As a food and drink marketing person I have advocated the importance of ‘who made it, where it’s made, why it’s made that way. Why? Because we have all been told that it is an important issue for consumers and a great way to differentiate your product from others. Well, at the risk of committing heresy, I am going to argue the opposite.
Consumers care about provenance when the product is fresh, short-shelf life and / or high-risk (eg chicken, milk and dairy, meats, fish and fruit etc.) Why? Because these products have to be fresh, well-made and high quality to be safe and palatable. Overtime these are the same products that have become synonymous with supermarket own-label brands because the supermarkets found they could attract customers by being the custodians of food-safety standards and arbiters of quality. So, the provenance of the foods became something the supermarkets looked after, so you didn’t have to worry.
But supermarkets are not all own-label. They even promote where the meat, fish, dairy comes from. True, when it suits the supermarket they make their own label more easily understood and distinctive by highlighting the provenance of the source, why they chose it, demonstrating that they choose products for you so that you continue to trust them, the supermarkets, to ensure quality, safety.
Good, Better, Best.
Supermarkets are so good at ensuring quality they can even create premiums within each category. They exercise such control on a category that they will decide what is the ‘leading-brand’ and then match or claim to better it through using premium versions of their own-label. Nothing wrong with that, except as food-marketers we have allowed the supermarkets not only to become judge, jury, and executioner of what is and is not quality, but even what should be regarded as premium.
But shouldn’t the consumer be the person who decides what is best?
Well, only if they are offered the choice and it is presented in a way they understand. Supermarkets decide not only what goes on their shelves but also what gets position and prominence. So you, the producer, may have a fantastic brand but it may actually be out of reach for most people, especially if the supermarket decides to put it on a high shelf that is an awkward reach.
Will supermarket own-label pass the test of a real brand?
What would that test be? Let’s imagine you have to buy two bottles of wine. One for consuming in the privacy of your own home. And one that you want to take to some friends as a gift? (And let’s imagine that, like me, you don’t know the difference between claret and Bordeaux.)
You go to a supermarket and you buy a perfectly acceptable own-label bottle of red, as well as a very nicely branded and labelled bottle with a premium-looking label. Now, which one do you think your friends would like you to give them?
Does where the bottle came from, the grape, the vineyard, the age, the type of glass, the yeast, the vineyard owner’s style and experience, the weather that year, the whatever ‘guff’ they wrote in the Sunday Times about how to consume this wine with which food blah, blah, bloody blah? No! The reason the bottle was chosen as a present was because it ‘looked the part’. It said premium. It said luxury. It said, ‘I love you’. It said ‘I care’.
It definitely had better not say; I trust a 23-year-old supermarket buyer with a degree in ‘patronising suppliers’ who is more likely to pick a spot than a great wine! It ought not to say, I can’t choose so got a supermarket to do it for me and after all, it is ‘Taste the Extra Finest not chosen by You’. So, what’s your problem? I was in a hurry!
Might your friends be less impressed with the own-label and perhaps suggest you shove it somewhere until it reaches a drinkable temperature?
So can supermarkets do brands?
They certainly cannot do luxury brands and that is where proper brands win. More importantly, it reminds everyone that it is about brands and not about provenance. If it were about provenance then why are we all buying supermarkets labels? Because they have provenance sorted. Then perhaps it could be about the intangibles like luxury, premium and preference. You know preference? It’s why you buy something and you don’t have to justify it, other than with ‘because I want it’. Perhaps the marketer’s job is to do that more often; remind people to want something. Where the brands score over the own-label is in their ability to talk directly to the consumer, outside the supermarket and without the supermarket drowning you out about its latest BOGOF.
So provenance maybe isn’t the issue for consumers as much as we thought. But perhaps in future, branded foods and drinks can be a bit more about who they are for, when they are for and why we want to want them. Not because they were on a special offer in Aisle 6 ‘special offers’ bin!
© Taylerson Ltd