Birth of a brand

by Dan Malovany
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As a contract manufacturer, Skinner Baking Co. competed almost solely on price and service. Despite the bakery’s reputation for producing high-quality products, Jim Skinner, CEO and co-founder of the Omaha, NE-based company, often worried about the company’s future. “With co-packing, you are not in charge of your destiny, so we could only put all of our efforts into controlling our future from a quality standpoint, a pricing standpoint and a customer service standpoint,” he explained.

Or as Audie Keaton, president of the company, put it, “At the end of the day, Skinner Baking was four walls and a bunch of equipment. That’s what we were, and it was all about price.”

For years, Mr. Skinner and Mr. Keaton talked about creating a brand, but the discussion didn’t get serious until about four years ago. Although its customers knew Skinner Baking, the company had no identity with consumers. The bakery was one of the industry’s best-kept secrets, according to Mr. Keaton.

“At food shows, our customers would say, ‘Is this a Skinner product? My shoppers will only buy it if it’s a Skinner product,’” Mr. Keaton recalled. “I’m listening to this and thinking, ‘They just identified us as Skinner. We have an identity, but not a brand.’”

After an initial unsuccessful foray into the branded arena, Skinner Baking hired Gary Kyle, a veteran of the baking industry, as vice-president of sales and marketing. Working with David Skinner, marketing manager and Jim Skinner’s son, Mr. Kyle recommended an outside marketing firm that spent eight months working with company executives to develop and define the brand proposition.

The challenge, however, involved its core consumers, who tended to be 55 and older. To broaden its base, the company targeted a younger demographic, specifically 19- to 35-year-olds. The marketing group initially came up with the J. Skinner name and a lowercase Picasso-inspired logo. It also gave catchy titles to its products such as the Sinfully Cinnamon rolls. To further differentiate the brand in the in-store bakery, the company developed high-impact graphics printed on a cardboard sleeve that covers part of the clear plastic clamshell and communicates its more youthful message directly to consumers.
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