Scotland has long held a strong reputation for the quality of its food and drink produce. Yet in a fickle market, where the consumer is presented with more choice than ever before, is the nation doing enough to sell its wares?
Consumers are just as discerning in their food and drink tastes as they are in any other walk of life. And gaining standout in such a competitive market continues to be the quest for the food and drink marketers.
However, one trend that remains constant is that Scotland is blessed with a larder of raw materials that is second to none. It also has the passion, the craft, the skill and the innovation to leverage this advantage.
“We have seen huge strides forward in recent years in the marketing of Scottish produce, not only to markets outwith Scotland but to Scotland itself,” says Alistair Bruce, MD of Shaw Marketing and Design.
“One of the toughest markets has been here in Scotland – convincing consumers about the quality and availability of our produce is a tough job, but one which is increasingly being tackled. And the time is right for such marketing, coming in the wake of issues around air miles and carbon footprints.”
Beyond Scotland, the marketing of traditional produce is improving but clearly there is a problem of critical mass. While the big players can, and do, strut their stuff on the world stage, the vast majority of Scotland’s food and drink producers are too small to be contenders.
That said, with skilful marketing, combined with quality produce, Scottish food and drink can reach wide or specialised audiences, continues Bruce: “For a small country our brands have done an extraordinary job in creating awareness about this nation. Ask any politician from this country who works at an international level and they will tell you better than any marketer how influential food and drink is in defining this country overseas.”
This is one opportunity that Jo Coomber, MD of Elmwood, believes that Scotland’s marketers need to focus on – the country’s perceived excellence.
“Scotland does well at marketing its produce, both in terms of individual brands but also conversely in terms of generics – people associate Scotland with salmon, game, haggis, whisky, oats, beef, lamb, oysters, etc.
“The name Scotland still carries with it enormous respect and appeal when associated with food and drink, especially those synonymous with the country like mineral water and beef. It’s as if people throughout the UK think Scottish Beef is the best. Why? Because it used to be, possibly? Or because it must be if it has come from such a clean, outdoor place. What Scotland needs to do is make the most of this positive association.”
Food and drink manufacturers the world over are now victim of increased competition to stand out to a target market. As consumers have become more demanding – on ethical and organic status as well as price and quality – it is becoming harder to capture the heart and the purse strings of the consumer.
The food and drinks industry is no different to any other in terms of challenges, though, says Story’s creative director, Dave Mullen. “Competitive discounting, rising cost of raw materials and the cost of fuel bills to make the goods are all factors that the industry has to deal with. But there is lots of innovation out there, most clients, retailers and distributors are looking for something new because consumers, especially young people, enjoy experimenting with new tastes.”
Of course, this means that competing on the shelf is always difficult; consumers are bombarded with a wide variety of brands, packaging, point of sale and imagery, says Graeme Smith at Hampton Associates: “The key is to have a great product that people want – consumers will buy anything once, but if the product’s not up to scratch, no matter how good the advert was or innovative the packaging, chances are they won’t buy it again. On the shelf, you’ve got to do something different, something that is going to make the customer stop in the aisle and pick up that product. If Scotland’s produce is famous for anything it’s quality.”
It isn’t always so simple, though, continues Smith: “As a nation we do pretty well when it comes to marketing our produce. One criticism would be that we can overlook smaller producers, the little guy, but I guess most countries are guilty of that.”
This is something that Breeze Creative’s Craig Mackinlay agrees with: “Generally, the big companies are fantastic at marketing their produce. They know that a great product is so much more than just the actual product itself. Smaller companies who have grasped that to gain any inroads into the marketplace they must embrace the whole marketing concept also do well. It’s not just the product, it’s how it’s packaged, what that packaging says and the information that the producer is able to offer the consumer.
“There are small producers out there who simply cannot understand why their award-winning drink or food product isn’t selling and it’s often because their packaging, for example, isn’t a true reflection of what that brand is about. It stands in juxtaposition with the product and therefore consumers get confused. A fantastic product that is ‘dressed’ immaculately will find it a whole lot easier than a fantastic product that is simply wearing the wrong clothes.”
However, it is not always down to the point of purchase. Food and drinks brands, in particular, have found that creating a relationship with key markets and influencers can have spectacular effects too.
Story has enjoyed a long relationship with Glenmorangie’s Ardbeg whisky brand, helping the whisky win over 70 international effectiveness awards.
“This is a brand born out of direct marketing,”says Mullen. “From day one, the strategy was to create a relationship marketing programme as the brand-building technique. From a standing start, Ardbeg now has over 40,000 ‘Committee’ members in over 120 countries.”
But Scotland’s reputation for excellence in this competitive arena is one that continues to define the market. And the country’s tourism body has been quick to exploit its winning food and drink sectors.
“We know that food is an important factor when choosing a holiday destination,” says Visitscotland’s Sharon Makepeace. “We have a quality assurance scheme called EatScotland that grades various eating establishments – from the local chippy to Michelin star restaurants. The website www.eatscotland.com has become VisitScotland’s fastest growing website.”
However, it is not just the tourism body that has been attracting visitors through Scotland’s place at the table of food and drink marketing. The Taste Festival is ready to launch in Edinburgh again this year while, in Glasgow, Tesco-fronted Taste of Scotland was hugely successful in raising awareness of Scottish produce.
Angus Bell, marketing manager at Tesco Scotland, says: “It’s a good represenation of the food produce we have in Scotland and the geographical diversity from Shetland to Stranraer. We do a tremendous amount of work around instore signage and POS to highlight Scottish suppliers and products to the customers around Scotland. But it’s not just waving a Saltire flag around the store, it’s about giving our customers more information and letting them have the choice to buy Scottish.”
Continues Bell: “Local produce is something which our consumers like to see. The provenance and availability of food is becoming a bigger issue. We’ve recently formed another six local offices throughout the UK, and these are built on the model we have in Scotland.”
Denvir Marketing worked closely with Tesco to help organise the event. “More and more we are recognising that consumers are seeking out Scottish food and drink,” agrees Kirsty Lieberthal, the agency’s brands director. “Consumers feel good about supporting local suppliers but it also provides a them with a sense that they know where their food and drink has come from. Consumers are fascinated with the stories behind the brand and enjoy the authenticity and provenance this provides.”
While Scotland has been working at promoting its produce locally, in markets further afield it’s able to leverage its position through authenticity and provenance.
“A small area like Speyside has some of the best known food and drink brands in the world, if you include whisky and shortbread,” says Mike Lynch, commercial director at Nevis. “Baxters jam, for example, was on British Airways’ meals for years and no doubt had a massive audience. However, a Scottish ‘identity’ in the sense of its look and feel, packaging and promotion is not always necessary in becoming a global colossus. Johnnie Walker being a classic example,” adds Lynch.
“We’ve found in the past, particularly with American markets, that a certain products will perform better when they have what’s perceived as a Scottish feel,” continues Graeme Smith. “Mckenzie’s biscuits was a good example of this for us – the range we developed was purely for the American market and had to have a “traditional Scottish” approach. On the other hand with BrewDog ales the approach is exactly the same whether it’s home or abroad. The product was great and the packaging unique so it pretty much sold itself.”