Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Premier Gets out of a Jam

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Premier Gets out of a Jam

Article excerpt

The demise of Robertson's may have upset some, but there is no longer any room for sentiment.

James Robertson launched his family jam business in 1864, after his wife, Marion, began making marmalade at their local shop in Paisley Jams and mincemeat followed, and Robertson's became the leading brand of British preserves for most of the 20th century. Premier Foods acquired the Robertson's brand last year when it swallowed up RHM. This week Premier announced its new strategy for its prized jam acquisition in 2009 - kill it. Quick.

By the end of next year, Robertson's will have disappeared forever from British tables. Cue an avalanche of media stories about the fall of another great British institution, letters to the Daily Mail about the end of society as we know it, and a long line of generic brand consultants, shaking their heads and offering insight on where it all went wrong and how the brand could - and should - have been saved.

Don Williams, chief executive of brand ID consultants Pi Global, was especially emotional, telling The Grocer, 'The decline of Robertson's has been a particularly sad affair. This once-great, iconic British brand has, in my view, been systematically dismantled.'

You need a new dance, Don - the music has changed. Ten years ago, the Robertson's story might have been one of strategic error, but the world of branding is changing faster than many industry experts can keep up with.

Consider the dire straits companies such as Premier Foods find themselves in. The once-mighty food group may be only months away from a financial meltdown. How would you feel if you owed 10 times more than you were worth and the bank was ringing you to come in for a chat? That's the dilemma for Premier, which has a market capitalisation of pounds 150m and debts of more than pounds 1.6bn. Its priority is to reduce its debt and streamline its business before its bankers shut it down. Killing brands, particularly when your portfolio includes similar, stronger offerings, such as Hartley's Jam, makes more sense than trying to maintain double the marketing and production costs.

Also, consider the market. Yes, Robertson's is the number-three brand in a category led by Hartley's. If this were 1995, we would run both brands and have a fantastic business. But it's 2008 and the maxim of 'don't be caught in the middle' applies to jam, as much as other recession-ravaged categories.

On top are the super-premium jams such as Bonne Maman and Tiptree, both of which have enjoyed double-digit annual growth for years. …

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