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Noonan Named Top Marketer For Changing Flahavans Fortunes

John Noonan, sales and marketing director, Flahavans, has been voted Marketer of the Year for his lead role in repositioning the famous Irish porridge oats food brand and for developing a long-term strategy in helping it to compete with the major cereal brands in Ireland, including Kellogg, Nestle and Weetabix with over 80 per cent of the market.

Noonan's efforts in repositioning Flahavans as a healthy food brand and shifting it from a production/distribution-led strategy to a brand-led focus resulted in its share growing from 63.9 per cent to 65.3 per cent in the year to August 2009 and a profits increase of over 15 per cent. Flahavans had a margin of over five per cent and turnover quadrupled.

In the year to August 2009, the hot oats category grew by 12.5 per cent in volume and 6.3 per cent in value to €20.5m, as measured by TNS. Growth in private label did not affect Flahavan, but took share from smaller brands. In the fiscal year ended June 2009, the company posted revenue growth of 8.6 per cent in their retail sales in the Republic.

From early last year, consumers were changing shopping behaviour and going for value and cross border shopping. In-store pressure on branded food suppliers was intense. Qualitative studies by Behaviour & Attitudes found that there were two issues which Flahavans needed to address and communicate to consumers if they were to increase share and they were brand value and health. With hot oats costing less than 10 cent a serving, the price of porridge was a less important issue to consumers than health.

Noonan developed a strategy which emphasised the brand's health credentials combined with the Flahavans core values of Irishness and trust. While value-for-money is a major factor for consumers, it need not translate as the cheapest brand and so a decision was taken not to fight head-on with competitors in their bid to highlight in-store pricing.

Noonan launched 18 new products in drums, sachets and portable pots, 16 of which are still on the market. The expanded Flahavans range includes a real fruit porridge range and a selection of oat biscuit snacks with strong packaging designs. The company sells to Asda, Sainsbury and Waitrose in the UK and has plans to export to the US next year.

To sustain brand equity, Flahavans hired Irish International BBDO to create a series of TV and radio commercials, emphasising the brand's emotional characteristics and defining the health benefits of eating porridge. Flahavans has an advertising budget of about €250,000 – a mere fraction of the cereal giants' €20m annual marketing spend.
A major public relations campaign was also undertaken for the brand by Walsh PR.

E Flahavan & Sons was founded in 1785 and is Ireland's oldest private family-owned food company. In August, the brand edged into the Checkout list of Ireland's top 100 brands, at number 99. Noonan, 48, a native of Cork, joined the company in 1997.

He started his career as an assistant brand manager with Guinness in London in 1985, after completing a BComm in UCC. He joined the London Rubber Company in 1989 and three years later launched its Durex range of condoms in Ireland. In 1993, Noonan returned to Ireland to worked for C&D Petfoods before joining Cahill May Roberts.

In 2007, he became Flahavans' sales and marketing director. Noonan was one of four finalists for Marketer of the Year 2009. The other three finalists were Damian Devaney, marketing director, 02 Ireland; Nicky Doran, head of marketing, Bord G

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