Most food product markets attractive in terms of branding have several characteristics in common:
* capacious, growing market (economic opportunities for investments in branding);
* high degree of industrial processing (for using the economies of scale and ensuring product differentiation);
* convenience of logistics (for geographic expansion of a successful brand).
The category of bottled sunflower oil meets all these criteria. It is no surprise that it has become a highly branded market with a few trademarks dominating in it – namely, “Oleyna”, “Sloboda (Settlement)” and “Zlato (Gold)”, which occupy more than 30% of sales total.
However, potential for development is also important in branding. Shifting consumer preferences and innovative goods are capable of giving a second wind to branding, which is what market players end up using. This aspect is rather problematic for the category of bottled sunflower oil, as sunflower oil is regarded as a perfectly common and overall boring product by consumers – it has no color or bright flavor, and it hardly distinguishable when it comes to branding. In a way, it is not critical what exactly one pours onto the pan or adds into their salad, be it premium quality oil or a discount brand alternative, if the result will be pretty much the same. Therefore, in terms of branding, the market is at the autumn stage of its life cycle at this point – the bustling spring and colorful summer are far in the past.
The most interesting events in the market from the point of view of branding had taken place by 2004, when by flaunting their advertising budgets Russian brands managed to push back imported labels to a strong degree and established themselves at the top of the market. Even the “green counterrevolution” by “Sloboda”, which has repositioned itself from “basic quality oil for frying and dressings” to “natural family goods” since 2009 with the help of its “Zhivaya eda (Live Food)” slogan, did not shift the balance of market players significantly. The failure of “Donskoe Zoloto (The Gold of Don)” brand introduced to the market in 2014–2015 only reinforced the standstill in the market. Said branding stagnation has been occurring against the backdrop of stable growth of the market itself both in Russia and abroad.
On the global scale, growth in sunflower oil consumption (which equaled 118.7% to 2013–2014 in 2017–2018) is higher than growth in consumption of all other oil varieties (113.4%), only falling behind soybean oil (123.7%). The local situation in Russia is even more positive – against the overall growth in vegetable oil consumption by 23% in 2017 to 2010, according to the Russian Union of Oils and Fats, demand for sunflower oil is constantly increasing, whereas olive oil has been getting less demand (-33% during the three years).
However, said promising conditions in the market can only be used for brand development if consumer predisposition towards brands and thus readiness to switch or overpay for new tempting offers can be achieved. In 2000–2017, sunflower oil brands were already promising “natural and healthy oil” (“Oleyna” market slogan for 2000–2002), “top grade oil” and “oil from large seeds” (“Zlato”, 2002–2008), “ideal flavor” (“Ideal”, 2000–2015), “the standard of vegetable oil since 1898” (“Avedov”, 2004), “pure oil from the heart” (“Zolotaya Semechka (Golden Seed)”, 2006), “fragnant blessing” (“Blago (Blessing)”, 2000), “taste of food, not butter” (“Oleyna”, 2012), “live food” (“Sloboda”, 2012–2017), “pure and healthy oil” (“Zateya (Idea)”, 2014), “natural oil for my loved ones” (“Oleyna”, 2015)... In 2018, these communications have been merging into uniform buzzing. And it is not a question of excess caution or lack of creativity of brand communication – the uniformity of product offers and the routine nature of consumption make it challenging to position sunflower oil brands as unusual, curious and attractive. In reality, the market is so low branded that even retail networks’ private labels have no place in it, since the dominating brands are similar to private labels themselves. The poor uninteresting sunflower oil is last in the list of product categories in terms of buyers preferring to purchase private labels to brands.
In this situation, either of these 2 directions can help brands progress:
1. Product innovations. Since brands manage to successfully create new products in adjacent product categories (groceries, household cleaning products, water filter jugs etc.), one should look for such opportunities in sunflower oil as well. Solutions such as a more convenient bottle, a dispenser or a spray on the package may serve as these. A number of foreign brands – for instance, “Espiga” and “SLIM” – are already on this path*.
2. Development of an umbrella brand with product categories which have potential for innovations and flavor differentiation. This strategy has already been chosen by “Sloboda” and “Mr. Ricco” in Russia and “Espiga” abroad (sauces, mayonnaise, sunflower oil). It could be beneficial to create new product lines under a single brand, e.g. by combining sunflower oil with other grocery goods, such as spices, herbs, or pasta.
Growing demand and the long-term potential of the category provide opportunities for brand development. However, using them requires creating attractive distinctions at the product level.
* http://espiga.pt/en/products, https://slimoil.johnaj.com/about-us/slim-company/.
General Director Branding Company “Labelmen”
Marketing Director Branding Compa