Magazine article Marketing

Marketing Promotion: Food for Thought

Magazine article Marketing

Marketing Promotion: Food for Thought

Article excerpt

We invited marketers from across the food and drink industry to take part in a round table on regulation and finding the right marketing mix.

Food and drink marketing used to be simple. Consumers would write a shopping list; marketers would aim to get their brands on it.

How things have changed. Shoppers are now scrutinising products closer than ever, both in-store and online, to ensure they deliver on everything from price to ethics.

Meanwhile, supermarkets are seeing strong sales and heightened consumer trust, which have boosted their own-brand goods. In a nutshell, there has never been a more challenging time to be a food and drink marketer.

With these issues in mind, Marketing and Yahoo! invited marketers from a range of food and drink brands to take part in a round table at the unique Old Laundry venue in London. Experts from the fields of advertising, online and design joined them.

Arguably, the major talking points of 2009 have been regulatory pressure on the advertising of products that are high in fat, sugar and salt, and the debate over nutritional labelling on packaging.

Mike Hughes, director general of ISBA, points out that the UK is the most regulated market in Europe, with the exception of Scandinavia, but praises marketers for using self-regulation.

'Marketers have shown a real fleetness of foot in anticipating and dealing with restrictions,' he says. 'The assumption out there with those criticising food companies is that they are trying to get away with everything until regulations are imposed. But, the smart food companies have anticipated the need. The reduction in advertising aimed at children has come very much from individual brands, so regulation is often redundant by the time it comes in.'

Ben Pearman, marketing director of Birds Eye, agrees. 'I find our own internal legislative points of view stiffer than some of the external ones. We have a lot of fights internally about what we can say. It depends how defensive you think you need to be,' he says.

Bruno Gruwez, marketing director, UK, at PepsiCo, says: 'You might be able to sell a few more cases in the short term, but if you look at it from a strategic point of view, it is just doing the right thing and you will benefit in the long term.'

Indeed, there is an advantage in addressing regulatory threats head-on, according to Jon Goldstone, marketing director at Hovis. He cites his previous brand Walkers, which was one of the first to put a carbon footprint label on its packaging.

'The commercial advantage often comes from being first mover rather than a laggard,' says Goldstone. 'There is a huge brand advantage from leading, rather than being stand-offish and waiting for the worst to happen.'

However, while big brands must behave in the correct way or face consumer condemnation, Gruwez criticises smaller brands that 'get away with murder'. 'Bigger companies catch a lot of wind, and all the eyes are on us,' he says. 'If we do something wrong, we get criticised. You will always have one-day wonders that will do whatever they can, and that damages the entire industry and becomes an excuse to hit us with a massive hammer.'

Marcus Waley-Cohen, co-founder of Firefly Tonics, says there is a lack of clarity in regulation covering the health claims of functional drinks. He adds: 'We rely on the bigger companies to set a precedent about what can and can't be said.'

During an economic downturn, brand loyalty becomes key. Any product that scales back its marketing efforts risks losing sales and market share Words such as trust and reliability have risen up the consumer value agenda.

When asked what they believe consumers are now looking for, Charlotte Borger, head of communications at Divine Chocolate, says it boils down to 'having a fantastic product, customer relations and availability'.

Hovis' Goldstone agrees that quality remains the number-one priority, pointing out how rival Warburtons built market leadership on the back of 'obsession with quality' and the resulting word of mouth. …

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