Ideas That Work: A Sugar Manufacturer Launches

October 16, 2015

“[The websites] really tell our story.”

By Kathryn Will

A sugar manufacturer launches two redesigned websites to ensure its corporate image is sharp and professional—and its customer-facing persona is informative and friendly

For many people, there’s not much thought about the sugar they use in their homes, but for the Michigan Sugar Company, the sugar beet growers and the process is part of what makes their product so great.

When the company decided to revamp its corporate-facing website so it would be appealing to both customers and commodity owners, and launch a family-focused Pioneer Sugar website with bright, eye-catching images and new features, the end results were more than anyone expected.

The Background

The Michigan Sugar Company, formed in 1906, has four facilities in Michigan and produces about 1 billion pounds of sugar annually. Its granulated, powdered, and brown sugars, which are made from sugar beets grown in Michigan and Ontario, are sold under the Pioneer, Big Chief, and dozens of other store-brand names.

The company, based in Bay City, Mich., is grower-owned and employs nearly 1,000 employees year-round and generates more than $400 million in direct economic activity. As the only sugar company in the state, people are curious about the process and benefits to the community.

The Problem

Michigan Sugar, a grower-owned sugar producer, had a website, but it hadn’t had an update in several years. The company needed a website that could speak to multiple audiences, including local community members, consumers seeking product recipes, its business distributors, and commodity brokers.

The challenge, however, was delivering corporate information to those who wanted it, while not diluting the message with recipes or product information, and delivering product information and recipes to others without weighing them down with corporate information they weren’t interested in.

“We felt we needed a freshened up look, one that was more compatible and functional with multiple devices,” says Mark Flegenheimer, president and chief executive officer of Michigan Sugar. “The old [website] had gotten a little bit stale, and it tried to become all things to all people.”

Flegenheimer says the goal wasn’t to increase sales of the company’s sugar in grocery stores, but to refresh the look of the website and provide information to those looking to learn about the company or its products. Customers hadn’t really given feedback on the existing site, Flegenheimer says, but company leaders wanted the site to have a more professional look and feel than it had.

“We hope people have a good impression about our company and easily learn about the things they are trying to learn about,” he says.

The Solution

After about a year of consideration, Michigan Sugar decided to take on the large project of replacing its existing website. It contracted with The F.P. Horak Company, a full-service printing and marketing solutions provider headquartered in Bay City, Mich.

Before the first meeting with the leaders of Michigan Sugar, the F.P. Horak team members learned everything they could about the grower-owned company, Flegenheimer says. As a result and toward meeting the company’s communications objective, the web development team built two websites for Michigan Sugar, including www.michigansugar.com, which focuses on the company, its history, and the sugar-making process, and www.pioneersugar.com, which serves up recipes, nutrition information, sugar facts, and more.

Using new formats and updated images, F.P. Horak brought the Michigan Sugar and Pioneer Sugar stories to life in an entirely new way. The company’s century-long history, for example, was taken from a lengthy block of text to an interactive timeline, making for an engaging and enjoyable user experience.

The Results

According to Flegenheimer, the new websites are more functional and meet the look and feel the company was aiming for. Flegenheimer says the new sites also have a “feel good” look that will make people happy to visit. “[The websites] really tell our story,” he says.

“The Michigan Sugar site is geared more for people who want to know about Michigan Sugar, and it’s more corporate,” he says. “Pioneer is for the homemaker using the sugar, looking for recipes.”