Creating the Conditions for a Eureka Moment

We love working with Santa Maria, after all, who could say no to being whisked off on foodie adventures around Europe? Plus they love embracing new approaches to innovation!

Santa Maria is a major European supplier of spices, with black pepper one of their flagship products. Prior to an innovation workshop including customers, Santa Maria’s internal experts plus external experts such as food writers, nutritionists, mixologists and perfumers the team didn’t conceive a major problem with strategy. This setting provided the backdrop for a raft of new perspectives and a genuine eureka moment.

Our innovation day drew on a range of experts and influencers including street food gurus, perfumers and mixologists.

When an industry-leading chef in the workshop casually commented that, “Black pepper is all the same”, a blind spot in the kitchen and a potentially significant gap in understanding between the business and its customers was exposed. Although sales were stable, black pepper wasn’t a celebrated or well understood ingredient. Neither the pepper story nor its quality was being discussed by users.

“Boxclever’s research revolutionised our thinking and since the debrief, we have been drawing up our communications plans with confidence built on the insight they uncovered for us”

The revelation generated in the Innovation workshop prompted Santa Maria to invite Boxclever to ‘provide insight to create a compelling communications programme for the pepper category’.

We began by understanding cultures, attitudes and behaviours by exploring daily routines in professional kitchens through an ‘in-kitchen’ ethnographic style interview. We prompted end-users to benchmark the black pepper ‘experience’, product testing Santa Maria and competitor black pepper in their own establishments and discussing their experience with other chef end-users via an online forum.

The research process ignited a movement with chefs who were so engaged by the research and the brand story that some have become brand ambassadors.

We concluded by supporting customer and expert co-creation. Santa Maria hosted a sensory testing lab to uncover more distinguishing features of the product and recruited influencer chefs (from the pool of research participants, plus other industry peers) to collaborate on strategy and marketing materials, who ultimately became brand ambassadors helping to shape the pepper communications strategy.

This insight has ignited interest beyond the foodservice division of Santa Maria, also impacting directly on the Retail division product, sales and communication strategies.

Was it worth it?

The research highlighted a huge opportunity to reposition Santa Maria’s flagship product line and the business is now moving forward confidently with not just a new communications strategy, but also an ongoing relationship with their chef ‘ambassadors’.

Most recently, guided by the research, Santa Maria have launched a new microsite promoting greater understanding and excitement about Tellicherry black pepper as an ingredient (not simply a seasoning) with support from chef collaborators;

The Santa Maria sales team are now introducing the ‘field to table’ story of their product with descriptions that focus on the aroma, taste, flavour, appearance and information on how best to use the product.

What we learned

True partnership really reaps benefits if clients and agencies can create an environment to speak freely and challenge conventional wisdom and process. Creating an alternative forum for innovation and encouraging participants not to hold back set the scene for a genuine ‘eureka’ moment. It’s also easy to forget that research can be so enjoyable and useful for the respondent (when it pushes their buttons!).

We witnessed chefs eager to get more involved and ultimately choose to become ambassadors for the brand and it’s encouraged us to think of new and interesting ways to create a dialogue with target customers to encourage more open, spirited debate.


Matt Coggan

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