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For the 16 million who will take a ‘sick day’ the day after the Super Bowl, Hellmann’s has a plan: ‘A really great business opportunity’

“We know that sustainability is an issue that’s very important to younger generational cohorts, specifically Gen Z and millennials.”

"We know that sustainability is an issue that's very important to younger generational cohorts, specifically Gen Z and millennials."

Photo Credit: Hellmann’s

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … Mayo Cat?

OK, so it’s not the hero you might expect, but it could be just the hero we need right now. 

Millions of Americans will meet Mayo Cat at the Super Bowl, the lovable star of Hellmann’s second-quarter ad alongside “Saturday Night Live” alum and “Barbie” star Kate McKinnon. For the fourth year in a row, Hellmann’s ad during the big game puts food waste front and center with one of the biggest audiences of the year. 

Every year, nearly 40% of food ends up in a landfill. Reducing food waste is one of the top individual climate solutions — reducing toxic methane gas that comes from rotting food, increasing the food supply for those in need, cutting down on the resources to transport food, and saving people money along the way. 

No day illustrates the issue quite as well as Super Bowl Sunday. While those wings, sliders, and other shareables make it the second-biggest food holiday in America, it’s also one of the largest food waste days of the year, with around 140,000 pounds of food and drinks unused from official events alone — not including home watch parties. 

Hellmann’s has a solution: “Make taste, not waste.” Since 2020, the brand’s marketing encourages you to grab the mayo and whip up a second or third iteration of your leftovers, and the company dedicated an extensive page on its website to tips and reasons for making the effort. 

The impact is palpable: In an interview with The Cool Down, Unilever’s senior director of marketing, Chris Symmes, said that over the last three years, they saw a 24.4% increase in conversation around food waste during and after the game and an increase in their mayo sales among Generation Z and millennials. 

Symmes took us behind the scenes of their big ad and their Super Bowl marketing strategy. That also includes a pregame stunt to put Mayo Cat on The Sphere in Las Vegas and a postgame sweepstakes around a “Sick of Food Waste Day” that will invite the millions of Americans (nearly 19 million in 2023, with 16.1 million projected this year) who take a “sick day” on the Monday after the big game to repurpose their leftovers. 

🌎 The real Super Bowl loser

“I never knew that 40% of food ends up in a landfill. Our goal is to raise awareness about this issue. We felt that the Super Bowl is such an incredibly relevant moment, given that it is the second-largest food waste day in America right behind Thanksgiving. We have a lot planned to drive awareness of the issue in and around the game and also provide tools and tips for consumers to reduce food waste in their home.”

👶 Food waste marketing sells more mayo

“Food waste, for us, is actually a really great business opportunity as well. We know that sustainability is an issue that’s very important to younger generational cohorts, specifically Gen Z and millennials. … We’ve seen over the last few years, the number of households that we’re in effectively in the United States increase among those generational cohorts. So we feel like this is a message that has certainly resonated with both millennials and Gen Z.”

😻 Kate + Cats

“We were so thrilled to be able to get Kate to be the hero of our spot. Obviously coming off a fantastic 2023 professionally, we knew that she could bring the authenticity and the humor that was needed to land the message. In our conversations with Kate, she expressed to us that food waste is also a concern of hers and something that she actively looks to do in her home as well. And if you’re familiar with Kate and her SNL skits, you’ll also know that she is a cat lover. So it just authentically worked out incredibly well.”

😂 Behind the scenes

Is Mayo Cat a boy or a girl? A Unilever spokesperson told The Cool Down that “Mayo Cat” is a boy named Chipmunk, but he was cast as a girl. And Symmes confirmed McKinnon tapped into her SNL comedy background during the shoot: 

“She definitely leveraged her improv skills. … There’s a scene where she eats out of the Hellmann’s jar. That was improvised, and it made it into the final cut.”

🤒 The ideal meal for that Super Bowl “sick” day

“After the big game, millions of people call out sick. We felt that this was an opportunity to drive buzz and awareness by marrying the fact that people are taking the day off from work and what they could be doing to create positive social impact in their own homes by reducing food waste. ‘Sick of Food Waste Day’ aligns with our efforts to reduce food waste both on the ground and in the homes by partnering with the Food Recovery Network, which is one of the largest student-led movements fighting food waste to end hunger in the U.S.” 

(Every fan who posts their leftovers to IG or TT tagging @hellmannsmayonnaise, #SickOfFoodWasteDay, and #Sweepstakes has the chance to win a trip to New Orleans this time next year, and Hellmann’s will donate $100,000 to Food Recovery Network.) 

♻️ Understand and address a real consumer problem

“Driving consumer behavior change is hard. It is a multiyear commitment, and it’s something that doesn’t happen overnight. What we’ve learned in talking with consumers in different surveys is that nobody intentionally wastes food. 

“There are two components to why food gets wasted most often in the home. The first is that people don’t necessarily have the resources or the tools on how to use a leftover onion or bell pepper or chicken to create something that could be delicious. 

“Secondly, many people associate leftovers with not tasting as good the second time around. Part of what we’re trying to communicate is that not only can it taste just as good the second time around with a recipe or what we call a ‘flexipe,’ it can taste even better.”

💸 Food waste = financial waste

While Symmes said they’ve never tried a cost-savings marketing message around food waste, “There’s a financial motivator as well, with every household, on an annual basis, [seeing] up to $1,200 to $1,400 a year in food that’s being wasted. Obviously no one intentionally throws out $1,200.”

💡 Big issue? Start small 

“It’s as simple as one day a week, using up leftovers. It could even be one day a month using up leftovers. It’s about starting small and then building from there. … You just have to provide the tools, tricks, tips necessary to make it something that seems fun and easy to do for consumers.”

🍗 Favorite leftover creation? 

“I love watching football. I grew up in Florida, so a big college football fandom down there. So I went to a lot of tailgates growing up with my family, and one of my favorite dishes is buffalo chicken dip. It’s fantastic to save and use as a leftover for a buffalo chicken sandwich or a buffalo chicken panini.”

For more tips on reducing your food waste, and thereby cutting down on the physical and transportation resources used to get it to you, check out TCD’s guide here

Additional reporting by Anna Robertson.

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