Magazine article Marketing

Brand Health Check: Whittard

Magazine article Marketing

Brand Health Check: Whittard

Article excerpt

The century-old retailer is struggling in the face of increased competition from high-street coffee shops and the growing trend for grabbing a hot drink on the go.

Founded at the height of the British Empire in 1886, Whittard of Chelsea appears to be losing some of its century-old lustre. Shares in the specialist tea and coffee retailer, which has more than 100 stores in the UK, plummetted by nearly 20% earlier this month, after it announced that pre-tax profits were expected to be lower than the pounds 3.3m posted last year, following a 4% decline in sales.

The company blamed the poor figures on a disappointing Easter and the fact that sales in the same period last year were exceptionally strong.

However, some experts are sceptical about whether the current retail environment is a viable excuse for its disappointing performance.

The company has failed to react to increasing pressure from its rivals.

Tea brand Tetley, for example, has cleverly ventured into other areas by adding premium products, while coffee brand Lavazza has chosen to play on its Italian heritage.

Whittard, meanwhile, has let current trends pass by. The culture of tea and coffee drinking in the UK has become more continental in flavour, with an increasing number of consumers grabbing a coffee on the go. This, in turn, has led to a rise in the number of high-street coffee shops, and means fewer people are buying speciality teas or coffees for home consumption.

While Whittard has made efforts to expand beyond its core offering by adding ceramics, gifts and chocolates to its portfolio, tea and coffee remain its core business and it must now seek additional ways of driving sales.

Marketing asked Andy Nairn, planning director at Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, which holds the creative advertising account for Tetley, and Ed Hardy, director at brand communications group Loewy, who has worked for retail clients including Harrods, how the ailing brand can turn around its fortunes.

DIAGNOSIS 1 - Andy Nairn Planning director, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy

Whittard is only half-right when it blames its downturn on the general high-street malaise. That is obviously a factor, but it can't be the whole story, otherwise stores such as Lush and New Look would be reporting the same financial woes.

What Whittard really lacks (and those other retailers have) is a powerful reason to pay them a special visit. Indeed, four things are actively preventing footfall.

First, the stores lack salience. It doesn't seem to advertise and its shop fronts are pretty anonymous - it is just not on the radar for most consumers. …

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