Alessandra Bellini is just six weeks into the top marketing job at Tesco but tells The Drum why the future of its diversity-focused, food-porn style ads from the Food Love Stories campaign are already the focus of her attention.
The once embattled retailer today (12 March) reported a £1.28bn annual profit with group sales for the year up 4.3% to £49.9bn, marking its first full-year growth in seven years.
At a press conference, chief executive Dave Lewis was keen to laud its crowning as ‘Most Improved Brand’ by YouGov, saying customer perception against metrics such as quality are on the up in large part thanks to the most recent advertising push.
For Bellini, such results will be welcome having left the familiar surroundings of Unilever to join the retailer at a crucial point in its recovery. She said the decision to leave after over two-decades to become the chief customer officer was an easy one given the position Tesco holds in the market and the chance to build and differentiate a brand “that’s part of the fabric of the country”, In addition to overseeing customer experience across the multiple channels in which it operates, she will take on responsibility for its marketing output.
“What customers put in their trolley and how they shop has always been my passion and I thought this would be an amazing opportunity,” she said.
“The measures Dave [Lewis, CEO] talked about are so crucial and are for me the true indicators of the underlying potential of the brand. It’s very exciting. There’s momentum in the business, there’s energy. People are really motivated.”
Food Love Stories
While she’s only been in the business six weeks, among Bellini’s first tasks is how it develops the Food Love Stories campaign.
The activity – which pivoted away from the long-running Ruth Jones-fronted ad campaign – aims to highlight the quality of Tesco's grocery offer by sharing customers' own favoured recipes, for example "David’s 'hot or not' Christmas curry” or "Henry’s ‘being good tonight’ falafel".
Although Lewis didn’t break out the tangible impact the campaign has had on sales, he did reveal that the YouGov ‘Quality’ score has shot up “significantly” since it launched and overall it’s seen an improvement of 5% year-on-year in relation to perception.
Despite these successes, Bellini is working alongside the wider marketing team to work out where it goes in the future.
“You can see how it has accelerated some of the positive results in terms of the trust and differentiation of the brand. The idea is very strong, but like all ideas they need to be nurtured and developed and we will learn the different ways we can use it,” she said.
“It’s interesting because it put the customer at the centre of the idea. These are not [Tesco] stories, these are [customers’] Love stories.”
However, part of its evolution will see it move away from putting the customer at the centre the creative. In its Easter execution, for example, it has featured a supplier it has worked with for over 20 years that is behind an award-winning Easter egg.
“[We’re] flexing the idea to serve customer stories, our stories, supplier stories. It’s very interesting,” she said.
Managing inflation and the rise of the discounters
While Bellini’s confidence in taking the brand forward has been bolstered by “a business that is ahead of the targets it’s set itself,” challenges are nonetheless on the horizon and how Food Love Stories performs over Easter will be critical.
According to Kantar Worldpanel, inflationary pressures have seen grocery prices rise by 2.3% year-on-year (the highest rise for more than three years) and household budgets are being squeezed as a result.
Lewis maintained that Tesco, compared with the rest of the big four – Sainsbury’s, Asda, and Morrisons – will always have the lowest priced basket of goods but admitted that is has seen a resurgence in growth from the discounters Lidl and Aldi.
“We must think about whether that’s temporary or something more significant, and I believe Easter, when consumers typically trade up at larger stores, will be an indication on whether there’s been any fundamental shifts,” he said.
There is also concern over the impact that price fluctuation could have on its Brand Guarantee proposition – a key pillar of the marketing strategy. According to Tesco, people are 15% more likely to shop at the retailer because of that offering but the costs of running it are increasing.
“Those things that are common and can be bought everywhere – ie brands – we have the mechanism to match the pricing. What we have seen, which is a change, is that in the first half of this year the costs of Brand Guarantee are increasing as promotional activity increases,” said Lewis.
“We think it’s linked to cost price increases that bands and manufactures are binging to the market place and we’ll have to think about whether we adjust it after the Christmas period.”