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Sorting out Stilton’s image problem #CreativeCaseStudy

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Packed with flavour and with all the heritage and history of a fine wine Stilton, has a lot to give. Unfortunately, it’s been perceived as stinky, old fashioned and too strong to handle beyond the festive season. This image problem resulted in Stilton being left on the side lines while the wider cheese category took off on a world of innovation, dulled by retail own brands keeping prices low.

Ready to protect 100 years of Stilton, making craftsmanship, Born Ugly were presented with the challenge to encourage customers to reappraise Stilton. I spoke to Born Ugly CEO, Sarah Dear, to learn more.

Was the polarising nature of Stilton part of what drew you to the project?

Stilton is known to many as a cheese that gets wheeled (pardon the pun) out at Christmas. Despite its potential for year-round enjoyment, a significant portion of consumers were only purchasing Stilton over the festive period, which was leading to limited sales throughout the rest of the year. The pandemic further exacerbated the situation, causing a decline in orders and overall sales over a five-year period.

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What’s more, younger consumers expressed aversion towards Stilton due to its reputation as being smelly and its strong, salty taste. The typical buyer of Stilton was identified as being over 55 years old – but more concerningly, as making only three purchases per year.

Given these issues, 1912 Stilton approached Born Ugly with a brief to find solutions to increase Stilton's sales and establish a larger share in the £6 billion-revenue cheese market of the UK.

What did you hope to achieve?

We saw this as an opportunity to delve into the world of high-end cheese. While we may not have been cheese experts (when we started!), we recognised the meticulous and scientific nature of its production. The lengthy process is a far cry from that of mass-manufactured varieties.

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Our goal was to enlighten consumers about the intricate craftsmanship that goes into making each pack. We wanted them to realise that despite its reputation, this cheese wasn't just reserved for special occasions or traditions, it could become an artisan component of a cheese lover’s everyday life.

What did you feel was necessary to change perceptions around the brand?

We needed to change preconceived ideas, fears and perceptions of the product and push it beyond the traditional Christmas cheeseboard. To fully understand the craftsmanship that goes into Stilton production, we immersed ourselves in the factory's artisan processes during a farm and dairy visit. The supermarket wedge certainly didn't do justice to all the effort and expertise involved.

To capture the essence of this science, art, and love, and to showcase Stilton's versatility in various recipes and occasions, we needed a compelling narrative.

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To open peoples’ minds to the possibilities of Stilton, we hosted an event where an innovative chef mixed it with a diverse range of ingredients, from wasabi to sriracha, honey to horseradish. The sensorial explosion of flavours was a hit.

That led us to identify a market segment we called "adventurous foodies", who enjoy experimenting with new flavours and settings.

What was the production process like?

Armed with the new consumer profile, our focus turned to making 1912 shine on store shelves.

We knew that the packaging needed a revamp. It had to scream premium through contemporary craft, not just amongst other Stiltons but also against a sea of rival cheeses.

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This led us to reimagine the 1912 brand. We aimed to highlight the cheese-making process, emphasising the interplay of temperature and time. Texture, layers and curves celebrated the terroir of the dairy landscape where Stilton is made, and evoke a sensory experience which was carried through to the opening experience of the box as well as the taste experience itself.

To enhance the brand's visibility in store, we introduced a new pack format – a triangular cardboard wedge. This innovative design enabled us to maximise both the exterior and interior of the packaging, while ensuring that the brand remained eye-catching amidst the crowded aisles.

What was the biggest challenge during production?

Unfortunately, Covid struck in the midst of the project, meaning that although we’d pretty much progressed ready to launch, the project got put on hold as the client sought to manage its way through the challenges the industry was facing. It was just a wait and see…

What is one funny or notable thing that happened during production?

To present the work, we projected the whole thing on the side of a giant statuesque cow that we had in the studio at the time. The client loved it.

What’s the main message of this project and why does it matter?

This project embarked on a flavourful mission to revive the image and sales of 1912 Stilton. Produced in the picturesque counties of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, 1912 boasts a rich heritage rooted in a group of dairy farmers with a shared vision.

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Emphasising this as heritage rather than historic was key to making 1912 Stilton appear established and artisan, not old fashioned and stuffy. The project aimed to posit Stilton as a versatile delight for any occasion

What do you hope it achieves for the brand?

First and foremost, we hope that the revamp has enhanced the customer experience. When shoppers open the box, they will be delighted to uncover serving ideas and recipe inspiration. Each layer reveals new notes, mirroring the layers of expertise that go into creating the cheese.

And by encouraging customers to keep the product in the box rather than wrapping it in cling film, we wanted to encourage visibility, experience and consumption. The box serves as a reminder in the fridge, reducing the likelihood of the cheese being forgotten and wasted.

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By taking a bold approach and creating an authentic brand in a commodity category, we aim to offer consumers a fresh perception of our product. This strategy, grounded in insights and ideas, contributes to the revival of Stilton's reputation, which should not be underestimated.

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