As restaurant dining rooms, social activities and business opportunities begin to reopen following more than a year of pandemic-related shutdowns, Bush Brothers & Company is working to make sure consumers don't forget how beautiful a can of beans can be.
The 113-year-old company is still in the hands of the founding Bush family, and has worked hard to leverage its history, renewed consumer interest in shelf-stable staples and what Senior Vice President of Marketing and Innovation Stephen Palacios called the fun and playful nature of beans. Palacios said Bush's saw an immediate spike in demand in March 2020, and that stayed consistent during the pandemic. With a brand evolution — tagging itself as "That Beautiful Bean Co." in marketing and social media — and new product lines, Palacios said Bush's is positioning itself to continue its success in the months ahead.
"For a long time, beans have just been taken for granted, and we think that for a certain percentage of the pandemic population, it's been really eye-opening to say, 'Wow, look what I can do with this. Look how good it tastes,' " Palacios said.
Beans have been one of categories to attract consumer attention as many people were stuck at home during the pandemic. According to NielsenIQ statistics, canned bean sales increased by 5.9% in the 52 weeks ending April 3, 2021.
Consumer research done by Bush's has shown that many of the new shoppers who grabbed its cans of beans off of store shelves during the pandemic were younger and more urban, multicultural and educated than its traditional core consumer. Palacios said he hopes those consumers have rediscovered the taste and versatility of beans, as well as the value and nutritional quality — he noted that beans contain a lot of protein and fiber.
But beans are also a relatively sustainable crop. They add nitrogen to soil, enriching it to naturally fertilize and improve the ground for other crops. Bush's packages its beans in easily recycled cans, which adds to its sustainability credentials, Palacios said.
"We kind of check all those boxes," he said. "Now, we believe that there's an opportunity for sort of a rediscovery and a renaissance."
To keep consumer interest strong, Bush's is working both on innovation and playing up its signature nostalgic and lighthearted marketing campaigns. Although the company's signature product is canned beans, it has worked to find new ways to prepare and present them.
This spring, the company launched its Sidekicks line of prepared and value-added beans. Sidekicks aren't just new products, Palacios said. They represent an evolution of the brand with colorful labels and jazzy marketing language, which are designed to reflect the joy of the Bush's brand, Palacios said. There are currently four varieties: Southwest Zest, pinto beans in a red chile sauce seasoned with cumin and jalapenos; Rustic Tuscany, chickpeas in a tomato and olive oil sauce; Simmerin' Caribbean, black beans in a Jamaican jerk-inspired sauce; and Taco Fiesta, black beans in a chipotle sauce with corn and bell peppers.
Bush's message has gone beyond colorful new products that fit into consumer trends of flavor, convenience, sustainability and nutrition. In April, it launched a new marketing campaign headlined by singer Josh Groban's "Bean Song," a lighthearted ballad to honor the taste and nutrition of beans that was written to replace the playground song "Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit."
Another big part of the company's campaign is its That Beautiful Bean Co. tagline. Bush's has always played up its long history — the founder's great-grandson Jay Bush and spokesdog Duke have been a constant in campaigns for more than three decades. In one of the brand's 1990s commercials, the phrase "roll that beautiful bean footage" became a popular catchphrase. In the age of social media, it became a meme.
By Bush's calling itself That Beautiful Bean Co., it's taking advantage of the catchphrase, Palacios said. It pays homage to the brand's heritage, but also celebrates everything good about canned beans. He sees this new branding, plus the number of consumers who have discovered the brand during the pandemic, as key to its continued success.
Bush's will be "celebrating all things beans in its forms and facets by putting products out there that we believe are meeting consumer needs in the realms of quality and taste, and in the realms of health and nutrition," Palacios said.