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February 4, 2021

Uncovering a Cult Brand Ahead of the Curve

Tony Treadway

Green Mountain Gringo Cult Brand Leadership

Cult brands don’t just happen, they are built. The story of Green Mountain Gringo® Salsa (GMG) brand is one of discovering some hot buttons that ignited the brand ahead of a pandemic that brought new customers to this nutritious salsa like moths to a flame.

The GMG story began in 1989 when a Vermont couple crafted the ingredients to an extraordinary salsa. Non-GMO verified, vegan and with no preservatives, the formula was ahead of the curve in its clean label qualities. Whole Foods, a budding retailer at the time, found it and began selling it in their stores. Garner Foods found it and bought the brand from the couple along with the brand’s tortilla strip line.

The brand grew in sales thanks to an emerging horde of brand-loyalists who were hooked on the healthy flavor. Yet truly understanding the brand’s resonance needed more investigation. We needed to talk to salsa buyers. Focus groups held in Boston and Winston-Salem found the right message by listening for what was at the heart of this cult brand.

We heard stories of GMG loyalists serving cheap salsa to friends and saving GMG for themselves. Stories about the chip-hugging chunkiness of GMG and how customers would read the ingredient label on the jars and then were be sold on trying the brand. Ultimately, we found two types of buyers. Those that wanted to fill their bellies with salsa, and those who would pay a little more to put something delicious and good for their bodies.

Through multiple sketches and drafts, one message stood out with clarity that would separate the cheap salsa buyers from those who desired goodness in their snack, and “Check out our backside” was born! Pitching a headline that could be considered risky to a client quickly turned to delight. Senior management got what we wanted to share with consumers, and we built an integrated plan that delivered the message on a silver platter. Ka-Boom!

Not only did the campaign work, but it also earned creative recognition with the TV spot making it to the nationals of the American Ad Federation’s Addy Awards.

Spot market TV and cable buys are doing the heavy lifting in markets where the Category Brand Index (where sales performance with a category, like salsa, is higher within that market compared to the national average) and GMG is readily available at retailers. Sales growth set records, then the COVID pandemic happened.

One of the few bright spots in the pandemic tragedy was consumers shifted their attitudes about their diets as they sheltered in place. Functional foods found a new interest, especially those that benefit their bodies with immunity-boosting ingredients like those found in GMG. The antioxidant properties in the tomatoes and tomatillos, fresh garlic, jalapenos, and apple cider vinegar are all tied to living well.

It’s as if the recipe for GMG was written back in 1989 for the desires of consumers in 2021. During the pandemic, double-digit sales of GMG were the norm, and workers making growing the healthy ingredients and the employees who are crafting every GMG jar have a newfound urgency in filling trucks and taking them to retailers nationwide.

The success of the campaign led to new products including the launch of three new flavors of BBQ sauces. If you haven’t tasted them, you can buy them online and learn how good this brand is in flavor and wholesome ingredients.

Thanks to a client who believed in our cult brand message and to a belief that it’s about quality, not quantity, GMG is in the right place at the right time.