How Heinz Website Energized Food Pros

(Image credit: Lawrence Lai/ABC News)

How do you get food service people excited about ketchup? Heinz said it found the secret sauce in a new website that engages professionals, like restaurateurs and suppliers.

H.J. Heinz Company, sold in February to Warren Buffett and a Brazilian private equity firm for $23.3 billion, launched in 2012.

Amy Kleppinger, associate research manager of Heinz Consumer and Customer Insights, said the company has been working with food service professionals for the past three years, trying to become a resource for them.

"Food service professionals are difficult to talk to because they are busy," Kleppinger said, often having 16-hour days without being able to stop in their offices. "Having the ability to connect with these folks and have a sense of what's important have been such huge aspects for Heinz."

The company said the website had the highest level of monthly visits last month since launching last year at 10,000 visits and growing. It's not a earth-shaking number compared with, say Facebook's billion monthly active user-base, but for the non-consumer food service market, the number comes as a surprise even to Heinz.

The most popular article month after month, Heinz says, is about bulk back-of-house packaging, which describes the packaging innovation and advantages of tin cans, pouch packs or dispensers.

Josie Cellone, digital marketing manager with Heinz Group57, said these seem like simple innovations around condiment usage, but food service professionals have different needs when they're making recipes, or when they have to determine how to make the line go faster in a cafeteria.

"As a consumer, it seems seamless," Cellone said.

Especially surprising has been the number of returning visitors.

"A lot of operators go to manufacture websites once a year for 'spec sheets'," said Cellone. "We wanted to disrupt that behavior and give them content so they come back week after week and month after month."

Last week, Heinz, based in Pittsburgh, added a section on the site dedicated K to 12 food service directors, meeting the demand of school cafeteria chefs across the country.

"They have to be experts around regulation, calorie counts, and nutrition requirements they have to comply with," said Cellone. "We want to be their experts and resource."

Heinz, with the talents of Communispace, a consumer collaboration agency, said it didn't know what to expect when building a community of competitive food service industry professionals. Communispace had worked with Heinz for six years on a number of other communities.

You name it, Heinz has it. Want to know how to clean your ketchup dispensers? Try Want to make a merchandise order?

The chefs, however, also wanted to engage with other food service professionals, sharing ideas for Mother's Day brunches and March Madness.

"The more we talked to [food service] operators and the more we understood what chefs want, the more we understood they were collaborative," said Kleppinger. "And ultimately, that was a big 'a-ha' for us. This is a group that would really benefit in having a two-way dialogue."

Read more: Heinz Musical Fruit Now Includes Musical Spoon

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