THE BIG CHEESE
On a recent February day, employees at the Tillamook Creamery Association's Portland office arrived at work to find one-pound, cellophane-wrapped blocks of the company's extra-sharp white cheddar cheese sitting at their workspaces.
The cheese was in celebration of National Cheddar Day, which, this year, coincided with the 110th anniversary of the creation of the farmer's cooperative that became the Tillamook Creamery Association.
The co-op also was celebrating another milestone: the official unveiling of Tillamook's first rebranding effort — from a new logo to revamped packaging — in 60 years.
The debut of the new brand is part of a plan under way by Tillamook to take the products — from cheese and ice cream to yogurt and sour cream — that have become Pacific Northwest favorites and try to duplicate that success in other parts of the country.
Tillamook already can lay claim to having expanded from its origins in the Pacific Northwest to western states such as California and Colorado, a campaign called "Win the West" that paid off — literally.
"In the last six years ... we've seen a 60 percent revenue growth," Tori Harms, Tillamook's corporate communications director, said.
More recently, in the past year, Tillamook has started to introduce products east of the Rockies, working with companies like Kroger and Walmart —businesses with a national presence that the co-op already had established relationships with — to gain shelf space.
"Most of the new markets we've picked up in the past year have been through the Midwest, the southeast ... Atlanta is a newer market," Harms said. "Florida is starting to get some traction. It's slow, but sure."
The Tillamook teams have already seen an unexpected trend in those new markets. They thought the co-op's cheddar cheese — a top seller in western markets — would create the biggest initial buzz. But another Tillamook item is proving to be the biggest attraction east of the Rockies.
"Ice cream has been doing the ... heavy lifting," Audrey Crespo, Tillamook's design manager, said.
Spreading the word
Tillamook doesn't spend a lot of money on advertising, preferring instead to rely on in-store product tastings, social media and word of mouth, Crespo said. So, when the company began planning a strategy to move into new markets to the east, team members knew that having consistency among the co-op's different products would be key for creating a single brand identity.
"We took a really good hard look at our packages ... and there was a lot of inconsistency ... everything didn't really have much of a connection across categories, especially at shelf," Crespo said.
"It's not easy to go through redesign by any means, or cheap. But we really felt like if we were going to have a competitive advantage going east, we ... needed to invest in the consistency of our packaging," she added.
In order to create a single branding system to cover Tillamook's multiple products, Crespo and her team turned to Turner Duckworth, an award-winning San Francisco design agency, for help.
The rebranding effort started with three different treatments: one that was conservative, one that was more of a middle-ground approach that tapped a logo Tillamook used in the 1950s, and one that threw all conventions out the window. Logos and packages for each treatment were tested with focus groups in Portland, Los Angeles and Atlanta, Crespo said.
The logo Tillamook had been using featured a lot of clutter, Crespo said, so the team focused on creating a cleaner look with a more modern feel. The new logo prominently features a silhouette of The Morningstar, the first ship built in Oregon that, starting in 1855, was used to carry the Tillamook farmers' cheese and butter to markets in Portland. The incorporation of a weather vane arrow beneath the ship pays tribute to the farmers who make up the Tillamook co-op. Even the upward slant of the Tillamook name in the logo has a deliberate purpose, adding what Crespo describes as a "bit of motion."
The decluttering process also was applied to packages for all of Tillamook's products. Drawings of strawberries and vanilla beans for items like yogurt and ice cream were replaced with actual photographs. In addition, ice cream flavors now have their own identifying container colors, including pink for strawberry and sky blue for vanilla.
The eastern markets that are now being introduced to Tillamook's products will only know the new logo and packaging. For long-time customers, such as those in the Pacific Northwest, grocers' shelves will — for a time — feature an overlap of the old package designs and the new ones.
Storytelling for visitors
While many fans of the Tillamook Creamery visitor center on the coast might assume a renovation of the building that wrapped last year was part of the rebranding effort, Crespo and Harms say that actually wasn't the case. The co-op's board of directors, made up of local farmers, had decided to update the center, which is connected to the main manufacturing facility for ice cream and cheese, long before the decision was made to rebrand.
Still, tackling the rebrand at the same time the renovation was under way offered some unique opportunities to begin working on what Crespo calls a "consistency of experiences."
It also helped the Tillamook team dive into a new focus on storytelling that now permeates every aspect of the co-op's brand.
"We really wanted to tell the farmers' story a bit more," Crespo said. 'A lot of the (renovation) is a tribute to them."
The overall design of the center, for example, represents a modernized version of a barn.
"The materials palette that was chosen really reflects the simple (materials) a farmer would use: plywood and metal," Crespo said.
"All of our designs, anything we do, we really try to have a farmer's lens," she added, "Our farmers are very modern; they use technology."
The center renovation and the rebranding effort also share a strong emphasis on storytelling.
"We didn't do a lot of storytelling before (at the visitor center)" Crespo said. "we didn't have that many exhibits, so we really did try to blow that out of the water."
The renovated visitors center boasts timelines that tell the story of the farmers in Tillamook County as well as the cheese-making process, right down to the equipment that's used. Interactive exhibits for younger visitors include a milking machine. The cheese-tasting area, always a favorite, has been improved as has a food hall area, which now features a menu created by a local chef.
There is one tradition at the center that remained untouched by the renovation. Ice cream is still considered perfectly acceptable to consume at any time of the day.
"Ice cream is still the number one driver," Harms said. "My kids love going there because it's the one place that it's okay to have ice cream for breakfast."
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