3 Extending the product life cycle

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Businesses need to set themselves clear aims and objectives if they are going to succeed. The Kellogg Company is the world's leading producer of breakfast cereals and convenience foods, such as cereal bars, and aims to maintain that position. 

In 2006, Kellogg's had total worldwide sales of almost $11 billion (£5.5 billion).  In 2007, it was Britain's biggest selling grocery brand, with sales of more than £550 million.  Product lines include ready-to-eat cereals (i.e. not hot cereals like porridge) and nutritious snacks, such as cereal bars.

Kellogg's brands are household names around the world and include Rice KrispiesSpecial K and Nutri-Grain, whilst some of its brand characters, like Snap, Crackle and Pop, are amongst the most well-known in the world.

Kellogg's has achieved this position, not only through great brands and great brand value, but through a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility. This means that all of Kellogg's business aims are set within a particular context or set of ideals. Central to this is Kellogg”s passion for the business, the brands and the food, demonstrated through the promotion of healthy living.

The market

The company divides its market into six key segments. Kellogg's Corn Flakes has been on breakfast tables for over 100 years and represents the 'Tasty Start' cereals that people eat to start their day. Other segments include 'Simply Wholesome' products that are good for you, such as Kashi Muesli, 'Shape Management' products, such as Special K and 'Inner Health' lines, such as All-Bran. Children will be most familiar with the 'Kid Preferred' brands, such as Frosties, whilst 'Mum Approved' brands like Raisin Wheats are recognised by parents as being good for their children.

Each brand has to hold its own in a competitive market. Brand managers monitor the success of brands in terms of market share, growth and performance against the competition. Key decisions have to be made about the future of any brand that is not succeeding. 

This case study is about Nutri-Grain. It shows how Kellogg's recognised there was a problem with the brand and used business tools to reach a solution. The overall aim was to re-launch the brand and return it to growth in its market.

The product life cycle

Each product has its own life cycle. It will be 'born', it will 'develop', it will 'grow old' and, eventually, it will 'die'. Some products, like Kellogg's Corn Flakes, have retained their market position for a long time. Others may have their success undermined by falling market share or by competitors.

The product life cycle shows how sales of a product change over time. The five typical stages of the life cycle are shown on the graph.  Not all products follow these stages precisely and time periods for each stage will vary widely. Growth, for example, may take place over a few months or, as in the case of Nutri-Grain, over several years.

However, perhaps the most important stage of a product life cycle happens before this graph starts, namely the research and development (R&D) stage. Here the company designs a product to meet a need in the market. The costs of market research - to identify a gap in the market and of product development to ensure that the product meets the needs of that gap - are called 'sunk' or start-up costs.

Nutri-Grain was originally designed to meet the needs of busy people who had missed breakfast. It aimed to provide a healthy cereal breakfast in a portable and convenient format.

1. Launch - Many products do well when they are first brought out and Nutri-Grain was no exception. From launch (the first stage on the diagram) in 1997 it was immediately successful, gaining almost 50% share of the growing cereal bar market in just two years.

2. Growth - Nutri-Grain's sales steadily increased as the product was promoted and became well known. It maintained growth in sales until 2002 through expanding the original product with new developments of flavour and format. This is good for the business, as it does not have to spend money on new machines or equipment for production. The market position of Nutri-Grain also subtly changed from a “missed breakfast” product to an 'all-day' healthy snack.

3. Maturity - Successful products attract other competitor businesses to start selling similar products. This indicates the third stage of the life cycle - maturity. This is the time of maximum profitability, when profits can be used to continue to build the brand. However, competitor brands from both Kellogg's itself (e.g. All Bran bars) and other manufacturers (e.g. Alpen bars) offered the same benefits and this slowed down sales and chipped away at Nutri-Grain's market position. Kellogg's continued to support the development of the brand but some products (such as Minis and Twists), struggled in a crowded market. Although Elevenses continued to succeed, this was not enough to offset the overall sales decline.

4. Saturation- This is the fourth stage of the life cycle and the point when the market is 'full'. Most people have the product and there are other, better or cheaper competitor products. This is called market saturation and is when sales start to fall. By mid-2004 Nutri-Grain found its sales declining whilst the market continued to grow at a rate of 15%.


5. Decline - Clearly, at this point, Kellogg's had to make a key business decision. Sales were falling, the product was in decline and losing its position. Should Kellogg's let the product 'die', i.e. withdraw it from the market, or should it try to extend its life?

Strategic use of the product life cycle

When a company recognises that a product has gone into decline or is not performing as well as it should, it has to decide what to do. The decision needs to be made within the context of the overall aims of the business.

Strategically, Kellogg's had a strong position in the market for both healthy foods and convenience foods. Nutri-Grain fitted well with its main aims and objectives and therefore was a product and a brand worth rescuing.  Kellogg's aims included the development of great brands, great brand value and the promotion of healthy living.

Kellogg's decided to try to extend the life of the product rather than withdraw it from the market. This meant developing an extension strategy for the product.

Ansoff's matrix is a tool that helps analyse which strategy is appropriate. It shows both market-orientated and product-orientated possibilities.

Extending the Nutri-Grain cycle - identifying the problem

Kellogg's had to decide whether the problem with Nutri-Grain was the market, the product or both. The market had grown by over 15% and competitors' market share had increased whilst Nutri-Grain sales in 2003 had declined.

The market in terms of customer tastes had also changed more people missed breakfast and therefore there was an increased need for such a snack product.

Extension strategies

The choice of extension strategy indicated by the matrix was either product development or diversification. Diversification carries much higher costs and risks.

Kellogg's decided that it needed to focus on changing the product to meet the changing market needs. Research showed that there were several issues to address:

  1. The brand message was not strong enough in the face of competition. Consumers were not impressed enough by the product to choose it over competitors.
  2. Some of the other Kellogg's products (e.g. Minis) had taken the focus away from the core business.
  3. The core products of Nutri-Grain Soft Bake and Elevenses between them represented over 80% of sales but received a small proportion of advertising and promotion budgets. Those sales that were taking place were being driven by promotional pricing (i.e discounted pricing) rather than the underlying strength of the brand.

Implementing the extension strategy for Nutri-Grain

Having recognised the problems, Kellogg's then developed solutions to re-brand and re-launch the product in 2005.

Fundamental to the re-launch was the renewal of the brand image.  Kellogg's looked at the core features that made the brand different and modelled the new brand image on these. Nutri-Grain is unique as it is the only product of this kind that is baked. This provided two benefits:

  • the healthy grains were soft rather than gritty
  • the eating experience is closer to the more indulgent foods that people could be eating (cakes and biscuits, for example)

The unique selling point, hence the focus of the brand, needed to be the 'soft bake'.

Researchers also found that a key part of the market was a group termed 'realistic snackers'. These are people who want to snack on healthy foods, but still crave a great tasting snack. The re-launched Nutri-Grain product needed to help this key group fulfil both of these desires.

Kellogg's decided to re-focus investment on the core products of Soft Bake Bars and Elevenses as these had maintained their growth (accounting for 61% of Soft Bake Bar sales). Three existing Soft Bake Bar products were improved, three new ranges introduced and poorly performing ranges (such as Minis) were withdrawn. New packaging was introduced to unify the brand image. An improved pricing structure for stores and supermarkets was developed.

The marketing mix

Using this information, the re-launch focused on the four parts of the marketing mix:

  • Product improvements to the recipe and a wider range of flavours, repositioning the brand as 'healthy and tasty', not a substitute for a missed breakfast
  • Promotion a new and clearer brand image to cover all the products in the range along with advertising and point-of-sale materials
  • Place better offers and materials to stores that sold the product
  • Price new price levels were agreed that did not rely on promotional pricing. This improved revenue for both Kellogg's and the stores

As a result Soft Bake Bar year-on-year sales went from a decline to substantial growth, with Elevenses sales increasing by almost 50%. 

The Nutri-Grain brand achieved a retail sales growth rate of almost three times that of the market and most importantly, growth was maintained after the initial re-launch.

Conclusion

Successful businesses use all the tools at their disposal to stay at the top of their chosen market.

Kellogg's was able to use a number of business tools in order to successfully re-launch the Nutri-Grain brand. These tools included the product life cycle, Ansoff”s matrix and the marketing mix. Such tools are useful when used properly.

Kellogg's was able to see that although Nutri-Grain fitted its strategic profile a healthy, convenient cereal product it was underperforming in the market. This information was used, along with the aims and objectives of the business, to develop a strategy for continuing success.

Finally, when Kellogg's checked the growth of the re-launched product against its own objectives, it had met all its aims to:

  • re-position the brand through the use of the marketing mix
  • return the brand to growth
  • improve the frequency of purchase
  • introduce new customers to the brand.

Nutri-Grain remains a growing brand and product within the Kellogg's product family.