CONSUMER PR: Cooking up a recipe for long-term success - As food brands age and lose much of their shine, PROs are having to become more creative in finding ways to refresh the public’s jaded palate

If it were possible to travel back in time to the dawn of the modern supermarket - the 1970s and 80s - it would be interesting to stroll the aisles and spot the number of food brands that still exist today.

If it were possible to travel back in time to the dawn of the

modern supermarket - the 1970s and 80s - it would be interesting to

stroll the aisles and spot the number of food brands that still exist

today.



Thirty years on, the packaging may have changed and the range of

products increased, but what about all those consumer promises? From

Lucozade to Bisto and Ryvita, some brands aren’t what they used to

be.



The problem for manufacturers is that brands aimed at a specific

audience get stuck in a time-warp. As one generation grows out of a

product, another needs to be brought in. Take Heinz Salad Cream, which

until this year was viewed as the salad dressing of choice for the

nation’s grannies.



According to Nigel Dickie, MD of Holmes and Marchant Counsel - the

agency that handles the Heinz brand - by 1998, many young adults raised

on mayonnaise had never even tasted the product.



Casting aside last year’s reports of Heinz’s plans to pull the product

altogether, the solution was to encourage 20-somethings to eat the

dressing with more than just salads. ’We amplified the messages of the

advertising - Any Food Tastes Supreme with Heinz Salad Cream - the radio

and in-store promotions and the web site,’ says Dickie. This used a

launch event featuring Denise Van Outen and Graham Norton and a

sponsored comedy tour, to provide opportunities for sampling.



This strategy gained entertainment buy-in with the consumer media. ’The

challenge of looking after the reputation of a brand that may have been

around for 85 years or more is that it has an established image and

there’s nothing inherently new or news-worthy to say,’ Dickie says.



But fad, fashion and technology dictate that food moves on. ’Consumers

are looking for different things today,’ says Amanda Cryer, managing

director of Nexus Choat PR. ’They are more demanding about products, so

brands can’t rest on their laurels.’ Tastes have changed, the way food

is made has changed and the way it is consumed has changed. And as

organic and functional foods such as Benecol show, consumers have

different concerns about food than even five years ago.



Numerous food scares mean consumers’ minds are focused on food

safety.



According to the British Egg Industry Council, it has taken ten years

for egg sales to recover from the crushing blow delivered by Edwina

Currie and the salmonella crisis.



Three years ago, in the face of an on-going sales slump, council

research revealed that housewives with young children were still not

convinced it was safe to eat eggs. This resulted in a complete marketing

turnaround and the introduction, two years ago, of the Lion Quality

mark, first seen in the 1950s. This was the brand guarantee of a

salmonella-free product.



With the help of a PR and advertising campaign strapped ’Fast Food And

Good For You,’ egg sales have risen by four per cent.



However, if ever there was a food brand that seemed destined to wither

in British affections, Spam is it. Over 60 years old, the chopped pork

and ham product is remembered by some as the staple of World War II

rationing and by others as the hero of Monty Python.



In 1998, Tulip International won the UK licence to produce and

distribute Spam. It hired Nexus Choat to position the brand for a new

and young audience.



Nexus Choat account director Vicky McDonald said: ’We wanted to make it

a fun brand, not a funny brand.’



Backed by celebrity chef Patrick Anthony, the PR team relaunched Spam at

London’s Atlantic Bar and Grill, producing a Spam recipe book featuring

modern dishes. To retain the fun of the brand, the agency set up a Spam

Fan Club. Initially, this was in response to the brand’s star role as

the booby prize in a remake of top 1970s quiz show Mr and Mrs with

Julian Clary. Now, the club has over 1,000 members, a regular

newsletter, and a merchandising catalogue. ’It’s also a great way for us

to go to the media,’ adds McDonald.



But if consumers’ priorities are constantly shifting, this can lure

brands into following fashion and losing out. After four years with

Noyes and Young PR, Findus recently returned its frozen recipe meals

range, including Crispy Pancakes, to Pielle Consulting.



In 1985, Findus created the calorie-controlled recipe market with its

Lean Cuisine brand. However as Pielle managing director Carol Friend

says: ’There is no doubt that in the early 90s it lost its way.’ Tempted

by the broader ’healthy eating’ concept, the brand stretched beyond its

capabilities and lost market share as it competed on every front.



According to Friend, the Lean Cuisine brand will not be returning to its

former positioning as diet plan guru. ’What we will be saying is

’whatever calorie-controlled regime you’re on - here’s an option that’s

easy and convenient’.’ With an audience of dieters - a constantly

changing market - this is not an easy proposition.



As the media landscape becomes more complex and the food market more

competitive, the revival of established brands remains one of the most

challenging areas of consumer and trade PR.



The only consolation is that people will always need to eat.



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