Rustlers, the UK’s bestselling micro snacking brand, has launched the first phase of a bold four year plan to grow the UK’s £150 million micro snacking category by £50 million.
In the first stage, Rustlers is rolling out a new £2.5m marketing campaign over the next 12 months to support its new growth strategy and enhance Rustlers’ quality credentials by highlighting the brand’s unique flame-grilled cooking process.

Spearheading the major marketing drive is the new TV commercial ’80 years of torment,’ which broke before Christmas. Tapping into the current popularity of bleak but humorous ads, it tracks a man’s life from boyhood to old age, finishing with the line ‘What A Time To Be Alive’ as the now elderly man tucks into a proper flame grilled burger from Rustlers that cooks in just 90 seconds.

Adrian Lawlor, Kepak Convenience Foods’ Marketing and Business Development Director, spoke to The Grocery Trader.

The Grocery Trader – First of all, Adrian, let’s introduce you to our readers. How long have you been involved in the business?

I’ve been involved with the business since the late 1990s – my dad worked for a long time as a contracted truck driver for what was then called Goldstar Meats and persuaded Simon Walker, now our CEO, to give me a summer job whilst at college! I started in a Graduate role working across Marketing & Sales in the early 2000s and since then I have worked across a variety of Marketing, Insight, Commercial & Business Development roles in our UK, Irish & European businesses.

GT – Who else is on the Rustlers team that we should know about?

As well as the great team that I work with on Marketing & Category Insight, I work very closely with my colleagues Stuart Meikle who is our Grocery Channel Director and Angela Daulby who is our Convenience Channel Director.

GT – You’re embarking on a fouryear plan to grow the £150m micro snacking category by £50m. Presumably you carried out a major review before arriving at this strategy?

Yes we have. We’ve built the brand from £10m to £100m in 15 years and grown the category almost singlehandedly. Everything we’ve done over this time has been grounded in research. This has led on this review to a new proposition that is very single minded. We’re working closely with Transgressive X, nominated by Marketing Week as one of the UK’s top 100 disruptor brands of 2016, who use a very different research methodology. Research has traditionally been based on very considered answers, but this agency works on instantaneous, emotional responses which we believe gives us the ability to much more accurately analyze our brand & as such develop clearer strategy.
GT – What were the core findings in the review?

We have a very loyal consumer base, a highly recognisable brand and a top quality product. The major challenge, and opportunity, is changing perceptions of Rustlers among people who haven’t tried the brand yet.

GT – So is your latest four year plan based on ‘continuity’ or does this mark a brand new approach for Rustlers?

Our vision for growth is based on a new proposition, ‘Great Taste, Great Beef. Always’ and building all of our brand communications around this. The principles are rock solid – we’re taking the brand’s unique flamegrilled cooking process and convincing people the Great Taste proposition is reality, not just a sales pitch. Equally we will be working to convince consumers they can trust Rustlers through educating them about the quality of our beef. All of this however is simply an evolution in what has been a very successful brand journey to date.

GT – So it’s not about speed of serving any more? I thought 0 to Tasty in 70 seconds was a very strong proposition.

Actually, these days we recommend 90 seconds cooking time, rather than 70 seconds, as the wattage of the average microwave has evolved, but that’s an aside. Microwaving and speed are still core values for Rustlers, but Taste and Quality are now a higher priority. The challenge is to convince 16-24s, our core audience, that Rustlers are really good quality. For 18 year-old college students the available food choices are vast: McDonald’s, Burger King and Greggs have raised the benchmark in recent years. The shopper mum is another important factor in the multiple grocery sector and we must convince her of our quality and win her trust.

GT – Can you tell us more about your quality credentials?

We flame grill every burger and have a rigorous sourcing policy. We work with partners we know and trust. We believe in integrity in our supply chain: we follow a Quality First mindset. We have exceptionally high production standards – in our recent BRC audit, the auditor put, in his opinion, our Kirkham factory in the top 1% of food factories he has seen worldwide. We have a top class technical team and every component is traced back.
GT – Fifteen years on, you still define Rustlers’ core consumer audience as 16-24s. What’s the take up these days among other consumer groups?

The Rustlers brand covers all age profiles: people over 65 account for 2.5m consumption occasions each year! 40% of total consumers are female and 40% are ABC1. Rustlers fit every demographic, but we target 16- 24s because the category has a strong impact on them and their average spend per head on Rustlers is 30% higher. Also when we recruit this group, they stay with the brand as they get older.

GT – What are the bestselling Rustlers products?

The Rustlers Super 6 comprises the Rustlers Quarter Pounder, the Rustlers Chicken Sandwich, the Rustlers BBQ Rib, the Rustlers Deluxe Bacon Cheeseburger, the Rustlers Southern Fried Chicken Hot Sub and the Rustlers Hot Panini Pepperoni.

GT – What are the main meal occasions for Rustlers? When are they typically eaten?

Lunch is the biggest occasion, then the evening meal or tea, then late at night. Our consumption profile has built naturally: now we need to raise the quality perception to make the brand a more acceptable choice in these occasions.

GT – The objective of your plan is for Rustlers to grow the micro snacking category from £150m to £200m by 2020. How do you propose to do that?

We plan to grow category penetration from 20% to 25% and grow average annual spend per household by 16% to 21%. 57% of consumers say they are open to eating this category, but only 21% are currently doing so. We need to make the brand more visible and present. The ads need to cut through: we also need distribution and visibility. We’re aware that we are up against the big brands in ambient, chilled and frozen and even high street foodservice. The vast majority of food to go is taken home or to a workplace and then heated, a scenario Rustlers fits into perfectly.
GT – How does Rustlers consumer loyalty compare with other brands?

Rustlers’ loyalty is higher than competitive products in other categories such as Frozen Pizza, Ambient Instant Hot Snacks and Chilled Pies & Pastries. Our big challenge is getting through to nontrialists. It comes down to communicating the flame-grilled proposition and building trust.

GT – So how will you change perceptions?

We’ve got the new TV campaign. We are spending £2.5m on consumer activation over the next 12 months, plus digital outdoor ads at specific times and days, targeting people when they’re most likely to buy. We ran an initial TV campaign before Christmas and we’re back on air in March-April.

GT – Will you be refreshing the packaging?

Yes, we’re doing so in April/May. It’s under wraps but I can reveal that the flame grilled message will be highlighted and we’ll focus on premium cues, highlighting our sourcing and traceability and completing the quality message with an upgraded product shot.

GT – Rustlers sound more like gourmet burgers than fast food.

Yes, and that’s because they are! Our research shows 48% of Rustlers consumers like to toast the bun and growing numbers like to add extra salad and sauces. There’s a strong groundswell of consumers out there who like to ‘Pimp My Rustlers’ and see them as quality food.

GT – How big is Rustlers in multiple grocers? What are you doing to promote sales in these outlets?

Half of Rustlers’ sales currently go through multiple grocers. We have a really strong multichannel presence in the supermarket sector: in large format stores we appear regularly in mums’ trolleys and have a significant presence online, but we believe a significant opportunity exists in the Grocers’ convenience format estates. We are upweighting our capability and sharing category insights to help customers make the best decisions. Our brand team is also working with retailers’ media teams and taking sixsheet posters, trolley media and shelf barkers.

GT – And finally, tell us more about the new TV commercial, ’80 years of Torment.’ What’s the story behind it?

We’re very clear about our growth plans and how TV commercials fit in, but effective advertising these days is all about getting a point of view on the world and Droga5 London are pioneers in this space. We briefed them on ‘Great Taste, Great Beef. Always,’ and the campaign draws on the past to show how relevant Rustlers is today. Steve Rogers, who directed ’80 years of Torment,’ is an Australian comedy director who has worked on many campaigns around the world.

GT – How has it been received?

The campaign has really resonated and a lot more people are talking spontaneously about the Rustlers brand and the early stats we’ve seen from online activity have been really positive. The new ad is really clever – mums with grown up kids have fewer areas for engagement with their teenage children, but can really do so through food the kids like, such as Rustlers. The ad plays on this dynamic. Also by putting our unique flame grilled cooking process front and centre, along with a great product shot, we believe we deliver the taste equation of the ‘Great Taste, Great Beef. Always’ proposition really well. The advert does all of that and still leaves you smiling! What A Time To Be Alive!


Tel: 01772 688 300

Twitter: @kepaktrade

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