Biodiesel Brand Names

As the industry evolves, companies are trying to distinguish themselves with branding campaigns that emphasize service, additive packages and premium quality.
By Nicholas Zeman | December 21, 2009
Usually drivers don't go out of their way to fill with a particular brand of gasoline-they pull into whatever station is convenient as they start to run low. Subsequently, gasoline and diesel aren't usually marketed from a quality standpoint. There are, however, still lingering consumer concerns about biodiesel so marketers have been designing elaborate branding campaigns, which are relatively unique in the fuel world.

There are many biodiesel brand names in the market today: Archer Daniels Midland Co. markets Connediesel mostly in Europe; Chicago-based Ultra Green Energy Service sells Ultra Green Diesel; there is SoyPower and REG-9000 from Renewable Energy Group Inc.; Northland Choice from FUMPA Biofuels in Redwood Falls, Minn.; and Southern Gold from North Mississippi Biodiesel, to name a few.

"While I mostly agree that brands are not as important in the petroleum industry, we have seen more of that lately with BP kind of taking over the retail market and companies putting names on fuel," says John Campbell of AG Processing Inc. in Omaha, Neb. AGP markets SoyGold, a long established name in the industry. SoyGold biodiesel, made from American grown soybeans, is the country's "most popular renewable fuel," AGP says. "Available year round, SoyGold increases fuel lubricity, boosts cetane values and burns cleaner than traditional diesel fuels."

"Biodiesel" has become a brand in and of itself, but there remains feedstock, quality and price differentials that make companies feel a need to distinguish them from others. "There are production variations in the biodiesel industry and we want to exceed what the consumer expects," says Steve Bond, sales and marketing manager for Blue Sun Biodiesel in Denver, Colo. "So branding is central to how we're doing things."

Blue Sun is a unique case. It markets and distributes Blue Sun Fusion, a B20 blend, and while the company is not currently producing fuel, it works only with a handful of producers who it says can deliver superior quality. The company also has its own additive package, DTX, which enhances certain fuel performance properties and is a major component of the Fusion campaign. Its plant in Clovis, N.M., although currently idle, is buying biodiesel from other producers, blending it with petroleum and selling B20 under the Fusion brand. Blue Sun is trying to create demand and, to do that, has pursued the strategy to brand the fuel.

Rick Geis of Griffin Industries in Cold Springs, Ky., says that most of the branded fuel on the market is a post-blended product. "Some of these folks will switch suppliers based on economics, switch feedstocks, and still market the fuel under the same brand name," he says.

Wholesale and History

Indeed, most producers aren't selling their biodiesel at pumps on the corner, so most branding campaigns aren't meant to expand consumer acceptance. "Branding is more for jobbers and petroleum companies to have some indication of the quality of your product and your company's experience," Campbell says. "It's clearly soy, that's our strong suit, that's what we sell." SoyGold has been around a long time and AGP's view when it launched the brand-and still today-is that biodiesel is not completely commoditized, and it's not homogenized. "So we set out to capitalize on our benefits," Campbell says.

And the brand name has led to some marketing opportunities in end-use markets. "We were putting our fuel on marine docks on the West Coast and selling B100 in a case where we were not going through jobbers," Campbell says. "We were putting SoyGold on fuel tanks and selling the fuel in a niche market, but that's kind of ancient history now, and there are very few of those opportunities today. We did have some efforts in the Midwest where we had pump placards and signatures."

Branding was more important early on, before ASTM specs were strictly adhered to, and it meant something. But now that BQ-9000 has become the brand of the industry, and since the National Biodiesel Board has cautioned users away from fuel that isn't BQ-9000 certified-or at least from fuel that doesn't meet ASTM specifications-logos and brand advertising isn't as important for wholesale fuel marketers. Nevertheless, brands are important to the consumer market, a sector that has eluded biodiesel. BlueSun's position is unique because it is a biodiesel retailer that also has a production facility-most producers sell their fuel on a wholesale basis.

In 2008, Griffin Industries made a majority of its biodiesel from tallow and animal fats and in 2009 used waste grease as a primary feedstock. "We've made biodiesel from all three main feedstocks," Geis says. "But we've never branded that component of our fuel. We use a lot of fuel in our own fleet, so we kind of have a captive market. We're certainly a commercial producer but we're not actively promoting BIO-G3000 and we're not spending a lot of money advertising it."

In effect, biodiesel branding has been an evolutionary process that started with companies trying to differentiate their biodiesel products and feedstock choices from others in the business.

Service and Reputation

Most of the biodiesel consumed in the U.S. is a blended product. BIO-G3000 is a co-brand of Griffin Industries, a wholesale brand. "Sometimes there isn't any consistency and that is why branding becomes so important," Geis says. "Branding is much less important today than it was five years ago, in my opinion. Anybody can have a brand-what's important is the reputation behind the brand."

In addition, the BQ-9000 brand is a result of quality assurance efforts in the industry. "It's become a brand in and of itself, and seems more important than calling your fuel A, B or C," Geis says. "We want to promote the fuel as high quality, consistent and stability-driven as much or more than its feedstock derivation."

Griffin Industries' identity is essentially its brand, which includes relationships the company has cultivated with buyers. "We often are selling directly to fleets and petroleum jobbers who, in turn, sell their own brand of biodiesel," Geis says. "We're selling B100 or B99.9-to get the excise tax credit-on a wholesale basis. We're not selling B20."

"We do have a fuel handling manual that we developed, and we did do a lot of handholding in the earlier days," Campbell says. "We had to educate people on hoses and the proper materials, but we've matured and the fuel distribution system has matured. You rarely hear about those sorts of problems anymore because people know how to prepare their system properly."

Much ado has been made of the production numbers two years ago when the industry manufactured almost 750MMgy of methyl esters. Talked about much less is that a majority of that volume was exported and consumed outside U.S. borders. As U.S. EPA contemplates RFS2 implementation and its biomass-based diesel carve-out, a significant number of parties will be required to use biodiesel that never have before. Currently, companies with various positions in the biodiesel supply chain have achieved a kind of comfort level where everybody knows how to use it, but if use quadruples there will be lots of jobbers who have never handled it. "People have gotten comfortable with their suppliers, but there is going to be a learning curve for new users," Campbell says. "These users are going to be looking for brands that have been around and the reputation of the company behind it is what is meaningful." 

Nicholas Zeman is an associate editor for Biodiesel Magazine. Reach him at (701) 738-4972 or
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