Mass campaign from Ace Bakery shows mass appeal

More than two decades after its launch, artisanal bread company is ready to rise even further

Ace Bakery has made a lot of dough since it first debuted in a small storefront on Toronto’s King St. West in 1993, yet the brand is only now embarking on a mass-media marketing campaign.

John Kennedy, who joined Ace as vice-president of marketing earlier this year, says the “Discover Great Bread” campaign is intended to drive new awareness and growth for the 23-year-old brand.

“We’ve reached a bit of a tipping point in terms of brand awareness and distribution, and we realized that if we added above-the-line media to the mix, while maintaining the great grassroots work we do, we can generate our next phase of growth,” says Kennedy, who has previously worked on craft beer brands including Rickard’s Red and Creemore.

The campaign from KBS is built around a TV spot showcasing Ace’s signature baguette—which accounts for approximately 45% of the brand’s total Canadian sales—in a variety of settings, from an accompaniment at a family meal, to a light snack with cheese, to being used to mop up extra sauce at the end of a meal.

It is shot entirely from a top-down perspective, which Kennedy says is intended to keep the focus squarely on its products, while simultaneously nodding to the continuing trend of Instagram food pictures. “The Instagram trend of highlighting food with that top-down approach is very much on-trend right now, so we just wanted to that,” says Kennedy.

The TV spot is being accompanied by print ads in the LCBO’s Food & Drink Magazine and Ricardo, as well as out-of-home advertising including a digital board at Toronto’s Union Station and billboards in Toronto and Ottawa. Ace brand ambassadors will also be stationed at grocery stores throughout the country every Friday and Saturday, offering free samples of the bread.

While consumers have traditionally regarded Ace products as being for special occasions, Kennedy says the campaign is intended to position the brand as suitable for everyday dining. “It’s just a way of making an everyday bread occasion a little more special,” he says.

Ace’s portfolio currently features about 45 products, nearly all of which are available year-round; the company has also introduced whole-grain products to address increased dietary concerns over the likes of gluten and carbs.

Ace had previously limited its marketing to below-the-line activity, growing the brand by partnering with chefs and culinary influencers. The strategy was successful, with sales reaching a reported $50 million in 2008 and the company being acquired by Weston Foods for $110 million in 2010.

Kennedy said that while overall bread sales are stale or even declining, artisanal breads are propping up the category. “The total category is not the most healthy, but there are segments within the category that are doing tremendously,” he says.

A 2013 report from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, citing data from Euromonitor International, predicted that Canada’s bread segment would grow at a compound annual growth rate of 2.8% between 2011 and 2016, reaching $4.01 billion. The report pegged the unpackaged/artisanal bread category to grow at 3.7% a year (the most of any of the 26 categories tracked), reaching $1.5 billion by 2017.

The media plan from Cairns O’Neil is heavily reliant on prime time TV, with the ads appearing in several network premieres. “We’re pretty pleased about how and where people are going to see our brand message,” says Kennedy, who says that Ace’s core customer remains urban and suburban women 25-54 who are curious and adventurous about food.

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