Superbrands case studies: Walkers

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume VI', July 2004. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by an independent judging panel.

Case study provided by Superbrands.

The total bagged snacks market is worth just over £2 billion annually and the total Walkers business has just over a 45% volume share of the market.

The last five years have been particularly successful for Walkers, culminating in 2003 when it was officially declared the nation's number one consumer goods brand (Source: IRI June 2003).  The crisps and snacks market is a competitive arena with KP having 17% volume share of the crisps and snacks sector, followed by own brand labels which account for 15%. Procter & Gamble, which markets Pringles, has a 7% share.

Walkers has garnered a plethora of awards from the marketing and retail sector in recent years. The brand has twice been honoured with an IPA Advertising Effectiveness Award, once in 1996 then in 2001. It has been in pole position for two years in succession as Asian Trader Manufacturer of the Year and in 2003 also gained a Top Product Award from The Grocer Magazine. 

The same year witnessed the brand triumphing at the Convenience Store Awards in Dublin for most innovative sales and marketing campaign.  Walkers is justifiably proud of its cause related marketing record. In 1999 the brand launched Free Books for Schools. Under the scheme tokens were collected from special packs of Walkers Crisps in exchange for free books.

Over its four-year duration the scheme, which was widely endorsed by Government, parents and teachers, donated nearly seven million books worth more than £35 million to the 36,000 schools taking part. In 2003 Walkers linked with Comic Relief and donated £1 million to the charity. Special edition Baked Bean flavour multipacks raised a further £400,000.

In addition, the brand sponsors The Walkers Stadium and the Youth Academy at Leicester City FC as well as being a club sponsor of Wolverhampton Wanderers FC. Additionally, it has a long standing relationship with the FA from the Schoolboys to the Senior team.

Walkers has also always been a strong sponsor of grassroots football and has teamed with sportswear marketer Umbro to introduce the Walkers Football Fund which provides free soccer kit to clubs and schools to encourage youngsters to take an active interest in the sport. Because of its connections, Walkers created a limited edition pack to celebrate Leicester City Football club's return to the premiership. The brand produced 7,000 packs of Walker's Leicester Cheese & Chive crisps featuring team players Muzzy Isset and Jordan Stewart. Produced at the brand's Beaumont Leys plant, the crisps were only on sale in the Leicester area.

In the 1880s Henry Walker opened a pork butchery in Leicester. Henry did well and expanded until his shops were dotted throughout the city. World War II brought the problems of food shortages and meat rationing. Even when the war finished, rationing remained and for several years Walker's shops were sold out within a couple of hours of opening.

The company decided however that it would be a prudent move to diversify. It finally settled on crisps because potatoes weren't rationed and crisps had already been received well by the public. Initially the process of cutting and frying the potatoes was done manually, but demand became so great that within a few years the process had to be automated.

By the late 1970s Walkers Snack Foods weren't limited to Leicester but had spread across the Midlands. In 1995 the brand launched north of the border into Scotland and following the success of this launch moved into Northern Ireland in 1997 and the Republic of Ireland three years later.

Today, Walkers is part of the PepsiCo organisation, employing more than 4,000 people.

Walkers Crisps are still made in Leicester and it is no coincidence that the brand uses former England squad captain Gary Lineker as its ambassador as he was born in Leicester.

Walkers Crisps use more than 350,000 tonnes of potatoes a year which is the equivalent of 17,000 truck loads. Needless to say, only the best potatoes are used. The vegetables are thoroughly washed before delivery to the factory in a fleet of specially designed lorries and before they're allowed to enter the factory the potatoes are again checked for quality.

Once inside they are rechecked, washed and peeled under the watchful eyes of expertly trained staff. The potatoes are sliced to the perfect thickness, fried, then seasoned before being packaged and sealed. Teams of operators check the packets and take samples to ensure the product conforms to Walkers high standards.

The whole process, from potato to packet of crisps takes just 20 minutes. Walkers Crisps have a range of eleven flavours: Cheese & Onion, Ready Salted, Salt and Vinegar, Prawn Cocktail, Chicken, Beef, BBQ, Marmite, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, Smokey Bacon and Pickled Onion. These are available in standard 34.5g packs, and 55g Big Eat packs sold mainly as packs for sharing. There is also a range of multipacks containing six, twelve, eighteen or 24 bags of crisps.

Recent Developments
Walkers Crisps continually innovates. Most recently it launched Sensations -a 'posher' crisp. The launch campaign featured the former Posh Spice, Victoria Beckham from the Spice Girls. Other equally tongue in cheek Sensations TV ads have also featured the 'posh' Tara Palmer-Tomkinson.  In 2002 Walkers Crisps launched Great British Flavours - its first limited edition. The three flavours linked with three of the UK's most successful and arguably traditional brands:

Marmite, Heinz Tomato Ketchup and Branston Pickle. This move led to the Marmite flavour becoming a permanent part of the brand's portfolio. The following year Walkers introduced 'Great British Takeaways', another limited edition of three favourite flavours: Chicken Tikka Massala, Sweet & Sour and Chinese Spare Rib. 

The television advertising, part of a £2.5 million push, featured Gary Lineker and a cast of Asian actors in a Bollywood style dancing extravaganza and it subsequently won a GG2 best commercial award. The effect was noticed elsewhere in the industry and The Grocer magazine awarded this range Star Product in its Bagged Snacks award.  In February 2004, after more than a year of development and extensive consumer research, Walkers unveiled an even better version of its most popular flavour, Cheese & Onion. An added bonus was that the new, enhanced flavour was suitable for vegetarians as well as coeliacs.

Walkers also offers a range of healthier product options including Salt n' Shake, which allows the consumer to decide how much salt they want with their crisps and Walkers Lites, a 33% lower fat version which are cooked in sunflower oil providing a healthier alternative that is low in saturates, high in monounsaturates but does not compromise on taste.

Walkers communicates the continued innovation of its product through television advertising and skilful use of the brand's spokesman, Gary Lineker. He was retiring from his professional football career when the brand asked him to star in he first commercial 'Welcome Home', which centred on Gary returning to England from Japan.

The fact that Gary has a reputation for being a really nice guy, never having a yellow card and his obvious link with Leicester made him an ideal choice for Walkers. Under the theme 'No more Mr Nice Guy', Gary is so overcome by the irresistibility of Walkers Crisps that he becomes 'nasty' and steals them in a host of situations. The simplicity of the idea has given the brand enormous scope to communicate with the consumer. This has proved to be popular with people of all ages as he is regarded as a hero by young and old.

Since 1995, Gary has featured in 49 commercials which gently poke fun at his 'nice guy' image, and over the years Gary has been joined by a host of celebrities including actress Emma Thompson, Lennox Lewis, Michael Owen and Des Lynam. The Walkers brand is also famous for its in bag promotions. 'Moneybags' was a successful and ground-breaking promotion which offered consumers the chance to win real money in packets of crisps.

It has run periodically across all flavours.

In 2003 Walkers launched further innovative promotions. Tied to the Great British Takeaways range, the incentive offered buyers the chance to win a free Indian or Chinese takeaway. In 2004 the brand gave consumers the chance to win either a Ford Street Ka or Ford Focus instantly.

Brand Values
Walkers, 'Britain's most irresistible crisp' offers consumers quality and freshness. However, the brand doesn't believe in taking itself too seriously and aims to make crisps fun.Walkers also views crisps as one of life's simple pleasures which everyone can enjoy.

Things you didn't know about
Crisps were invented by the chef George Crum.
Gary Lineker's favourite flavour is Salt & Vinegar. Walkers Cheese & Onion flavour is the most popular in the UK.

(c) 2004 Superbrands Ltd