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How Pukka Pies pivoted to TikTok without alienating its core 55+ customer

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By Hannah Bowler | Senior Reporter

September 8, 2023 | 9 min read

Pukka Pies have long been a staple of British fish and chip shops and football matches but now the heritage brand is looking to grow outside its 55+ base and capture younger demographics by switching to a social-first strategy.

Pukka Pies for a new generation

Pukka Pies for a new generation / Pukka

The heritage pie business has existed for decades on a marketing and media strategy that focused on out-of-home around mid-tier football, linear TV and trade marketing in fish and chip shops.

The tactics built a loyal customer group, largely aged 55+, who propelled it to a pre-tax profit of £4.35m last year. But that figure was down on the year before (£5.85m). The brand realized it was failing to reach younger generations, many of whom had never heard of Pukka before. Its absence from digital platforms meant it couldn’t simply rely on its brand heritage to sell pies to Gen Z.

In April, Pukka executed an organic TikTok strategy that it claims has since generated a 700% uplift in followers in the past two months and racked up 43,000 engagements and 2.54 million video views.

Rachel Cranston, head of brand at Pukka Pies, is behind the new strategy. She describes herself as a “custodian of a heritage brand” and so has had to tread carefully to avoid alienating Pukka’s core heartland consumer base while pushing the brand forward.

She tells The Drum: “Our mantra is real food, real people, and real lives, and what we’ve seen on TikTok is people who are not trying to be something they’re not.”

@officialpukka Which slice of summer can you relate to the most? #pukkasliceofsummer #pukkapies #summerfood ♬ original sound - Pukka Pies

Cranston appointed The Wild by Jungle agency to pivot the brand’s media mix and implement its TikTok-led strategy. The new mix is a “real movement away from linear” to using TikTok as a “key broadcast channel.”

Tom McGirr, executive strategy director at The Wild, led the project. He says TikTok felt more aligned with Pukka’s brand ethos and the approach it wanted to take with community building.

This isn’t the first time Cranston has tried to relaunch the brand to a younger generation. Her first attempt at a social-led strategy led her to go all in on Instagram, but she admits it never felt like the right fit. “The thing with this type of brand is if we ever do anything not credible, or kind of anything that’s fake in any way, or superficial people will tell us,” Cranston says.

“Pukka isn’t trying to present this polished shop window, we know Instagram is a curated feed and it is sort of a glossy Argos catalog,” McGirr adds. “If you are looking at a platform where people are able to be authentic, have fun, win big, but also belly flop and not get so chastised for it, TikTok is the place you can do that.”

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Pukka dates back to 1960s Leicestershire when a husband-and-wife Trevor and Valerie Storer started making pies and since then has remained an independent pie-maker. The pair told The Drum that Pukka is serving an audience base that is typically underrepresented in brand communications; it’s the everyman, the traditional British family, it’s not a “tech-savvy progressive audience”.

McGirr says: “There’s an inherent challenge when you work with a legacy brand because there’s so much kind of cultural gunpowder in nostalgia, but nostalgia can also be baggage. It can make you feel dated and a little bit old school.”

Cranston believes the company’s recent push into new products, including its on-the-go ranges and meat-free pies and sausage rolls, give it the license to push into new places. “So that really has enabled our social strategy to evolve because you know, it’s not just somebody sat at home with meat and two veg,” she explains.

Recipes and grassroots football

TikTok has over 1 billion monthly active users and, unlike its social media counterparts, is seeing time spent on its app growing rather than declining. With a limited budget to hand, McGirr wanted to tap into this opportunity, saying TikTok can “drive massive reach without huge media spend you can go viral.”

But this depends on the right content. Pukka’s approach to organic engagement has been to weigh into food debates like what’s better on a pie, ketchup or brown sauce. “There are hot debates around food and Pukka has absolutely the right to tap into those,” McGirr says. Pukka is also creating content or pushed user content that shows pies can be enjoyed beyond “boiled veg and chips,” for example, recipes with honey-roasted carrots or summer salads.

@officialpukka looking for some sweet and tangy side ideas? we’ve got you sorted! ️ #pukkaplates ♬ original sound - Pukka Pies

Pulling on its heritage with content around grassroots football is a second part of its TikTok strategy that aims at getting younger people excited about non-professional football. Pukka is gearing up to launch a TikTok series all about the grassroots game.

Double down on bringing consumers into the feed. “The strategy that we actually laid out this year was how we get more sort of people on the street featuring content; you see so many food brands posting the same kind of the same glossy top-down recipes,” McGirr says.

“Social provides us with perfect platforms to share that evolution through relevant and engaging messages that resonate with a wide range of current and new consumers,” Cranston summarizes of her strategy. “It’s through keeping content real and true to who we are as a brand that makes people in the UK relate to us on social- that’s what makes us different and distinctively Pukka.”

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