Inside Norwegian cheese brand Jarlsberg’s US marketing strategy

Jarlsberg has an old-person problem.

The Norwegian cheese brand’s customers are getting older, and in an effort to drive awareness and sales among younger people, it’s emphasizing digital media, influencers and pop-ups.

“We needed to target a younger audience,” said Violet Degnan, marketing and communications specialist for at Norseland, Jarlsberg’s U.S. importer and distributor. “The majority [of millennials] recognize Jarslberg through in-store distribution, but many don’t have an association with the brand itself and don’t understand the flavor profile.”

The first place that’s changing is where and how it’s sold. Though Jarlsberg’s primary distribution channel has been being through major grocery retailers including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, Degnan said the company recognized it needed to do more than just physical in-store promotions. For the past year, Norseland has been evolving Jarslberg’s marketing strategy. It’s turned to digital marketing focusing on the experience of the brand expressed through search, pre-roll on YouTube, sponsored posts on social media networks including Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Earlier this year, the company hired agency Digital Surgeons to create a new website, native ads and sponsored posts. It’s been working with influencers like Atlanta-based food blogger Erica Key, who added the cheese brand to food recipes on her site and celebrity chef George Duran, who was featured in a Facebook ad. Sponsored photos and posts also appeared throughout Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. The company said it’s currently in the process of developing a Snapchat filter.

Degnan declined to say how much money the brand spends on advertising, but said Jarlsberg measures success in terms of social media engagement, rather than increases in sales. For example, pre-roll videos throughout the year generated 1 million impressions, interactions on Facebook and Instagram currently range between 20 and 23 percent compared 3 to 5 percent last year.

The company is also looking beyond big-box retailers to smaller, speciality outlets and is even attempting to sell on Amazon and other e-commerce platforms.

Core to Jarlsberg’s differentiation approach presented on digital platforms is a shift away from a sole focus on the product to one where experiences are key.

“We were posting and sharing imagery about how to create special moments with food — pulling back the camera from just cheese and talking about your friends, family, occasions, and why and how you would be using Jarlsberg in your everyday life,” Degnan said.

The U.S. cheese market is reportedly worth $15 billion; with growing competition among speciality brands, linking it to a broader experience is a crucial element in growing reach among younger consumers.

“It’s not always enough to simply stand on reputation and declare ‘We are Kraft, we are Sargento, we are good enough for your parents and so we are good enough for you,'” said Daniel Granderson, analyst at market research firm Packaged Facts. “That’s boring to these young adults. They seek brands that tell a story.”

To complement the company’s digital marketing efforts, and grow consumers’ experience of the brand, Norseland created a Jarlsberg pop-up shop inside New York-based Swedish Candy Store Sockerbit that will take place from September 22 to October 7. In it, prospective customers can participate in food workshops from celebrity chefs and influencers, including Brooklyn-based food blogger Melissa Mullen and chef George Duran.

“There’s a social currency aspect when you post with a hashtag and get something for it [free cheese at the venue],” said Melissa Gonzalez, CEO of The Lionesque Group, the agency that developed the pop-up.

Despite the importance of experience-based brand activations, Norseland has found that e-commerce platforms are a critical growth channel. Valerie Liu, marketing manager for Jarlsberg U.S. at Norseland, said Jarlsberg has been selling on Amazon for three years, and it’s looking to grow its reach there and on other e-commerce and delivery platforms, including Instacart.

“The challenge with e-commerce is you have to have a reason to stand out; there are so many substitutions for these staple products,” said Ben Gaddis, president of digital agency T3, which develops tech and loyalty platforms for food retailers. “These brands are at an inflection point right now — they can leverage digital to make it easier to grow [but] they need to maintain that attention by really focusing on why they’re different; experiences are great but really hard to scale.”

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