MasterFoods is a brand that has been a staple in Australian households since 1945 when it was registered by Henry Lewis. Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, MasterFoods, now owned by US-based family business Mars, still resonates with Australian shoppers. And it’s not by chance, according to general manager for Mars Food Australia Bill Heague.
“You will see a lot of older products have come and gone and had their moment,” he said. “Where MasterFoods has been different is that is has been consistent in setting the scene for flavour and introducing new cuisines and cultures to Australian households. As well as having great tasting products, I think it is that ability to have the consumer at the heart of everything we do, listen to them and change with them, that helps keep MasterFoods current. Our products will change with the tastes and lifestyles of our consumers.”
Mars Food Australia is also a manufacturer that thinks it’s important to look within Australian communities when developing new products. This is one reason it conducts a lot of its R&D locally.
“One of the great things about MasterFoods is that all but a few products are locally manufactured. We’re an Australian brand, which means we get consumer insights from Australians for Australians,” he said. “We work with local customers and advertise locally to consumers as well. Having the ability to shape what that looks like is a great job to have – you can see the value chain end to end.
“We have a great team of local product developers who are passionate about food. One of the favourite parts of my job is that we have a test kitchen onsite at our head office and factory in Berkeley Vale on the Central Coast in New South Wales. We have meetings that start with us talking business, then we’ll split into teams and start cooking meals together. We are a business that practises what it preaches about the benefits of cooking and sharing a meal together.
“It can get a bit competitive when cooking and people ‘go rogue’ and add different blends of herbs and spice to outdo one another. But, that is the great thing about what we do. We bring people together over food, and have fun while we do it.”
Heague has spent time overseas working for Mars in the Czech Republic and Ireland, and he knows that to move forward, a company such as Mars and brands like MasterFoods cannot stay stagnant. They have to move with the times.
“Over time we have pushed into different categories. Marinades was one of the first expansions,” said Heague. “Then we went to squeezy bottle sauces and then into recipe-base pouches after that. Very recently we’ve gone into Indian cuisine. We listen to consumers and we want to know where they find interests and where can MasterFoods provide that bridge for people to explore flavours of the world – get multi-cultural in their kitchens – in a way that suits their lifestyle and is easy to do. We always ask ourselves, how can we give people confidence to explore with flavour, so we encourage them to cook and share dinner with family and friends? We are always looking at other roles MasterFoods can play in the grocery aisle.”
With the proliferation of private brands by the big retailers Woolworths and Coles, how does Heague see the future for a brand like MasterFoods?
“It’s about being able to keep our brand fresh and current, and to distinguish ourselves not just by flavour and accessibility but by what we stand for – making dinner time matter,” he said.
“And if we ever forget that, and don’t execute well in that space and bring our purpose to life around dinner time, we leave ourselves exposed and risk not being the choice shoppers make and put in their baskets.”