WASHINGTON — While consumer-facing marketing will be a significant part of an impending breadbasket checkoff program, the effort will be built principally on robust nutrition research and outreach to the retail and food service sectors, said Tom Nagle, a managing partner of Statler Nagle.

On May 16, Mr. Nagle offered insights into the shape a breadbasket checkoff program may take. He spoke in an online town hall meeting organized by the Grain Foods Foundation about different elements likely to be incorporated into any program ultimately launched.

Earlier this year plans for a checkoff program were announced by the G.F.F. The program as proposed will have a $15 million annual budget, of which 85% will be paid by bakers and 15% by millers, only for breadbasket products.  Breadbasket products are defined under the proposal as fresh and frozen sliced bread and unsliced bread, rolls, buns, bagels, naan, pita and other flatbread, English muffins and biscuits. The program is subject to U.S. Department of Agriculture review and public comments this year and a referendum in the future.

Mr. Nagle was engaged by the G.F.F. in recent years to explore interest in a checkoff program. In the town hall meeting he said a consumer-facing integrated marketing and communications program is what is most generally associated with a checkoff program. He cautioned that consumer communications are not a silver bullet that magically erase a food category’s problems. Still, such a campaign with a broad message about breadbasket products is likely to be incorporated into this program, he said.

Underpinning the consumer-facing effort and nearly all the checkoff messaging will be food science and nutrition research, he said.

“This is important for any major food category program because it informs and drives a lot of important things that contribute to success,” Mr. Nagle said. “It informs a national conversation about food and nutrition among opinion leaders and policy makers and all the people who shape the food and nutrition wisdom in the country.”

Also important is to provide science-based information to the retail nutrition community, which Mr. Nagle said is trying constantly to meet consumer needs around nutrition.

“When you go down the bread aisle in the grocery store today, you see a lot of science- and nutrition-based claims, or at least purport to be science- and nutrition-based,” Mr. Nagle said. “A lot of the best practice programs have engaged the retail nutrition community. There are a lot of nutritionists who work for retailers who are really good targets for these sorts of programs. Food science and nutrition research also informs the food service institutional feeding channel of the business, in terms of menu and product development and also their own marketing. In both channels, retail and food service, you see the consumer facing, they typically will be pleased to see the industry promoting its overall set of products to the consumer. They want the consumer to want your products.”

"(Retailers) want a vision and elevated position for grain foods." — Tom Nagle, Statler Nagle L.L.C.

Understanding the importance of such interactions with nutritionists at food retailers and food service institutions requires realistic expectations for what a consumer-facing campaign alone will accomplish, Mr. Nagle said.

“I’ll bring up the ‘Got milk?’ fallacy,” he said. “I feel okay saying that since I spent 10 years on that program. (The fallacy is that) if you just run great ads and p.r., everything will go better, and sales will go through the roof. Even the milk folks didn’t experience that. In order to really drive bottom-line outcomes you have to have a consumer-facing powerful message like ‘Got milk?', but you also need ways to drive your marketing program into the channels and get traction there.

“Some of the best programs are involved with menu and product development in the food service channels, showing people how their products contribute to better consumer-facing products and better outcomes with their customers. The dairy folks in Chicago have full-time staff at McDonald’s. They’ve had some of the best success in getting big food service players to think about their commodity group in more aggressive ways in terms of product development. And also reaching out to that retail nutrition community.”

The nature of consumer-facing marketing looks little like it did when the “Got milk?” program was launched in 1993, Mr. Nagle said.

“Milk was all about spending tens of millions of dollars on mass advertising, mostly magazine,” he said. “The world has changed rather dramatically. Mass advertising is still useful, but in different ways — in carving out a position. It’s less about being your major form of communication and more about being your flag. And then your biggest and most important form of communication tends to be digital and p.r. and a lot of other things.”

To change attitudes, the objective is not to silence naysayers, Mr. Nagle said. Instead, the goal is to have a louder voice in public discourse. He said public discussion about milk was about 70% negative when the milk sector launched its public relations and advertising campaign. Five years later, discussion was 80% positive.

“Did that happen because they made all the activists go away and shut up?” he said. “No, it happened because the industry showed up and poured positive messaging through p.r. and a variety of other messaging into the public sphere. So, by the time they were done the industry share of voice was just a lot bigger than the activists and the haters. They will never go away. Making them go away is not the goal. Making them irrelevant is both the right goal and absolutely achievable.”

Beyond addressing consumers directly, using channels of distribution to drive positive perceptions is key, Mr. Nagle said.

Also crucial is ensuring the ability to demonstrate results for program funders, Mr. Nagle said. Generating reliable data in this arena has become easier.

“People will want to know, ‘What have I got for that?’” Mr. Nagle said. “What is the R.O.I.  for a dollar invested? How do we measure that, and how do we understand it? Measurement has come an extremely long way in the last 20 years, and despite whatever you may have heard about the inability to measure marketing, it’s not true. You really can measure it today pretty effectively.”

The distance between a checkoff program and the individual companies within an industry is important in understanding how it helps change consumer perceptions, Mr. Nagle said. While the general media tends to be wary of individual businesses, particularly large companies, journalists often are more deferential to checkoff campaigns.

“They’ve always given them a certain credibility as being distanced from the actual selling and transactions because they apparently are,” he said. “That’s one of the benefits that you get a much better response in social and media than is often possible to do from an individual company.”

Having conducted research across the research and food service channels, Mr. Nagle said the baking industry’s customers will be receptive to a campaign from the baking industry. Retailers see bread and grains as critically important and see opportunities to leverage fresh and local, tapping into the importance of sandwiches.

“They want a vision and elevated position for grain foods,” Mr. Nagle said “They say things for which the answer is the program that you all are considering. They are focused on category leadership with a focus on invigorating sales. They are willing to experiment. They want innovation.”

At the same time, retailers are concerned about a category in baking they view as declining and lacking a clear sense of direction, Mr. Nagle said. They have varied views of the role they see the products playing within their stores and are wary of “absence” claims — products highlighted as free of various ingredients. Instead, retailers would prefer messages that remind consumers why they love bread.