Ask any UK shopper what they know about the Knorr brand and the answer is likely to be something along the lines of: "They're the one that makes stock cubes and packet soups, aren't they?" They might possibly remember the Gallic chef in 1980s TV ads purring out the line, "Knorr. They've got the k-know how", in his finest Parisian accent. But that, in all likelihood, will probably be about it. They could be excused for this, too. For, while Knorr has been a phenomenal success in dozens of countries worldwide (total global value stands at just under £2bn), it has yet to emulate such success on British shores. The reason for this remains unclear, although a limited range of products is undoubtedly largely to blame. Even so, many in the trade may still be surprised to learn that annual sales of the brand now stand at more than £60m in retail and foodservice. Not bad for a brand which has often been perceived as having a "must try harder" cloud constantly hanging over it. Now that cloud looks like it is finally about to be lifted as Unilever, which inherited the brand as part of its merger with Bestfoods last year, embarks on an ambitious multi-million marketing and new product drive which the company hopes will push Knorr up the grocery ladder to become a top 10 UK brand within three years. Out goes the stuffy image of a brand which specialises in unsexy dried soups and in comes a vibrant new range with some surprising twists as Knorr finally gets a much-needed makeover for the 21st century. The mission statement is simple: to turn Knorr into the type of "powerbrand" on which its new owner, Unilever Bestfoods, is now building its reputation. And the omens are good. Knorr is already keeping good company as Persil, Lynx and Flora are all in the Unilever Bestfoods stable, while the company has displayed its ability to create a powerbrand virtually from scratch with the monumental rise of Dove. The soap brand was worth £38m four years ago but has grown fivefold into a £125m brand, mainly in the last 12 months, following UB's aggressive campaign to take on the likes of Procter & Gamble's market leader Pantêne by adding shampoos, conditioners and shower gels into the range and backing them with multi-million ad spends. Applying the same game plan, consumers will be given their first look at the new range of products being launched under the Knorr banner in the UK next month (see box for full details). A new ambient soup brand, Vie, will head the range, while Chicken Tonight, Colman's Simply Sausages sauces and liquid stock product Touch of Taste all get Knorr branding. The key to the transition can be explained in three words, says sales director Tony Smith: rejuvenation, migration and innovation. The first of these processes started earlier in the year when Knorr packet soups and stock cubes were repackaged. Migration covers the renaming of the Chicken Tonight and Colman's sausage sauces, while innovation comes in the shape of new soup Vie and Chinatown, a new range of Chinese cooking sauces. "One of our biggest challenges following the merger with Bestfoods was to grow the Knorr brand," says Smith, "and it is one of the main reasons we bought into the deal. "It is a huge global brand and has areas of massive strength but others where it is relatively small, like in the UK. However, this is the start, not the end, and there will be many more products coming out under the Knorr banner in future. We realise we will have to be careful but this is the first big strategic platform for what lies ahead." Unilever category controller Peter Lloyd is similarly upbeat, describing Knorr as the "jewel in the crown" of the Bestfoods deal. He also sees it as the perfect brand for a new generation of time-poor, cash-rich consumers looking for appetising easy meal solutions. However, he admits that the Knorr brand, at this moment, is not there yet. "We had to ask ourselves if Knorr was meeting those needs and the honest answer is that it probably isn't at the moment. "We want to transform Knorr in the UK into something it already is in many other places ­ namely a big household brand. We also want to move it from a position of duty, where people just buy it because it's easy to prepare, to one of pleasure." Both men hope this process will be aided by a first-year advertising and marketing budget of £20m. And, although the company is making no firm promises about future spends, it is likely that the blueprint for developing Knorr will be a carbon copy of that produced for Dove, which is getting more than £30m worth of backing this year. The plans don't end there, as the company admits it harbours dreams of creating a "World of Knorr" fixture within the stores of Britain's biggest grocery retailers. Lloyd refuses to name names at the moment, but says: "That is the vision we have been talking about very openly with one or two of our customers. We realise we are asking for something unusual, but we are making an unusual offer. "We believe Knorr will be a £130m brand within a year, rising to £200m by 2005. That will put us in the top 10 alongside the likes of Robinsons, Walkers, Andrex and Coca-Cola. That is perfectly achievable." n {{COVER FEATURE }}