Dan Malovany: Standing the Test of Time

by Dan Malovany
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Jim Skinner and his father, Lloyd, got involved in the baking business back in 1983, but the family name in Omaha, NE, is still synonymous with macaroni, of all things. It doesn’t matter that the Skinners sold the macaroni business decades ago. Forget that the company’s former solid brick-constructed manufacturing building still exists. The old building, located smack dab in the heart of the city’s bustling Old Market, still boasts a larger-than-life “Skinner’s Macaroni Products” near the top of it.

Despite its historical roots, the family’s reputation is starting to change.

During the past year, James Skinner Baking Co., the quiet contract manufacturer of baked sweet goods, has been making plenty of noise around town with its J. Skinner brand, launched in 2009. “We want to own Omaha in a big way,” said Gary Kyle, vice-president of marketing.

In addition to promoting its brand via radio and print advertising as well as digital outdoor billboards that tout its artisan-style Danish, the company is reaching out to local consumers by handing out free samples during the Omaha Art’s Festival and the city’s wine and hot air balloon festival, among other events.

On Labor Day weekend, for instance, the bakery drove its Mobile Marketing Unit — actually a Ford Transit wrapped with “Baked Right Here in Omaha” signage — to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. The products won over a captive audience one consumer at a time. “We’ve always believed that if we can get our products into somebody’s mouth, they’re going to eat it again,” noted Audie Keaton, the bakery’s president.

And it’s not just Omaha. Throughout the US, supermarkets now stock J. Skinner branded sweet goods.

Building a brand is not easy, and the odds of it succeeding are about 1 in 81, according to Mr. Keaton. Skinner Baking, however, has an inside advantage. As a contract manufacturer, the company has customers — in-store bakery buyers — who already know its reputation for producing traditional, quality Danish, cinnamon rolls and other baked sweet goods. The company just needed a brand and a marketing campaign to add a little sizzle and connect with consumers, as Mr. Kyle likes to say.

Working with the DePersico Creative Group, Havertown, PA, Skinner Baking developed the J. Skinner brand with a weathered-but-youthful, warehouse loft contemporary look. The company incorporated the new look into sales kits, trade literature, shipping displays and even rebuilt the website, www.skinnerbaking.com. Then the company gave its packaging a makeover and created stage names for the performers in its product portfolio. Specifically, the campaign replaced snoozer names like cheese, pecan, almond or caramel apple Danish with Awesome Almond, Caramel-Apple Addiction, Cheese Bliss and Wildly Pecan. The newest flavors are Cheery Cherry Cheese and Amazing Apricot Danish.

With a little marketing magic, Old World favorites have become new again at Skinner Baking. The company even has a feature flavor program that offers limited-time, seasonal varieties like Butterscotch Bon Bon, Chocolate Bananarama and Triple Berry Crunch Danish at various times throughout the year. “Retro flavors like butterscotch, caramel and malt are seeing increased interest, according to the Center for Culinary Development,” Mr. Kyle noted.

Previously, without a brand, Skinner Baking could only compete on price and customer service. Now, because consumers are getting to know the J. Skinner name, it will take a lot more than a lowball bid from a no-name competitor to steal the company’s branded business at the in-store bakery. Yes, Skinner Baking just needed a little, old-fashioned brand building to grow the business. Maybe that’s how a family that has been in the food business since 1911 survived in this competitive industry for 100 years. Perhaps that’s one way to stand the test of time.
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