In Food Marketing, Savour Those Adjectives!

It’s not so much a point of principle, more one of maintaining standards, but we simply won’t countenance eating a bacon sandwich unless the pig concerned has been privately educated. Needless-to-say, that’s why we plump for Waitrose 1 Free Range, Air Dried, Beech Smoked back bacon. Born and schooled in Norfolk, the Waitrose Hampshire breed pigs are whisked to Suffolk where they are  humanely dispatched, Hand Cured (redolent of Pip’s upbringing in Great Expectations) and, thence, transported to the retail store for sale (on offer) at 200 grm./6 rashers for £2 (equivalent to £10/kg.).

2017 06 Waitrose.jpg

This is an exquisite use of adjectival marketing: bacon is the noun and nouns are essential but not carriers of great profit; free range/beech smoked/ air dried/hand cured are adjectives impregnated with margin that smell as delicious to the vendor as the bacon does to the consumer! Add a few more adjectives – such as organic, non-GM feed, Saddleback rare breed, as Helen Browning’s branded bacon does and one enters stratospheric pricing territory, viz. £4.29 for 184 grm./6 rashers (£23.32/kg.). Mind you, as Helen proudly advises her customers, the bacon is made from “probably the best pigs in the world”, particularly we assume if they are washed down with a Carlsberg beer!

So, is this all frippery and of interest only to the moneyed classes? Not so, there is pervasive consumer interest in the provenance of food and the steps it takes to reach the family table and for two broad reasons: first, it’s about food safety and food integrity – opportunistic, indeed, illegal behaviour gave us the likes of “Horsegate” and other food frauds and precipitated a sharp decline in consumer trust surrounding the food chain; and, secondly, when we are in “foodie” rather than “fuellie” mode, we particularly value the stories intrinsic to and wrapped around our food. But, there’s a problem with such adjectives as hand cured, free range, even organic – they are pretty difficult to see or taste and, so, we take them on trust. They are credence attributes and they carry a premium price. Thus, the need to have transparent supply chains that consumers can monitor to convince them that what they are buying is what it promises on the pack. Recent developments, such as blockchain technology, and the emergence of firms which can scientifically prove the origin of products are testament to this high level of consumer concern.

We’ve talked in earlier blogs about the commercial pressures that “Big Food” is under and one of its manifestations – i.e. slimming down their portfolios in mature markets; e.g. Unilever looking to exit spreads, Nestlé looking for a buyer for elements of its USA confectionery business, Procter & Gamble getting out of food altogether. FMCG companies have used brands to appeal to a broad cross-section of the marketplace and, in doing so, missed focussing on the perceived to be niche but premium end of the market. This has been the hunting ground of idealistic start-ups determined to bring better tasting, simply processed, more sustainable food and drink to attentive, particularly younger consumers. These “young gun” companies understand that the pesky millennial consumer wants value (competitive price) but, also, social values –

and they want the products they buy and the companies that make them to share their values. Mind you, not all these start-ups are the bailiwick of the young. We note 56 year old Mr. Clooney and two friends launched the super premium tequila brand Casamigos (“House of Friends”) in 2013 and it has just been snapped up by Diageo for a cool $1 billion. That’s a lot of dosh for a start-up cactus juice company!

Getting back to pig products, are you craving bacon but a little stretched for cash as the end of the salary month approaches? Tipping your cap to the common man and Jeremy Corbyn? Why not seek a little help from Tesco? The controversial faux brand Woodside Farms (exclusively for Tesco) has smoked back bacon at a regular price of £1.20 per 300 grm. pack (£4/kg.) – tastily-priced indeed, notwithstanding that the pigs clearly went to a comprehensive! Mind you, Woodside Farms bacon is short on adjectives and a tad obfuscatory on provenance. The scoundrels – the pigs weren’t even schooled in England – “using pork from the EU”, although the bacon is “produced in the UK”. Nothing illegal here, but just a bit shabby for a world class retailer like Tesco to mimic the hard discounters that have been running our grocery market leader ragged. Woodside Farms sounds pretty British to us, whereas the pigs’ home Houtkant Landbouwbedrijf doesn’t (Dutch literal translation of Woodside Farms)!

2017 06 Tesco.png

We are amused by the hoops companies have to jump through on food safety matters. So, back to the Woodside Farms bacon instructions:

  • Cooking Precautions: not suitable for cooking from frozen.
  • Freezing Guidelines: suitable for home freezing. Ideally freeze as soon as possible after purchase.
  • Defrosting: defrost thoroughly in the fridge before use.

Just as well, we consumers have all the time in the world to peruse the instructions. À propos the verbiage on many food packages, well, we’ve read shorter books. Could be worse, though. There’s four official languages in Switzerland! But for the above, “Bacon: can be frozen but thaw carefully before cooking” might save a bit of space. Anyway, do enjoy your bacon sandwich and savour those adjectives because you paid for them.

Sainsbury´s Basics Milk.jpg

Those who read the labels deserve to have a break and some fun! Sainsbury’s entry price range is always ready for a joke, without adjectives!

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Posted in Consumer, Fresh Products, Private Label, Uncategorized
2 comments on “In Food Marketing, Savour Those Adjectives!
  1. asweinert says:

    Great insights into the value of perceptions of food.

    Adjectives add value.

    Thank you Prof. Hughes.


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About the authors
Prof David Hughes: Around the world, David speaks to senior agribusiness and food industry managers about global food industry developments that are and will affect their businesses and industry. Energetic, engaging, humorous and insightful, David gains the very highest evaluations at seminars, conferences and Board level discussions in every continent he visits. Miguel Flavián: works for several Spanish organisations and companies to help them to learn from the developments of the British grocery market and improve their business back home.
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