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Behind the brand: What’s Hellmann’s secret sauce for success?

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Average read time: 5 minutes

What’s the recipe for building a €2 billion brand? For Hellmann’s, it’s all about getting the perfect blend of a great-tasting product, meaningful purpose and customer-led innovation and bringing it together with a touch of pop-culture appeal.

A jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise with a spoon on a wooden table

How it started

A sepia image of the first Hellmann’s deli in NYC

Hellmann’s mayonnaise and its trademark blue ribbon started out in a small shop in New York. In 1913 Richard Hellmann and his wife Margaret used their home-made mayonnaise recipe in salads and sandwiches that they sold from their Manhattan deli on Columbus Avenue. Their mayo proved to be so popular with customers that they quickly began to sell it in glass jars – with a blue ribbon to indicate the highest quality.

Word spread so fast that soon the Hellmann’s decided to close the deli and focus on the mayonnaise. By the end of the 1920s, Hellmann’s had expanded nationwide in the US. By 1961, the brand had gone international, launching first in the UK, followed by Latin America, Europe, Canada and South Africa.

In tandem with its international expansion, the brand also gradually expanded its portfolio to include ketchup, salad dressings and a range of flavoured mayonnaises.

How it’s going

Available in 65 countries, including 18 new markets in the last five years, it is estimated that one thousand Hellmann’s products are sold globally every minute. This makes it not only the world’s No.1 mayonnaise but also one of Unilever’s fastest-growing brands.

Now, after having achieved impressive double-digit year-on-year growth since 2020 (10% in 2020, 11% in 2021 and 20% in the first half of 2022), Hellmann’s hit a new milestone this month when it officially became a €2 billion brand.

Many factors have fed into Hellmann’s rising growth figures, but a holistically superior product has always been at the heart of its success. Research shows that Hellmann’s products are repeatedly preferred by consumers for their unmistakable taste and creaminess. And for the fact that they are made with real, simple and sustainable ingredients and sold in recyclable packaging. It is the only leading dressings brand in North America and Europe, for example, that uses 100% free-range or cage-free eggs, 100% sustainable oils and 100% recycled plastic packaging.

Product innovation has also played a critical role, particularly as regards the growing market demand for plant-based alternatives which Bloomberg Intelligence predicts could swell to $162 billion in the next decade (from $29.4 billion in 2020).

Since its launch in 2016, Hellmann’s vegan mayonnaise has become the leading vegan mayonnaise in many markets, with sales doubling year after year.

The purpose that powers It

A jar of Hellmann’s mayo next to food made from leftovers

Combined with a great product and consumer-relevant innovation, Hellmann’s growth has also been powered by the brand’s purpose which is to help people enjoy great-tasting food without worry or waste. As part of Unilever’s larger commitment to helping achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 (reducing food waste by 50% by 2030), Hellmann’s aims to inspire and enable 100 million people around the world every year to be more resourceful with their food so that they waste less.

No one ever sets out wanting to throw food away. People have good intentions, but then life gets in the way and food waste happens as an unintended outcome. People want to be part of the solution but often don’t know how.

Christina Bauer-Plank, VP, Hellmann’s

Having helped people turn even the simplest ingredients into delicious meals for over a century, the brand certainly has the credibility to speak with some authority about making the most of leftovers. However, the brand wanted to go further and really understand what was driving food waste.

In order to build this deep consumer understanding, the brand launched some of the largest and longest intervention studies in the area of household food waste in collaboration with leading experts and behavioural economists from consultancyBEWorks. The results were then used as the foundations of the Make Taste Not Waste campaign and the Fridge Night behaviour change programme (see Purpose below).

One of the learnings from these studies was that most people are not aware that they are wasting food. “No one ever sets out wanting to throw food away,” says Christina Bauer-Plank, VP, Hellmann’s. “People have good intentions, but then life gets in the way and food waste happens as an unintended outcome. People want to be part of the solution but often don’t know how.”

Clearly, there was an information gap and for the last two years Hellmann’s has been looking to fill it by providing inspirational and practical ideas of how to use up food through its global Make Taste, Not Waste campaign, digital and social content and its Fridge Night behaviour change programme available in the form of an app and e-booklet (see the iconic ads below).

So far, reach and impact have been impressive, with the campaign inspiring more than 200 million people across the US, Canada and the UK in 2021 alone to make taste, not waste. In addition, it has been proved that the behaviour change programme has helped families reduce their food waste by 33%.

“The success that we have achieved with our programmes, combined with our double-digit growth, provides a compelling argument that doing good supports business growth,” concludes Christina.

Brand Ideas

  1. Product: Vegan Mayo

    Hellmann’s vegan mayo on a billboard

    Two major factors guided Hellmann’s development of their first vegan mayo. The first was the understanding that most people knew that a plant-based diet was better for their health and for the health of the planet. The second was the knowledge that taste would be the deciding factor in consumers making the switch. That was why they were committed to creating a vegan mayo that would surprise consumers by having the same great taste as the original. UK market consumer reviews indicate that they have succeeded… perhaps even enough to challenge the blue ribbon original. “People are rating Hellmann’s Vegan to be perhaps the best mayo we have ever made,” says Christina.

  2. Purpose: Fridge Night

    Man in apron and bowtie with Fridge Night logo

    Using up food we already have can make a massive difference to the amount that goes to waste in our kitchens. That’s why Hellmann’s launched the Fridge Night Mission: an evidence-based, four-week programme where participants use up the food they already have one night a week. It has proved to reduce household food waste by up to 33%. Among other resources available to support the mission are Hellmann’s Flexipes: a series of recipes that provide a simple 3+1 formula that home cooks can adapt according to what they have in the fridge. These and other tools and resources will now be available through Hellmann’s Fridge Night app and e-booklet , which launched in Canada in 2021 and is now available for download in the US on iOS.

  3. Packaging: Hellmann’s transitioning to 100% recycled bottles

    Hellmann’s plastic bottle with recycle sign in the background

    Hellmann’s has been transitioning to jars and bottles made from 100% recycled plastic as part of its commitment to exiting the use of virgin plastic. The switch started in Mexico in 2019, followed by US and Canada in 2020 and the UK in 2021.

    The new recycled packaging is made of the highest quality food-grade plastic, ensuring the mayonnaise inside has the same great taste that consumers know and love, and the new bottles will feature a ‘New 100% Recycled Bottle’ logo on the front of pack so shoppers can feel confident in making sustainable choices.

  4. Campaign: Animal Crossing

    Still of Animal Crossing characters in Halloween costumes

    No food should go to waste… not even virtual food. That’s why, when Hellmann’s noticed that players of the popular Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons game were complaining about spoiled turnips, they created Hellmann’s Island where players could drop off their spoiled turnips. For each turnip dropped off, Hellmann’s made a financial donation to distribute the equivalent of two nutritious meals to vulnerable people through FareShare, the UK’s largest charity fighting hunger and food waste. The programme reached an overall target of 50,000 meals.

It might surprise you to learn…

Hellmann’s mayonnaise has been used as a unexpected ingredient in many recipes, including chocolate cake, brownies and even gnocchi! Some cooks swap it in for oil, butter or eggs in cakes, or add it to scrambled eggs for extra fluffiness.

Iconic ads

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