Exclusive interview - Voortman Bakery: Innovating wafers to ignite sales
Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery was recently able to talk to Ken Cross, chief marketing officer, Voortman Bakery, about the wafer category and how it has changed over the years.
Liz Parker: Can you provide some general perspective on the wafer segment within cookies? Why is it currently growing?
Ken Cross: The wafer segment in North America has always been under-developed versus other parts of the world. If you take a look at cookie sections in Europe, Asia, or Latin America, you will see a lot more options than you see in North America and the percentage of the cookie category that wafers represent is much higher in these other regions. At Voortman Bakery, we realized this and saw it as an opportunity to close the development gap. When we started looking at how we would increase the amount of wafers that are consumed in North America, we decided to take advantage of two clear trends—variety and healthy eating. For years, in North America, wafers had been primarily Vanilla, Chocolate, and Strawberry flavors and typically these products used artificial colors and flavors. When we relaunched Voortman wafers, we added innovative consumer-relevant flavors like Pumpkin Spice, Key Lime, Banana, Chocolate-Raspberry, and others. We also eliminated all artificial colors and flavors, replacing them with all-natural ingredients like freeze dried berries, cocoa, and shredded coconut. The result is a wafer segment that is growing +15 percent, 7x the overall category growth rate.
LP: You called the category “once a seasonless category”—what did you mean by that, and why has the category changed?
KC: Much of the Voortman Innovation strategy in wafers has revolved around leveraging existing consumer behaviors to grow the category. As opposed to having exclusively Vanilla, Chocolate, and Strawberry wafers available, we have supplemented our line of wafers with unique flavors that are available for a limited time and address seasonal needs. This has led to the introduction of harvest flavors like Pumpkin Spice and Apple Crisp, Christmas Flavors like Gingerbread and Chocolate Mint, and Spring/Summer Flavours like S’Mores, and Summer Berry. This has significantly increased wafer consumption at specific times of the year and has made the wafer format more relevant to consumers’ lives.
LP: What are some of the more popular Voortman flavors, currently?
KC: By far the most popular flavor of wafers for Voortman is Vanilla. This is followed by our fast growing Chocolate flavor. After these two flavors, the favorites change by season and by retailer with new flavors like Banana, Key Lime, Chocolate-Raspberry, and Pumpkin Spice joining traditional favorites like Strawberry and Peanut Butter. All of these wafers are made with only real ingredients, so they deliver a natural-tasting experience.
LP: Have you found that releasing innovative wafer products, such as your wafers dipped in fudge, helps pique customers’ interest? Why or why not?
KC: We have seen tremendous growth in both retail sales and retailer interest behind our range of innovative wafer products. The fudge-coated wafers have just accelerated this growth. On top of this growth at retail, we are seeing dramatic increases in followership on our social media channels as well, indicating a much higher level of engagement with consumers. This has been very exciting for Voortman Bakery.
LP: Are there any new flavors or products in the works?
KC: We have a couple of new exciting wafers that are launching this year. This summer we are launching an Orange Crème Wafer at Walmart which is absolutely delicious. They are made with real oranges and deliver a tremendous taste that is like it was picked from a tree. Then later this year, we will be offering a White Chocolate Cranberry flavor nationally. This product is made with real cranberries and we are sure it will be a hit for Thanksgiving and Christmas.