We sat down with Jens Reich, SVP Marketing at HelloFresh US, and learned about his journey from one of eBay’s first top sellers to an executive at one of the world’s most famous meal-kit providers.
Learn about the drivers behind Jens’s marketing strategy, how he uses customer insights to deliver a leading product and awesome customer experience, how he turns challenges into market opportunities, his overall “less is more” attitude as a key driver of HelloFresh’s business success, and the Date Night Box campaign, featuring Jessica Alba.
This is Jens Reich, SVP marketing at HelloFresh in the US I’m leading marketing, data BI, and product management.
I started with marketing when I was really young. I was probably one of the first eBay top sellers. I started that actually when I was still in school. I bought stuff and sold it and did some advertising and marketing for it; it was really low scale, to earn some money on the side, but that was my first marketing and sales experience at the time. Then, after that, I studied marketing in Germany at the University of Münster and at the University of Illinois in Chicago, in the US. I started as a consultant focused mainly on marketing and sales projects. There were a lot of growth projects and restructuring [in my first professional role], so I did marketing from all different angles.
I would say that I discovered my true passion for marketing and marketing operations when I worked for Zalando, one of the biggest e-commerce and fashion retailers in Europe, where I wrote a program about how to optimize marketing spendings and budget allocation of various marketing channels, offline and online. It was a lot of fun because it was also a time when Zalando scaled like crazy, investing huge amounts of marketing on TV and also digital channels. It was also the time when Facebook went through the roof. It’s where I really discovered my passion for marketing operations and also for strategic marketing, especially in the digital space and e-commerce space.
IH: Today, in the position that you hold at HelloFresh, what do you think is the most intriguing part of your work on a day-to-day basis?
I think it is about being able to quickly adjust your tactics, (be it investing in a certain channel or campaign, in certain offers, etc.) and actually seeing the impact 24 hours later or a week later, or whenever. [It’s also about] being able to hear and get direct responses from the market and from customers and seeing how it resonates and whether it’s the right thing to do, and being able to measure that. It can be tough from time to time because you see if something does not work, but it definitely is the most honest feedback you can get, and it really motivates you to optimize all the time and keep on working to improve customer experience. And that’s what I find really rewarding and exciting on a daily basis.
IH: What sort of indicators show you that you are succeeding? What sort of marketing measures or targets do you usually focus on?
I think it’s probably the usual way. It’s about marketing ROI: what do we earn through our initiatives? And it also depends on the area that you’re looking at – of course, if we look at a digital product, it’s conversion rates and you see how that develops over time; and if you look at marketing spend, it’s focused on marketing ROI. So, I would say nothing special, just the usual metrics. I think it’s more about very thoroughly measuring them on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and getting the right insights from that data.
IH: Can you tell me a bit about what your approach is at HelloFresh to creating an amazing customer experience and how the company delights its customers and creates brand loyalty?
We’re a very data-driven company, so I think in the end it is about opinion, and it’s about using the data and insights that the customer shares with you across various touchpoints and optimizing based on this. This is not a short-term quick fix, but rather it’s a mindset that we at HelloFresh have and which we all share, which is to constantly optimize and better understand our customers – what they like, what the promotors and detractors are, where there is friction in the process; and just check on that every single day and optimize [our offering based on] this. There isn’t one single switch that you can turn on to delight the customer. You have to look across the customer journey and across the various customer touchpoints, making sure that you track how you’re performing and that you’re constantly optimizing all the data; and if something goes wrong, that you react quickly. Listening to your customer, using the data, and having a proper discussion based on facts rather than opinions is the long-term key to success.
IH: Can you tell me more about your product and what distinguishes your meal-kit delivery service from the competitors in the market?
There are several competitors in the market. I guess it depends on how you define the market – if you take the narrow meal-kit competitors, I think it’s based on what I just mentioned – our deep understanding of our customer base and the fact that we leverage this to optimize the physical and digital product and the customer experience. We’ve been doing this for over 10 years, not just in the US but globally, and we are soon shipping 250M meals every year, so there’s a huge amount of data that we use to understand the customer and optimize based on this, in order to deliver a better physical and digital product. This has led to the fact that we are the No. 1 meal kit in the US, and also globally, for a good reason. We doubled our market share in recent years. We have the most 5-star reviews from our customers, which no one else in the market has, and we have the most 5-star recipes. And basically, when the customer chooses HelloFresh, the customer chooses the best, the biggest, and the most-liked, most-famous meal kit in the industry.
It requires some content and education of people, which means that content creation and proper content strategy is crucial and super important. It also means that you need some creative and innovative ways to communicate with and engage with customers. With this kind of new and disruptive topic, video blogs and customization of content and ads to keep the customer engaged are definitely a big focus for us. Also, moving away from having the hottest offer and more towards really highlighting the benefits, especially the long-term benefits, that the customer perceives from a meal kit.
IH: Are there any specific marketing challenges that you see when marketing ready-to-prepare meals?
The meal-kit market is a very intense, competitive market. There have been some plays in the market recently that didn’t show the performance that was expected from the market, which put pressure on every player in the meal-kit space. At the same time, we’ve proven that we really can nail this market and outperform significantly and that there’s a true value-add for the customer. But there’s a challenge when you’re fighting the not very fact-based negative sentiment that sometimes is out there in the market with regards to the meal-kit industry itself. Definitely if you just look at market penetration, there is a huge market out there; of course, it will take some time to capture that market, but if you just look at the market potential – that people have to eat – and the approach that we follow, which is super disruptive and very beneficial for the customer, making sure that this message comes across is definitely one of the big challenges.
[The meal-kit market] is a very competitive market and has been focused, thus far, just on offer communications and short-term initiatives, so I think one of the key challenges will be to understand this market in a much broader sense. Partnering with other meal-kit companies, not in the literal sense, but in terms of educating the market, I think, is going to be a big opportunity going forward as well because the more people understand the true value of this kind of business model, I think the better it is for the customer and also for the environment in the end. So, that’s definitely a big challenge but also a big opportunity going forward.
IH: Are the other meal-kit companies on board with this vision as well? Is everyone going in the same direction, or is this unique to HelloFresh?
To be honest, I hope so, because there’s a good reason to believe in significantly higher market penetration. If you just look at, for example, shoes; there was a time when people said: “are you going to buy shoes online?” Market penetration is significantly higher now. Or, for example, IT software is a commodity right now and everyone buys it online, and market penetration is about 30%. I believe there’s no reason not to believe this is going to go up significantly over time for sure, and I would be surprised if other meal-kit players in this market would have a different take because we’re just at the beginning right now.
IH: And how would you envision partnering, not in the literal sense, but figuratively with other meal-kit players in terms of moving this vision forward?
What you can see in the market, is that whenever there’s higher marketing spend, a higher advertising pressure in the market, you can see that interest for the category increases. The meal-kit players are building this market as we speak. The more advertising we do for this, and the more content that is out there, the better it is for general awareness for the category and uptake. I’m a strong believer in a long-term strategy, which means disrupting the food industry and the typical supply chain, cutting out the middle man, and reducing food waste and huge deficiencies overall that totally make sense and make this a very favorable value-add for the customer and also a business opportunity. I think that’s the way to think long-term about this category, rather than short-term offer optimization.
IH: In terms of your marketing strategy, which marketing channels are you using the most and which marketing channels and touchpoints do you think are going to be most relevant in the next few years?
Frankly, I cannot reveal our marketing channel mix. But I believe in owning the customer relationship. So, if we talk about the next couple of years, I think it’s going to be crucial to see how the B2C brands own the customer relationship, and how they can motivate customers to come back to their platform and engage with their platform, rather than, for example, an e-commerce company buying everything from Amazon. I believe that strategically investing in this relationship, owning the customer interface, and owning the customer insight, is going to be crucial for every brand in order not to be obsolete at some point, and not to be degraded by another supplier for certain products, certain ingredients, etc. Everything that a B2C brand can do to increase brand awareness and loyalty to that brand, and to offer a clear value proposition, clear incentives, and clear reasons to come back to your page and engage with your brand – I think that’s going to be key going forward. Of course, one option in that regard is investing up the funnel into content and [giving customers] reasons to engage with your brand and come back to your page.
IH: Is there any particular marketing success story that you want to discuss, or any key moment in your marketing strategy that you’re really proud of and want to share?
I think what’s really cool, and something we’re really proud of, is our recent collaboration with Jessica Alba, and as part of that, we also launched a date-night box. The fact that a celebrity like Jessica Alba really loves our brand, engages with it, and fully supports it; and also that Jessica Alba is really conscious when it comes to sustainability and the environment – it’s a great overall story. Being able to partner with her in that regard is amazing and shows how strong of a brand HelloFresh has become over the past years, and definitely gives us some tailwind in that regard. And there’s definitely way more [of this type of activity] coming up. We’re a big business now and a market leader, and I think it’s great that we can also show that with partnerships that support our brand and our mission.
IH: How many countries is HelloFresh in?
[HelloFresh operates in 11 countries]. We recently launched in Australia and New Zealand as well as Sweden. We’re constantly scaling up and targeting new markets, and this also shows the modular approach that we have, with infrastructure and system architecture which we can leverage in new markets to quickly scale up, using also the extensive know-how that we’ve gathered over the past years when it comes to meal kits and customer tastes. I think it’s a very strong set up for international expansion.
IH: Do you find a lot of distinctions between different countries around customer needs and how you position your marketing strategy or is it quite homogenous around the world?
There are significant local and regional differences, to be honest. In Australia, for example, we launched in a more humoristic way, using a comedian, and we’re using this angle to also communicate that [preparing a meal kit] can be a fun exercise – that worked really well in Australia. In the German market and the US market, it’s a bit more traditional. Different communication styles and messages work differently in the different markets, but also tastes [are a big factor] of course. If you look just in the US, tastes vary by state, and that’s something that we take into account. If you go to our menus, for example, in Germany we offer a meisterstük – a “masterpiece,” which features a high-end piece of protein steak and that works really well; German customers love this. But this again is a specific, regional taste that is specific to the German market.
IH: Is there anything else that you’d like to add as we wrap up the conversation?
Yes, just looking back over the last 1-3 years, what’s been one of our sources for success is the approach that less is more. You can get easily distracted and try to do too much in parallel. I find it very valuable to spend some time on high-priority topics and really focus on those; doing two or three big topics or initiatives and nailing them, rather than trying to solve everything at once. Sometimes it’s about the basics, and getting the basics straight. Also, when we look at marketing and marketing channels, it can be very tempting to implement the fanciest attribution model and try out the fanciest advertising campaign, but sometimes it’s also about understanding the basics of the channel and just optimizing the hell out of it. It is important to stay innovative and test constantly, but at the same time, you also need to properly optimize the basics. That’s something that I’ve found very valuable in the past, and one of the key drivers for our recent success as well.