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"Annie's Standout Branding Strategies" — Kathy Guzmán Galloway, Strategy Consultant

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (00:00): Hello, I'm Kathy Guzmán Galloway. I'm a brand and strategy innovation consultant, and I help brands better connect with their consumers. And this is my love letter to Annie's.

Sam Thorogood (00:28): Welcome to Branding Love Letters, exploring the emotions brands evoke and the journeys they take us on. I'm Sam Thorogood, a graphic designer and your host. In each episode, I invite a guest to pick their favourite brand and unpack why it means so much to them. This podcast is a celebration of the branding that informs, impacts and inspires us. So, without further ado...

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (01:11): Yeah, Annie's is a brand that really started as a mac and cheese alternative in the centre of the aisle. And, and that's really where I discovered them. I, I had young kids at the time and, um, the brand is very much targeted to families and they wanted to bring a better version of a macaroni and cheese product to the marketplace. And, and with really young girls at the time I was looking for healthier alternatives and really being more conscious about the type of products that I bought and was thrilled to discover Annie's sitting on the shelf next to that iconic blue box. Right. Uh, and, and was so happy to, to find it there. And that it was speaking directly to me, by the way that they were really developing their products and the, the messages that, that were, they were bringing to the table. So I, I was excited to find them there.

Sam Thorogood (02:09): So was it the organic element that really drew you in?

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (02:12): Yeah, interestingly when they started, they were not organic. Um, they, they kind of built their brand towards organic over time, uh, which is something I talk a lot to brands about these days that, um, you know, we don't, we don't have to launch with everything perfectly laid out, right. It's more about the intention of where the brand and the products are going rather than getting to that ultimate destination. And I think they're a great case study for that, that they started by saying, we're doing this in a more natural way. We're, we're choosing more natural ingredients, um, to deliver these benefits that the consumer is looking for, but we are gonna work to do better and do more. So they weren't quite there yet. And even in that way, they were already better than, than what was table stakes for the category.

Sam Thorogood (03:02): That's really interesting. So how did they, how did they introduce the organic element? Was that one product at a time, they just started to kind of experiment and see if it was possible and then over time managed to make it their entire, um, line of, of products?

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (03:16): Yeah. And I've never had the opportunity, which I'm sad about, to work on their business. One day hope to, hope to get an opportunity to work with them. But so, so I can't tell you exactly how it happened from the inside, but as a consumer, looking from the outside in, um, it, their, what I, what I know to be true about them is that their macaroni and cheese business and that portion of their profile, um, at least for a very long time, if not still is the biggest component of their, of their business. And so with time, they were able to introduce organic into mac and cheese. It is not the sole thing that they offer. All of their products are not organic. Um, they're a portion of them. There are. Um, and, and some that aren't, cause obviously once you introduce organic, it's a, it's higher cost of doing business.

(04:08): Um, and so those price points go up and they still make some more affordable versions that are just natural. So they've slowly been able to introduce that into the macaroni and cheese, and then you see it in a number of the other categories that they play in. Uh, but, but that sort of natural component, um, is, is the core element of what they're bringing to the table. And by natural, I mean, which, as we know today, natural doesn't always mean anything. It's a sort of throwaway term, but for Annie's, that means the, the colourants that they use, the way that they formulate the ingredients that go into that product, right. You don't see high fructose corn syrup. You don't see some of these, um, ingredients that other brands might try to use in their portfolio. Not necessarily organic, but still better choices than what's on the shelf.

Sam Thorogood (04:57): And you said you were particularly interested in this brand as, as a mum. What was it about the brand that appealed to, uh, a younger audience?

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (05:07): Yeah, I think generally what has happened particularly in the United States over the last, oh gosh, 20, 20, 30 years tops is that, um, we've become so much more aware about the, the ingredients in a product right. 30 years ago when I was growing up, my mom never looked at ingredient list. Like that just wasn't a thing we did, um, in part, because I think there was a collective, um, acceptance that the products that were on the shelf were good products. We assume that what you are putting out as a company is good for me, and you told me it was good for me, so therefore I'm going to eat that and I'm gonna be okay with it. And then something changed in the sort of psyche of, of the American consumer that started forcing us to turn over to the back of the label to start really questioning what brands were bringing to us.

(06:04): And I think moms in particular were a huge, um, what would you call it, a big wave of the consumers that were concerned by that, right. Just by definition, as a mother, you're worried about what your child is eating or not eating and, and what you're doing for them in order to build a healthy, happy, um, and, and lifelong, healthy, happy child. And I think that was the, the perfect setup for, for parents to start thinking and asking questions about what's in the product. And that certainly was true for me. And there are actually a number of things that happened in my life that were a consequence of having kids that changed my lifestyle for the healthier and products were certainly a big part of that. So just being in that moment of, of wanting to give something healthful and quality to my child made me open to that behaviour change. And with Annie's coming in and delivering on this particular need, it was an easy shift from a Kraft over to a, to an Annie's.

Sam Thorogood (07:06): And, and talk to me about the, kind of the visual identity of Annie's, the colours and the, the typography and the, the, the logo. How does that all come together? What, what does that present to you as the consumer?

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (07:17): Yeah, it's such an important part as a brand strategist. Um, I work a lot with startup founders who are developing new new products, which obviously goes along with their, their new packaging. And we spend a lot of time in the upfront of developing a new brand and thinking and talking about how those elements, whether consciously or subconsciously communicate the whole of the brand essence, the purpose, the mission, and the brand positioning. And Annie's from the get were able to really do a great job with that. If you were to imagine, um, or even look up when you have a moment look up the, the mac and cheese aisle, um, particularly the way that it looked when Annie's came to market, you would see those really kind of harsh primary colours in the shelf. Particularly if you think about Kraft mac and cheese, as sort of that iconic blue, that iconic yellow of the, the mac and cheese itself, that really makes that aisle and that shelf set kind of stand apart from other areas in the store.

(08:22): And Annie's came in and really softened the entire thing. Their brand colours are what I would call really, um, a more modern version of kid colours. So if you're imagining back to the 80s, when, when I was a kid, early 80s, you know, kid colours were your primary blue, your primary red there's sort of very kind of classic... 'Sesame Street' is probably the best way to describe it. 'Sesame Street' colours and Annie's sort of came in and, uh, brought in this a different palette of the same primary colours, but with the sort of softness and a sort of modern take that said, this is still kid-friendly, and you can still see it, especially when you look across all the product categories that they're in now. This is still kid friendly, this is appropriate for kids, but it's just a different, um, version of what that kid-friendliness looks.

(09:16): And that, that softness really, I think, speaks to the natural quality, um, rather than the kind of harshness of primary colours, um, that the softness of these, these colours really links well visually to the idea of natural. And then when it comes to their, the rest of the pieces of their identity, their, their logo, their primary logo, um, or I should say their mascot is the bunny and the bunny for eons has universally been seen as a better for fill in the blank um, cue right, we see it a lot in beauty products that if you see a bunny, that means it's not tested on animals, which immediately for the consumer connects that brand to a brand that has a higher purpose, has values that, that speak to me. They took the bunny and made that their, their brand icon, um, and, and they have a brand story around why the bunny is connected to them, but that connection for the consumer in that, that sort of subconscious connection is really clear.

(10:19): And so these kind of these choices that they made were really powerful. And I should say, even the brand name, what we were looking at before was Kraft macaroni and cheese. This is a company, an organisation making a macaroni and cheese product. If I tell you this is Annie's Homegrown, Annie's is a, the name of a person there there's immediately an expectation and an image in your mind that there is a human behind this brand. That also is really powerful. So these kind of strategic choices, whether they, whether they fell into it or they did it intentionally, I can't tell you. Right. But, but it certainly all works together really well to, to tell the story of the brand.

Sam Thorogood (11:00): Mm. What, what emotions does the brand evoke for you when you think about it?

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (11:05): Yeah, I think a lot of the things I was just talking about, the colours, the bunny, the idea that there's a person behind it. Um, and then the, the careful selection of ingredients, and even back panel, if you spend some time looking at the back of their, their packages, they do a great job of storytelling, each product and, and each, um, line item in their, in their assortment has a slightly different story on the back, a story about where the bunny came from a story about their farmers, a story about why they chose to do fruit snacks. Um, all of these pieces together really give a sense of comfort. There, there is a human, there are a group of humans that are caring for me and for my family. And I am comforted not only by the fact that there are people there supporting me and helping me, but the products themselves are also comforting, macaroni and cheese could not be as, as comforting as, as it gets, but they also have a lot of, um, fun and, um, permissible indulgent products that also give me that sense of comfort. So comfort is through and through throughout their, their brand essence.

Sam Thorogood (12:19): Have they done anything that's really surprised you have they brought out any products that, or, or done anything in the way they've positioned themselves over the years that have really, uh, shocked or surprised you?

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (12:29): Yeah, they, they are very surprising and shocking in a great way in that. Um, it's rare to find a brand at retail, uh, at traditional retail, at brick and mortar, um, in the United States that is fully and wholeheartedly committed to an ulterior purpose. For them, their, their purpose and their mission statements are around cultivating happier, uh, happier and healthier worlds. And typically when brands are talking about that kind of space and, and looking to do more natural products, um, they, they tend to just focus on that end consumer benefit. We, we wanna give you something that is lower in sodium, or has no artificial ingredients, or it's organic fill in the blank, whatever that is. And they stick to kind of those functional benefits, but what Annie's has done is gone so far into their purpose. They're so committed to this purpose that we have found that (I shouldn't say we have found, but I have found) um, that they've recently launched a product that was developed with, uh, two farmers, um, that is creating products with regenerative agriculture practices in their farming, uh, you know, in their farms, I should say.

(13:55): And that level of commitment to a, to a, to a purpose, it is just rarely seen in, in the space, especially when we're talking about macaroni and cheese. If you spend some time looking on their website, you'll see these two particular items that they, that they're working on, and they're not mass, mass available. You can't find them everywhere, right. They're just sort of starting at that, but over the years, you have seen them continue to push the envelope, but what, what does it mean for us to commit to this purpose? What does it mean for a brand like ours in the center of the aisle that we're traditionally, you're not seeing as healthy food products? What does it mean for us to be committed to a purpose and, and that level of commitment and specificity about how we get there eventually led them to regenerative agriculture.

(14:45): They could have stopped at saying, we're going to, you know, invest in that, we're gonna support farmers who do that, that, but they took it a step even further and actually develop products with the farmers that are actually implementing these practices with the goal that eventually more and more, if not all of their products would, would benefit from these practices in time. And it's just, you just don't see that, you just don't see that kind of commitment, especially when the brand is now owned by a huge food conglomerate, right. And they're still able to commit to these, um, principles, these values, as well as their, their purpose. It's, it's surprising in a really great way.

Sam Thorogood (15:23): And do, do you think part of the reason they're successful and part of the reason why you relate to them so strongly is because they do stand very much kind of alone in a sense in that they, you know, in the macaroni cheese world, they're actually in a, in an area that is, is dominated by maybe companies that are not publicising, that kind of stuff. And therefore Annie's is, is instantly completely unique.

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (15:47): Yeah, I think that's absolutely spot on. And we've seen more and more of this, um, happening across the retail space, across grocery stores, as of late, as of the last five or so years, um, which is that healthfulness. And choicefulness both in ingredients, in development, in branding is penetrating spaces where helpfulness in theory, shouldn't play, right, that to your point, right? Macaroni and cheese is an indulgent product. And therefore in many ways, consumers say, ah, screw it. I'm just gonna, I'm going to eat the, the most indulgent mac and cheese I'm going to eat. Um, and yet there's still room for you to have that indulgence with a more choiceful created product. And you are seeing that again, across the aisle, you see it a lot happening in ice cream, you see it happening in cookies where that traditionally wasn't happening before. And yes, that helps a lot that if you look at the rest of the assortment in macaroni and cheese, in which there are a gazillion brands doing things, both, um, brands that are specifically doing just macaroni and cheese or brands that are taking equity, even from retail, uh, I'm sorry, from the restaurant space.

(17:01): So Cracker Barrel is a, a restaurant here in the US and they, um, they have their own mac and cheese brand. So there are a number of brands that are bringing all kinds of, um, reasons to believe in functional benefits to the table, but Annie's absolutely stands alone A because they were the first but B because of that, to your point, that commitment to that purpose that not only don't you see it at macaroni and cheese, you just don't really see it almost anywhere in the aisle, um, in any aisles in the store. Um, you might find a lot more of that. If you're looking at direct to consumer brands where, you know, you've got ownership over your entire business and a lot more control and flexibility, but in, in brick and mortars, just so rare. So yes, that, that certainly has a lot to do with it. If they were selling, you know, popcorn where, where popcorn is obviously seen as an, a healthy alternative to other chip products or other snack products, it may not, may not stand out as much, but it definitely helps that they're in, in mac and cheese. Yeah.

Sam Thorogood (18:00): Have there been any times when it's been really difficult to love Annie's?

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (18:04): Never. Really, it's never, it's never been hard to love them because, um, I, I think, again, it's that commitment to, to the ultimate benefit. You know, I have seen brands who attempt to commit and, and, and then things get hard. It's, it's hard to develop, to formulate and produce, distribute, and market helpful alternatives to classics. It's really hard to do that because, um, better for you products are just more difficult and more costly to produce. And so pricing gets thrown off and, and you have to make choices about what you do or don't put in, or ultimately the pricing is so unattainable that your reach is really limited and, and they have just committed to this intention, um, as far as they can possibly commit to it, that, that I just, I have not seen missteps from them. I really haven't seen anything that's been lacking.

(19:10): Um, and, and if I would push, if you would push me on this question, what I would say is not so much, are they disappointed in me, but I still think there's opportunity for them. A lot of their portfolio, the, the whole of their portfolio really is very catered to, um, families with kids. And there still seems room for them to expand into, um, more all family and even adult on the adult side, right? As these, as these families graduate out of Annie's as my family is doing, I have teens now. So we're sort of graduating out of what Annie's is able to offer us. They, they cater a lot more to the younger age kids. Looking for products that fit our lifestyle now and our age. Um, our, our age demographic is, is an opportunity for them, but certainly not a disappointment, just, uh, looking forward to what else they have up their sleeves.

Sam Thorogood (20:02): Um, I'm in the UK. We, we don't have Annie's here. Um, so how would you, how would you describe this, this brand to me, or to someone that has never really heard of them, um, or is not really aware of what they offer in, in a few sentences?

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (20:16): Yeah. Annie's is a portfolio of products that help consumers enjoy the foods they love without having to make compromises on healthful choices or a lifestyle that they're pursuing. And so they exist, uh, across a number of product categories that are traditionally seen as, traditionally seen as unhealthy like macaroni and cheese, um, fruit snacks that are they're, they're terrible for kids here, right? They've got HFCS and the terrible colourings, Annie's obviously doesn't. They exist in, um, granola bars. That, again, another category that particularly for kids has been, um, laden with sugar and, and bad ingredients. They exist in cereals, um, in a couple of other product categories. So this, this is a brand that just provides these fun for you foods in a better for you way.

Sam Thorogood (21:18): And, and, and how would you summarise, you know, your journey with this brand? If you look back over the years, how would you kind of pull it all together and say, this is my, my, my story with, with Annie's?

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (21:28): Yeah, I think my, my story with Annie's is that I started as a young mom, um, looking for, and finding a great macaroni and cheese alternative for, for my, my young kids. And I was lucky enough to be there for their birth, as well as come along with them as they've grown. So I, I, I experience their expansion into other categories and join them along for that, for that path. And now I'm excited to see how I can continue my relationship with them as, as my lifestyle changes.

Sam Thorogood (22:06): Well, Kathy, I really appreciate your, your insight. Um, can you let the listeners know where, where people can connect with what you are doing and what you are, what you're offering?

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (22:15): Yeah, absolutely. So, as I said, I'm a brand strategy and innovation consultant. I work with, uh, startup brands from pre-revenue all the way up to Fortune 500 brands. And I help them really think about how to best connect with their consumer, whether that's creating something new, optimising what they have, or really, uh, creating messaging that connects with them and, and influences consumer behavior. And they can find me the best place to find me is on LinkedIn at, uh, And I am happy to accept all connections. Um, and if anyone has any questions that I can answer, I'd be happy to do that.

Sam Thorogood (22:58): Brilliant. Well, appreciate your time. Finally, would you be able to just read out your, um, your letter to, to Annie's?

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (23:06): Yes. I would love that. Dear Annie's, I wanna thank you for making comfort and fun food a part of my family's food experiences. You've been able to find the foods we love, starting with mac and cheese, and made them choiceful, carefully and with intention. You've made me feel that I can make my family happy without giving up on our values or our lifestyle. For that, I'll always love you. Kathy.

Sam Thorogood (23:32): Well, Kathy, thank you very much for letting us hear your branding love letter.

Kathy Guzmán Galloway (23:36): Thank you. I think this is a really cool project.

Sam Thorogood (23:41): You've been listening to Branding Love Letters and I've been Sam Thorogood. I'm on a mission: equip pioneers like you to bring others onto your journey. Come and find out more at Thanks for listening. Oh, and big thanks to Thomas Thorogood for the music. Take it away, Tommy boy.

Sam Thorogood | Pilgrimage Design