Saarioinen / Mamma

#Branding #Digital


Food Industry


What we did?
Service design

In 2009 Saarioinen established the most modern ready-to-eat food factory in the Baltic States in Rapla, Estonia. The plant produced traditional TV-dinner fare under the Mamma brand but the timing was miserable. The Great Recession hit Estonian consumers especially hard and the company struggled to make money for years on end. In 2016 a new management team was installed and they took a design approach to reimagining what Mamma should be.

Together we mapped out the detailed current situation and defined all possible problems that kept the brand from flourishing. We conducted interviews with key stakeholders, cooks, line workers, B2B clients and consumers, looked at EMOR and Nielsen surveys and analysis of retail sales data, did store checks in Estonia and abroad, competition reviews and ate lots of different ready-made meals (aka product testing).

The audit revealed that people’s eating habits, taste preferences and needs had changed. Instead of old-fashioned warm-up dinners people wanted fresher and more contemporary flavours, healthier alternatives and more convenient packaging. Mamma’s product portfolio addressed only a small part of the population, the assortment and tastes were morally outdated and the product range was too long – the few good products were hard to find in stores. It also turned out that the parent company’s Finnish brand strategy did not fit the context of Estonian consumers.

To create new solutions and a new future for the brand, a new approach was needed. A steering group of key management, personnel, sales, product development and production staff was set up and design thinking and service design introduced. After a lot of workshops and ideation combined with end user resarch 6 consumer personas were born. Three of these were used to redesign the product range and create several new product categories – fresh salads, pancakes, sandwiches.

In order to bring new products to the consumer, the brand strategy was also updated, defining the uniquenesses and key messages to reach new customer segments. The positioning and brand architecture was accompanied by a graphic identity and communication upgrade, which finally began resonating with consumers.

Both staff and end users were involved in the creation of the new approach, with dozens of tasting points set up in grocery stores. Positive feedback confirmed the viability of the new direction and brought insights to create new flavours and products. In addition to product development, the employer brand update process was launched, helping to reorganise work processes as well as increase employee satisfaction and loyalty.

As a result of the project, Saarioinen consciously started to reduce the assortment and optimize the production processes, focusing on the development of 4 product groups instead of the previous 7. Through the implementation of design thinking, production became more profitable, product development more successful and efficiency increased in all individual product categories. In 2018, the factory became profitable for the first time in 9 years of operation, and is still growing today. Thanks to a clear focus and user-centric product development, product sales and profitability have improved. TOP10 products account for 31% of turnover and the sales share of new products has increased by 100% compared to the past, significantly exceeding set targets.

An important sign of improved product development and end-user focus is winning the titles of Best Food, Ready Food and Dessert. Equally important is the recognition for the improved employer brand, confirmed by the title of “Raplamaa Employer of the Year” and the “Healthiest and Safest Workplace.” Saarioinen contributes to the local community and it has been noticed.

Saarioinen’s case clearly shows how a design approach to brand building combined with strong management and a dedicated team can deliver results and make an outsider become the category leader and the best-known ready-to-eat food brand in Estonia.

The recognition keeps coming

In 2020 Saarioinen and Brand Manual won the Service Design award for best commercial project at the Estonian Design Awards. And media keeps writing good stuff about good food too (in Estonian):