Kerry Foods CMO Phil Chapman on the need for marketers to be more brave

Phil Chapman, chief marketing officer at Kerry Foods, believes this is the time for marketers to be more daring. Interview by Rachel Barnes.

Phil Chapman, chief marketing officer at Kerry Foods, describes himself as a 'fixer and builder'.

'The brands that appeal to me are those that are facing a challenge,' he says, making sense of his recent career moves.

After 20 years at Unilever, Chapman, who has worked in various countries, including Singapore and Egypt, was drawn to the telecoms world in 2005, when he became a senior marketer at T-Mobile.

'Transforming the brand was the big attraction,' he explains. Having shifted it from 'Euro bland to being a cool brand', Chapman felt his job at T-Mobile was done. That coincided with a restructuring at Kerry Foods, which owns the Wall's and Richmond sausages, Cheestrings and Mattessons brands, and was looking to shift its marketing up a gear.

Changed culture

'The company was more of a commercial selling machine before I joined, rather than being focused on brands,' he says. 'The culture here has changed, and we've raised the ambition of the marketing department.' Kerry Foods 'now works on fewer, but bigger, projects', which most significantly meant refocusing the business on a core of eight of its 30-odd brands.

Chapman has a relaxed confidence that comes with having spent 30 years in the industry. One interesting fact is that 20 years ago, Chapman was the head of marketing for Mattessons Wall's, when it was owned by Unilever. Some marketers might not want to work on the same brand two decades later, but Chapman simply says: 'I think it's great that I work on Mattessons again. I just wish I knew then what I know now.'

While he doesn't shy away from listing his achievements - he has relaunched all eight core brands since joining Kerry - this response seems typically unassuming. Judging by the time that Marketing spends with Chapman, he has none of the ego of some senior marketers, though he does delight in talking about one indulgence, his old Mercedes SLK sports car.

The move from T-Mobile to Kerry Foods might seem odd. However, Chapman is having none of it. He is enjoying the role, which he says has an effect on the company's growth that goes beyond the marketing department. 'It's not just about brands, the company structure has changed to a more consumer-led approach,' he says.

In Kerry Foods' latest results, for 2010, like-for-like sales in its consumer foods division increased by 1.3% to EUR1.77bn, with the sales of Richmond sausages, Mattessons and Cheestrings all growing.

'Having a chief executive who believes in the ambition is absolutely key to our brands' successes. You need marketing at the top table,' he adds. That attitude has enabled Chapman to secure a 20% increase in his budget since joining, thanks to making a 'strong business case to the board'.

That spend is concentrated on the core brands. 'By focusing on these brands, we are growing healthily overall. Mattessons, for example, is in double-digit growth since we relaunched the masterbrand strategy. This means that Fridge Raiders is clearly under the Mattessons brand. We have launched Twisted Tails as part of Mattessons, as well as the Cheestrings spaghetti variant.'

Cheestrings has been in the firing line in recent years, a target in the marketing-to-kids controversy. Chapman acknowledges that it must tread a careful line, but believes the brand has a strong proposition.

'We're up-weighting the amount of calcium so that it's better for you. There is a misconception about Cheestrings, but it is only cheese, nothing else,' he adds. 'We call the proposition "good food made fun". We make that deal with mums, who are the audience for all of our advertising.'

Chapman is proud of the work done on Cheestrings since his arrival. The ad campaign that introduced the character Mr Cheese, is now on its third execution. 'Only now is he really coming alive and we are learning who he is. I believe he gets better with each film we make.'

Brand characters are proving a winning formula for Chapman. At Unilever, he first tested the water with the 'Bit of an animal' Peperami campaign. His latest character is Alan, the Wall's talking dog, who speaks on behalf of British men who can't share their feelings. 'What we were trying to do was make Wall's famous again, make it part of the cultural dialogue,' he explains.

'I immediately loved it when I saw it,' he declares, clearly proud of the work. 'It has already had almost 1m hits on YouTube and Alan is active on Twitter.'

The next stage of the campaign is intended to rapidly build the brand's digital presence. In August, it is hoping a new online-only execution, featuring Jason Donovan duetting with Alan, will go viral.

'Jason absolutely loved it, he was ad-libbing and building up the idea. He seemed like the perfect fit, allowing us to marry two much-loved icons in this fun, tongue-in-cheek spoof.'

A digital strategy is a must for Kerry's core brands, although Chapman admits it is still working out how to take Richmond online. 'Digital contemporises a brand, not necessarily strategically, but in consumers' minds the brand becomes more modern. We have to expand in the digital space and I'm open to experimenting. About 20% of our overall marketing is now digital.'

The Wall's activity sums up Chapman's approach: he believes marketers should have the confidence to have a bit of fun.

'It's important that these things make you smile - all our brands do that. You always need a bit of that magic dust,' he says.

Magic and brave are two words that repeatedly crop up. It was down to a lack of bravery, Chapman says, that UK agencies came away from Cannes last month somewhat light on gongs.

'Why didn't the UK win its fair share? One thought is that as times got tighter, clients were more conservative. But when times get tighter, you have to be braver.

A lot of mediocre work comes from the fact that agencies don't believe their client is brave enough. You have to be disruptive.'

So, with the portfolio relaunched and several major campaigns under way, is Chapman's job as a 'fixer' done? 'Not yet. There is still another level to take these brands to. We won't be revolutionising, but you will see significant evolution from us,' he says.

'It's not an option that we don't continue to gain ground next year, so I am already asking agencies how can we lift our game in the next 12 months.'

Although he is open, Chapman refuses to answer one big brand question: is he a Wall's or a Richmond sausage man? 'They're both great. I do have a favourite, but I can't say. The team from the other brand would kill me.'


1980-1981: Graduate trainee, Freight Forwarding, LEP

1981-1983: Brand manager, foods, United Africa Company (UK and Nigeria), Unilever

1984-2004: Various marketing roles with Unilever in the UK, Egypt, Singapore, Dubai and Holland, including head of marketing for Mattessons Wall's, rising to global brand director for Lipton

2005-2008: Senior executive vice-president international brand and communications, T-Mobile

2009-present: Chief marketing officer, Kerry Foods


Lives: Banbury

Family: Married with four children

Last holiday: Sorrento and Rome

Drives: BMW 525 Diesel and an old Mercedes SLK sports car

Favourite brand: Virgin Atlantic

Music: David Bowie, Adele and The Strokes.