased its market share by around 16 per cent, but the total market segment for low-fat milk in Hong Kong had soared by 73 per cent.

According to the firm's marketing manager, Karin Moorhouse, this was 'the most successful launch of a milk product in Hong Kong since Dairy Farm first started selling milk in 1886'.

'During the 1980s, there had been two wars for us: one was between long-life milk producers and fresh milk producers, and one was between us and our main competitor, Kowloon Dairy,' she said.

'Dairy Farm had been around in Hong Kong for a long time, and we had rather a staid image. We realised at the beginning of the 1990s that we had to be more innovative, and that we had to rewrite the rules of the game.' With the company slogan, 'Hong Kong grew up with us', full fat milk was targeted at children, and the popular low-calorie skimmed milk, introduced in 1992, was aimed at weight-conscious adolescents and young adults.

'There was an obvious gap in the market for a better-tasting low-fat milk for health-conscious people concerned about calories, but not willing to sacrifice taste,' Ms Moorhouse said.

She said the target group was defined as educated women, between 25 and 40 who shopped in Park 'n' Shop or the Japanese department stores, and were concerned about the osteoporosis issue.

'In 1990, there was a complete lack of awareness among the public about osteoporosis - which mostly affects women and people leading a sedentary lifestyle - and the importance of a calcium-rich diet. We had the solution but, at that time, consumers did not think they had a problem,' Ms Moorhouse said.

Aware that a groundswell of public interest was a necessary prerequisite before a fresh calcium-enriched milk could be launched, company executives kept in touch with doctors at the Chinese University and also sponsored some university research on osteoporosis in 1991.

Initial market research was disappointing 'but intuition led to the decision to proceed', Ms Moorhouse said.

'Being the right product at the right time was as much a critical element of the campaign's successful mix as was the use of research,' she said.

The company organised a pan-media advertising campaign to push the message that Hi-Calcium 'helps keep you stronger for longer'.

With the help of the creative team from Grey Advertising, it developed a TV and print strategy aimed towards Chinese-language media, to promote the product as a healthy alternative.

It also hand-delivered information kits to more than 1,800 doctors and dieticians throughout the territory, and commissioned talks on nutrition by qualified diet specialists at public events such as Food Fair 1993.

Ms Moorhouse said that market research not only confirmed the rapid penetration of Hi-Calcium milk, 'but, more excitingly, it confirmed that the target consumer had been reached, with the product enjoying high brand awareness'. 'The product attracted not only brand switchers, but also new and lapsed consumers. This resulted in overall growth in the liquid milk market,' she said. Ms Moorhouse said the only embarrassment in the entire campaign was that all objectives were over-achieved by up to 200 per cent. '[It made] the original objectives - if anything - an embarrassing under-estimation of the power of the marketing mix,' said Ms Moorhouse.

The head of the Hong Kong Management Association's marketing award organising committee, Charles Pang, said the committee had been extremely impressed by Nestle Dairy Farm's professional approach to the launch.

'They focused in on the community's very pertinent concern about osteoporosis, and launched a very straight-forward, targeted campaign to address that worry.