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
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
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
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
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
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.