It always surprises me whenever I’ve spent a few hours on the motorway, that more food and drink companies don’t make better use of the ad space afforded to them by their fleet of delivery lorries and vans.
In the case of an articulated lorry, you’ve got a difficult to ignore 48 or 96 sheet mobile poster space that provides a brilliant opportunity to provide essential brand exposure and communicate with a captive audience who have relatively few distractions – so it makes sense to use it wisely, with a creative solution that demonstrates the quality of the products or ingredients being transported and features delicious food shots and key brand messages.
Of course, some operators are doing a great job – in our opinion, the example for all food and drink companies to aspire to is that of Arla’s fleet of national distribution trailers for Lurpak featuring brand messages from the “Good food deserves…” campaign and truly mouth-watering images of the perfect bacon sandwich – a well-considered, wonderfully succinct and clever use of their existing transport assets and a highly memorable example.
Truck-side advertising can result in some of the longest dwell times and highest viewing statistics of any form of advertising – it can reach a new audience daily and get to places where there aren’t many posters – an opportunity more companies should be taking advantage of.
OK. It’s 2nd of March and now officially spring. But looking out of our office window at the high winds and swirling snow this morning it felt light years away… In case anyone else needs a hint of something warmer here’s a street food shot Alex at Ten Eight did for us – sweet, spicy, smoky paella… All it needs is a glass of Rioja or chilled Estrella, a few friends and some loose talk…
We always like to keep abreast of the latest trends in food and drink, and ‘Street food’ – artisan food sold on the streets, or anywhere other than restaurants or cafés – has been one of the hottest trends over the last couple of years with between 600 and 700 new street food businesses signing up to the Nationwide Caterers Association in 2014 alone.
Of course, the concept comes from America, where the food truck craze has been steadily growing into a huge industry and many of the UK’s first street food traders were inspired by these food trucks for the food they serve, cooking methods, marketing (especially social media) and to a degree attitude. American street food carved out a reputation for re-inventing the ‘classics’ by stripping down the dish to its core ingredients and then re-designing it, using improved cooking methods and ingredients.
Street food has always been about sharing, with traders helping each other out and lending equipment to their fellow traders to help them get their stalls set up. Recently however, sharing has become taking and “inspiration” has become plagiarism with some traders making off with other’s intellectual property – and passing off recipes, logos, menus and ideas as their own.
We’re all used to copycat disputes between brands and retailers with their ever-so-similar own label offerings (naming no names), but it’s one thing when big businesses are going head to head and another thing altogether when people’s “ideas, creativity, originality and livelihoods are being stolen by others who lack the imagination to do their own thing”. As Richard says, let’s hope that all the money flooding into the street food movement doesn’t mean that the lawyers end up take over, and more importantly, let’s hope that the industry manages to retain its authenticity and stay true to its roots.
At IWP, we have many years of food and drink industry expertise at local, national and international levels, understanding the ebb and flow of trends and the direct impact of poor design, marketing and advertising on brands.
Here at IWP, we help companies in the food and drink industry to develop their brand identities and market themselves effectively to their consumer and trade audiences. We also like to share the insights of thought leaders in the field, so recently we spoke with Dave Ford, director of Field to Fork Solutions, an organisation that helps improve the profitability of companies operating in the food and drink hospitality industry.
We asked Dave for his tips on what suppliers and manufacturers can do to get a foot in the door with trade customers.
IWP: “Hi Dave, good to meet you, tell us a little about your background”
Dave: “I’ve been in the food and drink industry for about 27 years; I started off as an operator and for 14 or 15 years did the whole operations career pathway. I worked for companies like Whitbread, Pizzahut, Scottish and Newcastle and then ended up at Mitchells and Butlers or Bass as they were then. The position of head of food came up and I was given the opportunity to take it for about 18 months as a personal development break and I ended up doing it for about 10 years as during that time the whole industry moved to being food led.
I set up my own business about 4 years ago and since then I’ve been involved in contract catering and hotels, leisure, casinos; a whole massive remit of food related businesses. It’s been quite enlightening for me that whether it’s a big contract food service cafeteria, a coffee shop or a very busy restaurant, they all face the same problems. It’s about people, it’s about consistency and it’s about product.”
IWP: “How about the work you do with suppliers and manufacturers?”
Dave: “When I’m working with a manufacturer, it’s with a view of making them better equipped to approach the end user, whether that’s a buyer, restaurant or a company. It’s about me understanding their infrastructure in terms of whether they can cope with rapid turnaround of product development, whether they can do small product runs, all that stuff.”
IWP: “So when you work with suppliers and manufacturers, if they were looking for some advice on how to get on the radar of a new buyer, how would you work with them?
Dave: “The first thing I say is “I need to spend a couple of days with you” so I can get a very clear understanding of the company, its values and what they are trying to achieve. Then the second step is to try to understand what they offer so I can then benchmark them against other companies who do the same thing that I might be more familiar with. I’ll identify things that they need to do, and if they can convince me that they can do those things, I’ll speak to people who I know to see if they’ve heard of the company I’m working with, and whether there is a barrier to them spending 45 minutes with the company.
I make sure that the manufacturers or suppliers that I work with have a real purpose about what they are going to the meeting for. If that purpose is to show a product that everyone else is showing, I wouldn’t even waste anyone’s time. I have to know what makes them different; it could be a particular innovative product or the story behind the product, but there has to be a reason why the person they are going to meet is going to give up their time to meet with them. Some companies think that all they need to do is get in front of someone to get in the door, so I do an awful lot of explaining of what the other guy wants, why he may have never responded to their emails etc.
If it is a case that I think they have something different but they haven’t thought through things like pack size, costs, shelf life etc. I will fill them in and show them behind the scenes in some of the businesses they are targeting so they know what sort of kit they use and what the skill level in the kitchen is like. If the product is great but it takes 25 minutes to cook in an oven, you are out of the food service game unless you are talking top end fine dining.
These are some of the sorts of things that big companies who are perhaps strong in retail don’t understand about food service, and some of the smaller businesses don’t understand that to supply to a restaurant chain or pub group, you need to be incredibly flexible, you need to turn things around really quickly.”
IWP: “What do you think about the way suppliers and manufacturers go about marketing themselves?”
Dave: “Actually, I think that some of the big, established businesses are so behind in terms of what they are spending their marketing budgets on because they have lost track of what the end user, the chef wants.
One of the big food and logistical companies that I did some work with had the traditional 500 page brochure which was their only way of showcasing to the world what they did. Their sales reps would go out with this brochure and it was so user-unfriendly and the sales team were constantly being told that they needed something easier to use and a bit more useful for more than just buying a product; what we came up with was a very basic catalogue, aimed at the tenancy market outlining what the top 10 selling items were in the pub market and indicating, if you were a pub whose average meal price is £5, what pies, what chips you needed to buy, all the codes and the prices and photographs of what the dishes might look like. To the tenant who doesn’t know any of that, it added value in terms of what the end dish would look like and the indicative selling price and the margin. It’s about doing something a little bit cleverer and always thinking about the end user.”
IWP: “How do things differ with the bigger chains where you need to communicate with buyers as well as the chefs?”
Dave: “The buyer is a procurement person looking for benefits rather than just the taste of the product; if the product is as good as one they are already using but there are benefits somewhere else along the line, be that financial, speed of cooking, storage space etc. then they’ll take that into account. Buyers and chefs always want slightly different things.
The relationship with the buyer is important as they are the custodian of the budget and the decision maker on who can join the supply chain – but the relationship with the chef is crucial – there might be 6 suppliers who can offer similar things, but it’s the one with the relationship with the chef and the best track record who will be the preferred supplier.”
The big take home message from our chat with Dave is that you always need to be thinking about your customer’s customer. Even if you don’t sell directly to the end user of your product, the chef, you need to take their challenges into consideration and align your efforts appropriately: Something that we’d heartily agree with.
In just 4 months’ time on December 13th, a new EU law called the Food Information to Consumers Regulation (FIR) will come into force covering all food service establishments meaning that diners will be able to ask staff whether their meal contains any of the 14 key allergens, and the staff must be able to tell them.
Obviously this is going to be a big wake-up call for some.
According to celebrity chef Anthony Worrall Thompson, the new law is going to cause an “explosion” in a sector that is “notoriously lazy at coming to terms with new laws”.
Maybe he has a point; according to recent research by Unilever Food Solutions, nearly half of all food service operators (44%) are unaware of the new law and just over half (54%) said that they were unaware of the food allergens specified by the new law.
The hardest hit will probably be the independent establishments – chains have set recipes for the chefs to follow so changes will be relatively straight-forward to implement, but for busy independent restaurants, particularly those with several chefs working shifts, cross-contamination could easily occur, with potentially disastrous results.
The new law is going to impose many challenges but it will also offer a great many opportunities for food service suppliers and manufacturers – food service operators clearly need to get to grips with the new legislation and in a recent poll, over half of establishments say that they are going to turn to their suppliers for help with allergen information.
And the opportunities aren’t just limited to information and training. Food service is already a high growth area for free-from foods, but the new law is expected to dramatically accentuate the trend in the coming years, something that food service suppliers and manufacturers should be tapping into now. Alex Smith, founder of Alara Wholefoods said recently:
“A growing number of restaurants and food service establishments are expected to develop gluten-free and lactose free lines…it’s easier for a restaurant chain to buy gluten-free buns rather than make them in-house.”
As Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, founder of the Free-from food awards and Free-from eating out awards pointed out:
“It’s a massive opportunity for suppliers to food service. Many chefs don’t know much about free-from food, so they will need educating and they will need products supplying to them…In a small, busy kitchen, it’s really difficult to avoid foods coming into contact with each other. This provides a huge opportunity for suppliers that can provide free-from food in single portions in attractive wrapped packaging that can stay wrapped.”
The new allergen regulations are going to offer a lot of growth opportunities for food service suppliers and manufacturers and in our opinion, companies should have plans already in place to take advantage of the changes ahead. How well prepared are you?
An occasional series in which we take a look at wholesaler’s shelves to find examples of design – good, bad and downright UGLY. This time round, we took a trip to our local Booker Cash & Carry.
It’s a fact of life that when you walk into a wholesaler, you’ll be confronted with shelf upon shelf of bland looking cardboard outers and in many cases, pack designs that look like they have ignored the basic rules of good design. It seems that whilst many manufacturers put an awful lot of time and effort into getting their retail pack design right, their trade brands are treated like a poor relation. Often there is little consistency between a company’s retail and food service offerings, leaving (increasingly design savvy) customers struggling to make a connection. It’s something that endlessly perplexes us.
There is another trick that many brands are missing out on too. Why stick with plain boring cardboard outers when you could be using that space to catch the customer’s attention and win sales from impulse purchases? Any creative worth their salt can do this at the drop of their beanie hat. Some brands are taking this opportunity – but not enough in our opinion.
Here are some of the brands we think are doing a good job with their trade pack designs:
LICHFIELDS – Part of the Booker own label range, Lichfields features hospitality essentials such as tea and coffee, biscuits, yoghurt, individual jam portions,ketchup sachets and fresh juice. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the pack design which we think does a great job of upselling against premium branded competitors. Compare the packaging and shelf presence of Lichfields’ luxury preserves with that of Robertson’s individual jam portions you can see what we mean:
The pack design for Lichfields’ teas stands good comparison with Twinings and we think that their chocolates compare well to the more upmarket Elizabeth Shaw product.
BLUE DRAGON ABF’s oriental food brand Blue Dragon have done a great job of insuring consistent with their retail brand, bringing their recognisable packaging through to their trade offering.
WHITWORTH FOR BAKING Napier Brown commissioned Leahy Brand Design to breathe fresh life into their Whitworth for Baking sugar brand in 2012 and they came up with a fresh, clean, user friendly design that responded directly to customer feedback about mess and storage problems. It’s satisfying to see that they’ve carried all of this good design and innovation through into their bulk packs for food service customers.
The supermarkets have learned their lesson well after poor consumer feedback – having redesigned their ‘value’ product ranges to look more aspirational… Maybe more brands could extend their premium delivery into this important sector?
In this series of posts we take a look at key trends in food and drink, starting with a look at the rise of the own-label copy-cat.
The issue of copy-cat packaging has existed for many years but there seems to have been something of an avalanche of look-alikes recently with a number of big retailers being implicated. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but the lack of protection for brands in the UK means that some recent cases have bordered on outright plagiarism.
The burden of proof is on the brands to prove that the copy-cat is deliberately trying to make consumers think that it is the branded product (so called “passing off” rules), meaning that disputes between brands and retailers tend to be kept out of the public domain and are nearly always settled out of court.
That’s why we were surprised when we read the recent news about Seachill, the owners of the Saucy Fish Co brand taking legal action over Aldi’s “confusingly similar” salmon and sauce, but then when we saw the number of similarities between the two products it made the move a little more understandable; both feature black packaging and a cardboard sleeve with a fish shaped cutout on the left hand-side revealing a sachet of almost identical sauce.
In an interview with the Grocer last year, Aldi’s joint managing director Matthew Barnes said that he was impressed by the success of the Saucy Fish Co and spoke of plans for a similar offering – maybe a little too similar in this case.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a retailer taking inspiration from a successful brand and they all do it to a lesser or greater extent; however there’s a fine line between an own-label product being “inspired” by a brand and being considered a blatant copy-cat.
Where is that line? Perhaps at the point where similarities are such that consumers feel that they have been duped into purchasing the own-brand product by mistake. According to this article in The Drum from last year, a fifth of the members of the consumer group Which? reported falling for that tactic.
Many have applauded Seachill’s move to fight their corner but there’s an interesting philosophical question to be asked; whilst Saucy Fish customers Tesco and Sainsbury’s recently launched their own fish-in sauce offering inspired by the brand (leading to a shock delisting then relisted by Tesco), would Seachill have risked the potential financial repercussions of taking the legal route if the aforementioned retailers had launched such strikingly similar offerings as Aldi’s saucy salmon?
Developing a packaging format that stands out on the shelf or in the chiller cabinet can take a lot of time and money, so we understand why brands get annoyed by own-label “me-too” versions that draw heavily on all that effort – here at IWP it frustrates us when elements of a packaging design we’ve created get “borrowed” to put it kindly. As far as resorting to litigation is concerned though, brands should think very carefully before taking the legal route because it’s hugely expensive, hugely risky and in the end it all depends on who is copying you.