Albert Heijn, the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands, has found in the Dutch football federation (KNVB) the perfect partner
Albert Heijn mission is: ‘Together we make eating better the easy choice. For everyone’. Raising awareness across an entire country about the benefits of healthy eating habits is probably one of the most ambitious goals a company can set itself. You need time, a large repertoire of offline and online resources and allies to help you achieve your mission in a sustainable way. That is one of the reasons why Albert Heijn, the largest and longest-established supermarket chain in the Netherlands, with 135 years of history, 1,056 physical shops and more than 100,000 employees of 140 different nationalities, turned its sponsorship strategy towards football, the most played and followed sport in the country.
For Albert Heijn, being the main sponsor of the Eredivisie from 2008 to 2011 was already a profitable bet, but that partnership left part of their target group by the wayside. “In the Eredivisie you have 18 teams and it is more complicated as a league sponsor to work with clubs that are sponsored by our competitors. With the Dutch federation we have access to more than 2,500 amateur clubs in the Netherlands and can use the power of the national men and women teams,” explains Peter Lansaat, head of sponsorship at Albert Heijn.
The population mass that has come to associate Albert Heijn‘s brand with football is more than interesting. “You have to take into account that 1.2 million people play football in the Netherlands, but if you include family members, volunteers, referees and so on, that’s four million people connected to football every week. On top of that, we know from a study done during the World Cup that there are 14 million football fans in our country if we are successful, and that was another reason why we signed an important sponsorship agreement with the KNVB. As the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands, we want to be there for everyone.”
‘Football Passion’ campaign won the Silver Sponsor Ring in 2022 for its commitment to smaller clubs; in only three weeks, Albert Heijn raised 1.6 million euros to donate to amateur clubs
Sport sponsorship can exploit an emotional aspect that contributes enormously to brand positioning. “There are also very good examples of companies that do brand activation at music festivals, for example, but sport, due to its unpredictable nature, has an emotional component that allows you to create a great impact. Besides that, sports give access to reach peoples heart,” explains Lansaat.
Football is, in that sense, a great driver to achieve this. It’s is a sport that invites you to experience it in company and, at big events, this communion of football, family and friends is, for many, a great plan. “Traditionally, men’s football has provided the most opportunities for activation, but the growth of women’s football in the Netherlands has been impressive,” says Lansaat. “The latest demonstration of this was the women’s Euro22, when more than two million Dutch people watched the matches on TV. Our supermarkets are the center of pilgrimage before football matches. Many people gather to have a barbecue and watch the game, and they can find everything they need there. Commercial strategies at the big games make a lot of sense.”
“The men’s Euro20 was a challenge; but for Albert Heijn, brand awareness during Euro20 increased by 15%, despite the restrictions due to Covid”
The men’s Euro20 was a challenge, not only for UEFA and the venues that were to host the competition, but also for sponsors whose campaigns were constrained when the event had to be postponed for a year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. “We ran a big campaign and it was difficult, but for Albert Heijn, brand awareness during Euro20 increased by 15%, despite the restrictions due to Covid,” says Lansaat.
Camping on the KNVB campus
Without restrictions, the supermarket chain was creative during the women’s Euro22. Albert Heijn set up a large camping area on the KNVB campus itself, whose facilities are located in Zeist, a municipality in the province of Utrecht, admired for being one of the greenest and most wooded areas in the Netherlands. Three hundred tents were pitched around the federation and at each match, 600 fans were welcomed. “The only entry requirement was to come with children between 5 and 16 years of age, for whom we organized a full program of clinics, games and activities -says Peter-. Barbecues and entertainment galore in the run-up to the game, a night on campus and check-out in the morning after breakfast, so we could welcome 600 more fans. And so, it went on for the 4 matchdays of The Netherlandsof Euro22. A great success in cooperation with the KNVB and KPN.”
The value proposition of Albert Heijn and the KNVB’s sponsorship takes on its full significance beyond the big events. The company’s support for Dutch football as a whole range from the men’s national team and the Orange Lionesses (the women’s national team) to all amateur clubs in the country. The ‘Football Passion’ campaign won the Silver Sponsor Ring in 2022 for its commitment to smaller clubs. “We created this digital campaign whereby a percentage of our customers’ spending in supermarkets was donated to local clubs,” explains Lansaat. “Fans could choose their own club in our app. This created great engagement because, as an Albert Heijn customer, you could help your team simply by making a purchase at the supermarket. In only three weeks, we raised 1.6 million euros. Some clubs received more than 5,000 euros, which is an extraordinary amount for small clubs to invest in improving their facilities or to invest in more human resources for their football academies. Through the campaign, we activated another of our pillars, which is ‘healthy eating’. Buying fruit and vegetables scored double points.”. On that occasion, Denzel Dumfries, Jackie Groenen and national coach Louis van Gaal were ambassadors for the campaign.
Connecting with children and young people is important at Albert Heijn. Healthy lifestyle habits have to be instilled at an early age. As a sponsor of the Eredivisie, the supermarket chain succeeded in attracting the attention of this target group. “As a partner of the league, we have been successful several times. This campaign is always a blockbuster and called ‘Voetbalplaatjes‘. By shopping at Albert Heijn children can collect stickers of their football heroes in the Eredivisie and the national teams,” explains Lansaat.
Albert Heijn develops programs aimed at spreading the culture of healthy eating and movement among young people with ‘Schoolvoetbal’. “For us the social component is very important, that in addition to exercise they can learn in class what is considered a healthy breakfast or what to eat after training. These nutrition programs also help us to connect with young people, with the help of our national team players as role models.” Besides 200.000 kids in The Netherlands are participating in this program playing matches in their neighborhood. The winners are playing the finals at the KNVB campus where Louis van Gaal supported the participants.