Diversity Is Crucial to Brand Authenticity

By Natasha Miller Williams

What do the flavors cilantro, matcha, chili pepper, mango and curry have in common (aside from their deliciousness)? They have all exploded in popularity over the last five years. The flavors, from diverse cultures across the country, have made their way into the U.S. food-flavoring mainstream in everything from ice cream to prepared meals to candy.

Flavors like these also represent the ever-increasing diversity across the United States. The 2020 U.S. Census showed that the Diversity Index, which measures "the chance that two people chosen at random will be from different racial or ethnic groups" is higher than ever at 61.1 percent.

For businesses, especially CPG companies, this change in the consumer base no longer makes Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) a nice-to-have; it's now become critical to a company's growth, and even its survival. It's no wonder that "Diversity" was named by the Association of National Advertisers as the ANA 2021 Marketing Word of the Year.

Diversity in Products, Marketing and Our Workforce

Several years ago, a group of Ferrara employees who were passionate about DE&I came together with ideas on how to innovate and reach a diverse market more effectively. They knew that more than half of our brands were over-indexing with multicultural groups, but they wanted to know more about why.

For example, Now and Later strongly over-indexes with Black consumers, which we knew. So, we worked with a Black-owned agency to research and develop an extensive vision based on this insight for the brand, which included brand activation with eight historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), scholarships and online guest lectures from Keshia Knight Pulliam and Terrence Jenkins, both HBCU graduates.

After the success of the campaign, we started to think about how we could better leverage the knowledge, experiences and points-of-view of our diverse employees. We wanted to know more about why the brand has a strong nostalgic connection to Black communities. That's not something that data alone can tell you.

One way we did that was to evolve our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) into Business Resource Groups (BRGs), which allowed us to continue the impact that ERGs make on company culture, with the added focus of business growth. One of the first projects was pairing each BRG with the brands that were popular with their associated group or that fit their interests. We then paired them with our marketing and innovation departments to:

  • Inspire: Run dedicated foundational research on specific multicultural groups and identify opportunities for BRG-led ideation sessions designed to build campaigns for diverse consumers.
  • Assess: Evaluate cultural fluency of initiatives and content with dedicated research on multicultural groups. BRGs provide feedback on work-in-progress campaigns or creative to assess the tone and message of the work while ensuring cultural relevance and avoiding stereotypes.
  • Augment: Add specific reads on multicultural groups in current research or run multicultural deep dives on past research.
  • Amplify: Diversify employees' voices to ensure their diverse perspective is heard during ideation sessions.
  • Represent: Ensure consistent representation of multicultural groups in current research. BRGs ensure ideation sessions are representative of each brand's diverse consumers.

We are growing this aspect of our BRGs now but have done foundational work with the marketing and innovation teams on a few initiatives. For example, Ferrara brands are experimenting with multicultural flavor profiles inspired by Hispanic food traditions, such as spicy Dulces Enchilados recipes, Mexican paletas and other frozen treats for inspiration and innovation.

During this year's Black History Month, our BE! (Black Employee) BRG has partnered with Now and Later for a month of activations themed "Recognize the Chew in You," harnessing the brand to promote activism, mentorship and empowerment. Throughout the month, we will host conversations with business and community leaders who are making a difference, in education, mentorship or film.

When companies truly invest in diversity, equity and inclusion, they understand how to leverage it not only to make their culture one that everyone wants to be a part of, but also to truly understand their consumer base, which is growing more diverse each year. Brand marketing campaigns designed with diverse input and designed for diverse consumers give businesses the flavor, and competitive advantage, we are all looking for.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

This article was originally published at MediaVillage.

Natasha Miller Williams is VP of head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Ferrara, leading a DE&I mission to foster diversity and empower all employees to be authentic, share ideas and grow together. In 2021, Natasha was named a Notable Executive in DE&I.