Bakers Journal

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The Final Proof: April 2015

Silver lining to Stonemill snafu


April 16, 2015
By Stephanie Ortenzi

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Stonemill Bakehouse had some explaining to do earlier this year when its efforts at gender-based branding went awry, but there’s still plenty to like about the company. Photo Credit: © Fotolia/wellphoto

Lessons learned from Stonemill Bakehouse’s handling of the fallout from a branding gaffe.

Stonemill Bakehouse took a public relations drubbing early this year when it introduced a set of breads that flipped a switch onto the hot-button issue of gender branding. But before looking at the controversy – and nip any schadenfreude in the bud – I want to champion this quiet, industrious company. Its marketing misstep threw some shade onto what is otherwise a very progressive business.

Stonemill’s product and brand development (apart from this marketing calamity) shows hyper-awareness of what consumers are looking for in pro-health products. It has 21 varieties that speak directly to the market’s cry for super foods and super nutrients. Ingredients are 100 per cent natural, and the breads are preservative- and additive-free, low in fat, low in sodium and high in fibre. These are varieties from the Wellbeing line, each highly specialized and market-responsive: Chia, Sprouted Grains, Whole Grains, Fibre & Fruit, Omega 3, Spelt, Heart Health, Body Balance, Calorie Control.

The company also has an impressive environmental profile. It uses only locally sourced, emissions-free electricity. The operation is retrofitted with high-efficiency, low-voltage lighting, which reduced electrical consumption by 12 per cent in 2014. Machinery is automatically turned off in between baking cycles. All machinery gets shut off when not in use, including all non-essential office computers. Retrofitted low-flow toilets and hands-free faucets have reduced water usage. They use only phosphate-free cleaners. And they recycle “every scrap of cardboard, paper, aluminum and plastic.”

I would love to hear Stonemill crow about this. Companies with strong environmental records have tremendous pull for a large segment of the market that’s more likely to buy from pro-ecology companies.

So, what gave Stonemill such a walloping, and what did that walloping look like?

The company added two breads to the Wellbeing line, one for men and one for women. The “male” bread was labeled “hearty,” with dark green colouring to distinguish it from the “female” bread, which was labeled “milder” and coloured with pink.

I’m not a girly-girl, but I don’t mind pink. Some of my favourite socks are pink. But like many women, when a product is targeted directly to me by referencing my gender with the colour pink, my back goes up. The stereotype is so outdated that I was shocked to see it used.

Still, it was only last year that BIC introduced the “For Her” pen, in pink and lavender, with a “thin barrel to fit a woman’s hand.” Ellen DeGeneres had a field day skewering the company for its astonishing lack of awareness of how women might respond to this product.

Why did the Stonemill snafu happen? Jo-Ann McArthur, president of Nourish Food Marketing, surmises that Stonemill may have looked at the segmentation from its market research, might have seen findings that broke along gender lines, and decided to address that directly.

“But the execution was wrong,” McArthur said. “Branding along gender lines never works when the product’s primary purpose isn’t directly gender specific, as multivitamins are, for example.”

Stonemill’s marketing story winds up with an understated website message from the president, Gottfried Boehringer. He explains how the breads were devised with the help of a registered dietitian and Health Canada data, which has 50 per cent of men needing more magnesium and 80 per cent of women needing more calcium, which was how the breads were fortified.

Boehringer says he appreciates the consumer response about his marketing. (“You spoke. We listened.”) The company will stop branding the breads according to gender, but it won’t stop making them, because their nutritional value is sound. They’ll just be labeled differently.

This is how to make a marketing correction. This is how to get back to that happy place where we can admire Stonemill again.


Stephanie Ortenzi is a food marketing writer and blogs at pistachiowriting.com.


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