Western Star is a long-established Australian brand offering a range of block butters and dairy blends, manufactured by Fonterra.

Consumers have long embraced healthier alternatives to butter and many reduced fat and salt options are available. Consumers with high cholesterol issues have traditionally been advised to incorporate cholesterol-lowering margarines into their diet – products that claim to contain natural plant sterols that lower cholesterol absorption. However, there is a reported taste compromise with these products.

A key competitor brand in dairy blends, Devondale, launched ‘Devondale Reduce’, a spread containing plant sterols for reducing cholesterol reabsorption. Interestingly, its packaging accented a great taste (rather than overt healthiness) proposition.

Fonterra acquired similar sterol technology and wanted to explore how Western Star could best enter the Sterols spreads market.

a&b was commissioned to explore how and whether Western Star could overcome any contradiction in an ‘indulgent’ butter brand claiming ‘healthy’ sterol benefits. And if so, what would the positioning and the offer be?

How we approached the challenge

We ran a series of focus group sessions, each focussed on exploring needs, wants, brand positionings and concept exploration exercises. All respondents had high cholesterol.

The findings

Despite a very positive initial response to the concept in focus groups, we did not recommend launching a Western Star Sterol spread. This was because the psychological battle of ‘control’ needs versus ‘indulgence’ wants with butter appeared to be resolvable only by a minority.

This was a classic case of people ‘neither saying what they mean nor meaning what they say’ – we found that on exposure to the branded concept, most excitedly said “Great, we can have our cake and eat it too”, “All the health of the new plus all the taste of the old”. However, the Western Star brand was quintessentially so embodied in butter – and butter (although loved) was seen as one of the reasons they suffered from elevated cholesterol! Only a few were quietly willing to initially reveal this dilemma: “But can I trust myself…I’ll eat too much”, “The animal fats in butter clash with what I now believe is right for me and my cholesterol”. Others, on deeper probing, soon agreed with this sentiment.

We would quite understand if most qualitative researchers (and, indeed, observing members of the client marketing team) would ‘miss’ this softly spoken, minority dilemma – after all the concept response was so loudly positive – and would quite happily march off in triumph and recommend progressing the concept for development and launch.

However, we did detect this softly voiced concern and loud (very loud) alarm bells rang in our minds. Once the depth of the issue was revealed, we did not believe that consumers would adopt the brand in numbers that would yield a meaningful enough business opportunity. Fortunately our client, when hearing the full reported argument, agreed. The sterol NPD project was halted.

Indeed, key competitor ‘Devondale Reduce’ sterol spread was delisted soon after the research, confirming the suspicions aroused in our analysis of the market.


The effect

a&b’s team of highly skilled and experienced qualitative researchers saved Fonterra hundreds of thousands of dollars in potentially wasted marketing and production efforts.

To learn how a&b can add value to your organisation’s marketing and business strategy, contact us:

+61 (2) 8227-5400