Natural Selections - Maple Leaf

Best Launch (SILVER)

Client Credits: Maple Leaf Foods
Stephen Graham - CMO, MLF Inc.
Andrew Pollock - Senior Vice President Marketing and Innovation
Mike Sanderson - Senior marketing Director - Innovation
Kevin Lake - Marketing Director - Deli
Kristin Holmes - Marketing Manager - Innovation

Agency Credits: john st.
Angus Tucker - Co-Creative Director
Stephen Jurisic - Co-Creative Director
Jennifer Rossini - Copywriter
Kurt Mills - Copywriter
Stuart Campbell - Art Director
Kyle Lamb - Art Director
Agency Producer - Dale Giffen
Agency Producer - Michelle Orlando
Agency Producer - Shawna McPeek
Melissa Tobenstein - Team Leader

Crossover Notes:
All winning cases contain lessons that cross over from one case to another. David Rutherford has been identifying these as Crossover Notes since CASSIES 1997. The full set for CASSIES 2013 can be downloaded from the Case Library section at

Crossover Note 1. What a Brand Stands For.
Crossover Note 6. Should the product be improved?
Crossover Note 11. The Eureka Insight.
Crossover Note 18. Keeping it Simple.
Crossover Note 19. Great minds think alike.

To see creative, click on the links that are embedded in the case.


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):May 2010 - May 2012
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: May 10, 2010
Base Period as a Benchmark: n/a - this is a product launch

a) Overall Assessment

At the end of the first decade of the 2000s, the word “natural” was becoming more and more a shorthand for “healthy” in the food industry. Consumers scrutinized ingredient labels looking for assurances well beyond “low fat” or “low in sodium” claims and were becoming more interested in the naturalness of the ingredients. [Crossover Note 19] With their perception of being more processed, sliced meats were becoming a reluctant purchase for most consumers – they fulfilled a need, but were seeing reduced purchase frequency due to perceived negative health ramifications. 

As a result of this, Canadians’ consumption of sliced meat was declining at approximately 1% per annum, and as category leader, this was bad news for Maple Leaf Foods. But this barely begins to describe the task they had to face in 2010.

MLF had spent the previous 18 months recovering from one of the largest recalls in Canadian history. They had focused their efforts internally to rebuild credibility with customers and employees. And external communication needed to focus on accepting accountability and communicating changes in becoming food safety leader.

By the end of 2009, while the company had gained back some trust from Canadians, the brand was still suffering from declining sales and declining equity on key measures like quality, taste perceptions and confidence in their products.

Even worse, Maple Leaf was seen by most consumers as a food processing corporation, and not as a trusted, innovative Canadian food company that provided great core nutrition. [Crossover Note 1]

We needed to reinvent the category. And do it fast.

The sliced meat category generates $1 billion in annual sales – more than the total GDP of most developing nations.  While several competitors in the US offered deli meat products with “no preservatives” and “all natural ingredients”, no such innovation had reached Canada.  Maple Leaf Foods saw the opportunity for a first-in product that was on-trend: Natural Selections sliced deli meats. [Crossover Note 6]

But while an “all natural” message may seem simple to communicate, in a category steeped in consumer skepticism over production methods and chemical additives and preservatives, winning trust would be a huge hurdle for advertising to address.

The agency’s task was to take the message of made with natural ingredients, no preservatives added, no artificial ingredients, no fillers, no MSG and no nitrates added, which almost sounds too good to be true, and make it simple, believable and breakthrough. [Crossover Note 18]

The key was to pass the credibility test of mom. 

b) Resulting Business Objectives

For the Year 1 launch of Natural Selections, three goals were set:

  1. Attract users who may have left the category due to perceived negative health ramifications of sliced meat products.

      2.  Reverse category consumption declines – and restore growth

      3.  Increase penetration and purchase frequency

For Year 2 an even more aggressive objective was set:

  1. Achieve a 10% share of market on volume and continue to be the fastest growing brand in the Maple Leaf Foods portfolio. 

c) Annual Media Budget
Over $5 million

d) Geographic Area
Canadian National (ENG & FRE)

a) Analysis and Insight

Today’s packaged foods seem to come from a laboratory or factory. Side panels read more like a science experiment than an ingredient list. No category seemed to be plagued with this unappetizing, unsettling trend more than packaged sliced meats.  We learned from consumers that they would love more natural meat products, especially in sliced meats, but their skepticism was palpable.  Sliced meats – with added nitrates, artificial colours, ingredients and preservatives - were an unhealthy price we paid for the convenience of feeding our families quality, safe meat products. Maple Leaf Foods would be a first to market with a truly natural offering, and to be successful our advertising would have to build trust and overcome this rampant disbelief.  [Footnote 1]

Our target and potential hero was the quintessential concerned mom. She led a hectic life. That meant she sometimes had to cut corners in the interest of taste and convenience. But she didn’t feel great about that. To both retain reluctant buyers, as well as regain those who had run screaming from the deli counter, we needed them to trust that a better alternative was possible.

Moms listen to the trusted advice of passionate experts in their chosen field.  Oprah on books. Suze Orman on finance. The Design Guys on Design. And when it came to meat, they see butchers as the ones with all the answers. They know everything about meat – how to cook it, how to season it, how to prepare it and what the best products are. In research, women freely acknowledged that the best meat comes from a butcher.

And the really good news? Maple Leaf actually had over 500 accredited butchers working in their plants every day. It was time to start talking about them.

b) Communication Strategy

The insight was expressed in a radically simple thought: Maple Leaf Foods would be known as Your Butcher Shop. [Crossover Note 11]

MLF has over 500 butchers who have dedicated themselves to making the very best meat they can for you and your family. And people, especially moms, love them for it.

Natural Selections was the first Maple Leaf TV initiative that brought to life the butcher and the expertise he provides moms everyday, and there was nobody better to help launch the new product.

It was also critical for the the creative to be clear about the problem it was solving, i.e. it recognized the important role of Mom but also showed the enjoyment that would come when people could once again enjoy the great foods they loved.

a) Media Used

Maple Leaf Foods uses television as their primary medium, as part of a corporate mandate. 

b) Creative Discussion

The key to the launch TV was to make Mom, the gatekeeper, the hero. She would only let her children eat products with simple natural ingredient, and this was brought to life in Stephanie Potter.

Given how well this worked, it was followed in Year by Dylan Carter. This commercial introduced Natural Selections Hot Dogs and a Bacon and Ham extension to the product line. 

In each spot the butcher answered the age old dilemma for Mom: how do I feed them food they love, without having it be full of artificial preservatives? This wonderfully simple and flexible platform would enable Maple Leaf Foods to win the trust of moms in a diverse range of product categories from sliced meat to hot dogs.

And more than creating a mere advertising icon, we took a tone that was neither cloying nor preaching, in keeping with the personality of a butcher. Good natured, direct and honest.  

c) Media Discussion

Maple Leaf Foods takes a traditional approach to media and the agency was asked to work in television only. It is ideal platform for telling powerful stories, demonstrating taste appeal and a bringing characters to life.  

a) Sales/Share Results

When ML Natural Selections launched in May 2010 it was an immediate success. And for Year 2, with the extensions to the product line and launch of Dylan Carter, results were above and beyond what we thought was possible.

Attracting new users to the category was key. By the end of 2010, Natural Selections proved to be growing the sliced meats category by bringing new buyers and increasing category consumption.

  1. The sliced meats category grew an additional 10.5 million with Natural Selections accounting for 3.3 million of its growth 
  2. The hot dog category grew an additional 3.8 million with Natural Selections accounting for 389.5K of its growth.

Natural Selections exceeded the goal of increasing purchase frequency. By the end of Aug 2010 it reached a repeat purchase frequency of 61.4%.

In only 28 weeks of launch, Natural Selections SKUs made it to the top 10 items in the category. [Footnote 1] And Natural Selections was recognized as best new product of 2011. 

Finally, by May 2012, Natural Selections delivered a 75% increase in share going from 5.8 in Year 1 to 10.1 in Year 2, beating the goals it set out to reach.

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

Footnote 1: Nielsen MarketTrack, L28 weeks Apr 11 – Oct 23, 2010

a) General Discussion

Natural Selections grew a flat category, and brought people back to a category that they faced with some fear. It was clear that the campaign had to be a major cause.

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:

Media spending was $3 million in 2010 and $1.6 million in 2011. This is comparable to how Maple Leaf spends for new product launches. 


Since Natural Selections is so unique and we are the only company in market with a natural deli product we have the opportunity to dictate price and maximize our margin. The price was an 18% margin increase over the base Maple Leaf brand.

Distribution Changes:

After the launch of Stephanie Potter, distribution increased from a 700K after 12 weeks to opportunity to a $3M opportunity after 52 weeks. [Footnote 1]

Unusual Promotional Activity:

From a communication standpoint, there were no additional activities outside of the norm that could have been responsible for Natural Selections success.

Other Potential Causes:

Not that we know of. 

Footnote 1: Nielsen Market Track, TL Sliced Meats, 12 weeks, Ending September 25, 2010