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The Black Farmer on shaking up the industry with a ‘maverick brand’


By Imogen Watson | Senior reporter

October 27, 2020 | 6 min read

Founder of 'The Black Farmer', Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE arrived on this earth with a mission to change the face of food brands. As part of The Drum's Agencies4Growth festival, he shared his advice on building a ‘maverick brand’ and how the creative industry can do better when it comes to diversity.

Businessman and farmer, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE on building his maverick brand

Businessman and farmer, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE on building his maverick brand

Claiming to be the UK's only Black farmer, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones' brand is an extension of himself, where he took a lack of positive representation as an opportunity to shake things up a little.

Born in Jamaica, Emmanuel-Jones arrived on UK shores in the 1950's as part of the Windrush generation. Since then, his life has revolved around food. Starting from his father’s Birmingham allotment, which he claims “became an oasis away from the misery I was surrounded by,” to his days working on BBC's ‘Food and Drink’ TV series, he was inspired to start to his own marketing agency that specialised in food brands, including Lloyd Grossman, Kettle Chips and Plymouth Gin. In 2004 he bought his own farm, and a food brand soon ensued - the first to sell sausages without wheat.

“The Black Farmer brand is a maverick brand that managed to go mainstream,“ Emmanuel-Jones claims. “Many years ago I read it takes about 16 years before people discover you as a brand. It's been a hard slog.”

2020 has been a momentous year for Emmanuel-Jones. First, he was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list, and now he is on a mission to challenge the underrepresentation of Black people in the food industry and its role in perpetuating negative stereotypes, like Uncle Ben's rice.

To mark Black History Month this year, he encouraged major supermarkets, including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Lidl, Waitrose, Budgen’s, Ocado and Morrisons, to launch a cross-supermarket campaign that aims to raise £100,000 for the Mary Seacole Trust and the Black Cultural Archives. As part of the campaign, he introduced two Caribbean-inspired sausages, where the packaging featured the faces of Black British heroes, Mary Seacole and Lincoln Orville Lynch.

On this significant year in his long career, Emmanuel-Jones shares advice on building a ‘maverick brand’ and how the creative industry can do better when it comes to diversity.

Beware of research

After scratching his head for a while, pondering what on earth to name his brand, Emmanuel-Jones says it suddenly just came to him. “All of my next-door neighbours used to call me the Black farmer, which I thought was a great brand name,” he recalls. “In this age where people are uncomfortable, in marketing terms, it has the golden edge to it to make heads turn.”

Aware that the name would be controversial, Emmanuel-Jones decided to research first, and the results were downright against the idea. “It said people might be offended or upset, and sure at the time, people reported me. But it was an important lesson in life,” he claims. “Research will tell you what people were thinking about yesterday, not what they're thinking about tomorrow. That's where you need vision and purpose.”

He says that the whole point of marketing is to challenge the status quo and cause a reaction.

“If my brand goes some way to start addressing that question, then not only am I actually selling food products, but I'm starting a very, very important discussion,” he says.

Black Farmer 1

Call it out

“The marketing and creative industry need to look at themselves because it's way behind where it should be in terms of Black representation,” states Emmanuel-Jones.

He explains that he believes that the creative industry should not see 'colour bar' but should invite as much diversity as possible. “It's from diversity that you get fundamental creativity,” he says. “The more diverse you are, the more creative your organisation is.”

He says that as a white person, if your office isn't diverse enough, then you are responsible for letting that environment happen. “Gone are the days where you could sit back and say this had nothing to do with me. If you truly want to be part of the change, you need to call it out,” he contends.

He adds that the Black Lives Matter protests have given hope to the situation, relating it to the 'Me Too' movement. “It's the first time that Black people can stand up after long last and call systematic racism out without being accused of being difficult,” he says.

Black Farmer 2

Be audacious

“I'm a firm believer in - you have to be audacious,” says Emmanuel-Jones, which he says is an 'Americanism'. “The British hate the idea of audacity - it's all about staying in your station... don't get any bigger than where you're born. For someone like me, who was born from society's dustbin heap, the only way I was ever going to achieve anything was to have the audacity.”

Emmanuel-Jones explains that he lives his life on two principles. So, for anyone thinking about doing something different, firstly he says they should be truly focussed. "They're able to get rid of the white noise of living. So many people are so distracted by things that are not relevant," he says.

Secondly, he insists that most importantly, you need to have a passion. “Passion defies reason,” he asserts. “It defies logic. It helps you get over hurdles. It's not tangible. In the marketing business, everyone relies on research, data and evidence. If you are going to make fundamental decisions in your life based on evidence, you will never actually get past the starting block.”

Watch the panel here. For more insights, inspiration and celebration of the advertising industry, tune into this week’s Agencies4Growth festival.

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