While the purchase of new cars, new homes and expensive holidays have been slipping down shopping lists in recent times, the sale of one staple item has remained staunchly recession proof at the top of most grocery lists - bread.
“When you look at the data, bakery is less heavily price dependent than most other food categories,” says Richard Hayes, marketing director at the UK’s market leading bread brand Warburtons. “I think that is because there is such an emotional intensity in people’s relationships with bread.
“That sounds daft, but it is true. People really care about the quality of the bread they eat as it is at the heart of their home and they are buying and eating the stuff everyday.
”They don’t want to give their family second best. So, the emotional resonance of bakery products is enormous. Price is a factor but bread is less price sensitive than some other food categories that have less emotions going for them.”
It is by building on these emotional bonds that Warburtons continues to build it’s brand and to sell less on price promotion in recent years than its closest rivals Hovis and Kingsmill.
Recent figures show that in the bread brand stakes Warburtons claims a 25% share of the UK market, Hovis takes 16% share and Kingsmill commands around 12% share, with the remainder opting for supermarket own label brands.
Hayes explains: “During the recession there has been a definite increase in consumer responsiveness to price promotions and wanting to buy on deal. Consequently we have seen an increase of the amount of products sold on promotion year-on-year. But to put some figures on it, the Warburtons brand sells seven out of ten products at full price and three on promotion. A comparative figure for Hovis and Kingsmill shows six out of ten products are sold on promotion and only four out of ten at full price. So, Warburtons’ brand equity is able to sustain a price premium and a lower degree of promotional discounting than our two major competitors – even during a recession.”
But despite its already impressive lead Hayes, who recently spoke to an audience of Marketing Industry Network members in Lancaster, says that Warburtons is intent on increasing that lead and the business has recently kick started a £10m marketing push to support its continued growth.
The new push will see Warburtons begin to break away from the positioning that has seen it grow from being Lancashire’s best loved bread brand to the UK’s best loved. The ‘Bakers Born and Bred’ proposition has now been cast aside to make way for a new proposition – ‘Warburtons. We care because our name is on it.’ So, what is the thinking behind this development?
“This is all about the stage of evolution that the Warburtons brand is at right now,” says Hayes. “’Bakers Born and Bred’ was a summary of what is authentically true about Warburtons when they were introducing the brand to people out with our northern heartland. The brand proposition ‘Bakers Born and Bred’ was a great introduction that stressed our family values and bakery expertise to people in the south of the country who were not familiar with us and it has done a brilliant job during the introductory period.
“The phase we are at now is that the Warburtons brand is well known throughout the land, so what we wanted to do with this new slogan is express the broader benefits of what Warburtons brings to the party. What we are saying now is that we care more than other bakers, because it is the people at Warburtons who underpin the quality of our product offering. The beauty is that this can extend into other sectors quite easily. It’s a very flexible line which expresses the core benefits of what we do. The first slogan was about ‘hello, this is who we are and this is what we do’ and this second slogan is much more about the broader emotional benefits you can associate with a family business like Warburtons.”
Also, coinciding with this £10m marketing push, which sees the launch of new TV, press and outdoor ads, is a £1m move into the ‘snack’ market with the launch of snack brands Chippiddy Doo Daa pitta chips and SnackaDoodle wholegrain snacks. But as Hayes explains the snack market is not completely unknown territory for Warburtons.
ÒActually, this is not the first time Warburtons has been in the snack market. If you go way back Warburtons was the first company to produce kettle chips. They were a very innovative product at the time and Warbutons ran a successful side business for a few years, up until the early 80s. The reason they decided not to continue with snacks at that time was because the company wanted to focus their attention on the core bakery side.
“Now, here we are 20 years or so later and Warburtons is now the UK’s brand leader in the bakery sector, but that hunger for growth never goes away, so the time is now right from our position of strength to expand into these shoulder categories such as snacks. These are the first products in that new arena and there are more to come. We will not be resting on our laurels.”
Not surprisingly, as Warburtons throws more money into its marketing plans Hovis is doing likewise and upping its spend. How does Hayes plan to meet this challenge to his dominant position?
“It is critical to us that we remain the market leader and to be honest we are not happy sitting at that. We would like a larger share of the market. We see that healthy competition as a very good thing as it makes us all perform better.
”The way we differentiate is quite straight forward. Our premise is built around premium quality at every stage of our supply chain. We have contractual relationships with all our suppliers and we know exactly where every ingredient we use comes from. We have stringent quality standards that we apply throughout. There is a massive attention to quality here which is part of our story. But the differentiating factor is that we are still a family-owned business, three of the Warburtons family are still involved with the business. The family values which Warburtons epitomises are massively important and that is our key differentiator.
“If you look at how Hovis is doing it, it is primarily a nostalgia-based proposition. So it is saying that Hovis is just as good as it has always been and I think that nostalgia card has been a good one to play during the recession. The only thing about nostalgia is that perhaps it could be a straightjacket when it comes to innovating and moving the brand forward. Meanwhile, Kingsmill is applying a contemporary light-hearted family card. All three brands are competing with each other, but they all have very different and distinct propositions.”
So, let the bread rolls start flying and may the best bap win.