Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pandit, March 20, 2022
Are UK consumers willing to pay more for locally produced food? Will they buy imported products if the food they want is out of season in the UK? Run food and nutrition campaigns, e.g British food fortnight and Veganuary convey their messages? Do consumers feel brand loyalty to supermarket chains that support UK growers and producers, or are price and convenience more important? Is supporting local farmers more important to consumers than buying organic? Consumers buy products with a seal of approval on the label, but do they know the standards behind that seal? Are UK supermarkets supporting locals or importing more foreign products? How can supermarket executives stand behind the UK fresh produce industry to reinforce British food branding and increase sales?
These are some of the questions that Jan England and Clare Otridge, Managing Director and Account Director at England Marketing, respectively, will answer presenting Do Consumers Still Love British Food? at the London Produce Show 2022. Based in Cambridgeshire, England, the mother-daughter marketing team have worked with Love British Food, a non-profit campaign to promote consumer support and consumption of locally produced food.
Jan England was delighted to have the opportunity to speak to the Perishable Pandit and share her latest consumer research at the London Produce Show. We asked Linda Brockman, Editor at Pundit sister magazine PRODUCE BUSINESS, to find out more:
Q: Jan, we loved you research in the past. What inspired this particular research into British consumers and their local preferences?
JE: The love british food Campaign has been around for about 20 years. We work a lot with consumers on behalf of our clients, but we cannot share this information as it is commercially sensitive. So occasionally we do this for free so we can share the results. It’s an excuse to go to our panel and get some original data that we can use ourselves. Due to Covid and the lockdown, we set up a panel for around 2,000 people. We did a freebie for Love British Food on the basis that we can use the results ourselves, hence this review. Therefore, we will present relevant parts of the report and what it means for the fresh produce industry. We base the presentation on our current research project, “Do consumers still love British food?”
Q: What does your panel look like?
A: They are all foodies with a passion for what they eat and how it is made. Our panelists are genuinely engaged and love to voice their opinions. One recently wrote a 600 word essay and provided lots of useful insight. They have a bit more knowledge about the food industry, so we’re getting much better answers. We started small by asking friends and family to attend focus groups, but when Covid hit we lost quite a few people. We couldn’t gather and had to close our taste testing center. We decided to do more online so my daughter Clare and the younger team, who are very into social media, spread the word that way. We recruited more and have expanded into Scotland and Wales so it’s a nationwide project. Depending on the demographics needed from a customer, England Marketing can begin to segment them more efficiently. So if someone says, “I want to hear from people aged 35 to 45 with young children,” we can start and have done that for this project.
Q: I saw a list of national food days celebrated in England. Apparently, National Veggie Month is celebrated in the UK in March. There are many other examples such as UK Picnic Week and Fair Trade Fortnight. Do these campaigns help raise awareness about nutrition and health?
A: There are many campaigns in the UK to promote This Food or That Food week, but I don’t think consumers get the message half the time. For the past 20 years, Love British Food has hosted a fortnightly British Food Fortnight in September and October, encouraging people to choose British food when grocery shopping or eating out. When England Marketing surveyed consumers to see how much awareness there was of the UK food campaign and other campaigns, there wasn’t much.
Q: How can the industry raise awareness if the current method is not that effective?
A: While people care about what they eat, they don’t have the time to research the foods they consume. When they go to the supermarket, they are usually in a hurry. I think there are too many campaigns of this nature in the UK. I think the food industry and the fresh produce industry need to work more together and maybe work more closely with retailers to get the message across. The industry is quite fragmented. Fresh produce doesn’t have a lot of branding – we don’t have billboards like in the US. And there is no marketing budget. Without a brand, it’s quite difficult to push the credentials. With so many campaigns, the message becomes watered down and confusing for the consumer. Consumers are willing to pay more for British produce, but supermarkets need to tell more of the story.
On occasion farmers have benefited from government funding, but by and large the funding goes to administration or a bit of support but does not help with marketing. Breeders with the AHDB (Development Committee for Agriculture and Horticulture) decided to disband the horticultural branch of the organization because they felt that the horticultural branch was not doing anything useful. They would rather spend their royalty money promoting themselves because the industry just isn’t after them.
Q: Were any of your findings surprising?
A: I don’t think there are any real surprises for anyone in the industry. I think the whole food industry in the UK is broken and consumers have confirmed that. We addressed it in our report and we will discuss it in our presentation. With the war in Ukraine, prices will rise enormously, leaving many people in a difficult situation with food and fuel. We don’t have a strategy to support what’s going to happen globally now.
Q: What can the UK government do?
A: Consumers want government to take a stand on food. Henry Dimbleby of the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairswrote the nutritional strategy and the second half of it released last summer, but the government didn’t report on it. at COP26, the climate change conference in Glasgow in November, food was not covered at all and should have been. Even consumers say more should be done to promote British food at local and national levels of government. Local governments should insist that we use local food to feed local schools and hospitals, but the government has not implemented this.
Many years ago we conducted a global series of consumer focus groups in the English speaking world. The USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland and some other countries.
I moderated the focus groups and of course didn’t show my role in the industry.
Some of the groups were in southern England very close to the English Channel. When leading the groups, we noticed a strong preference for local. We also found a much more discerning consumer than we did in America, with relatively deep knowledge of subjects such as shipping local products to remote depots for redistribution.
But we’ve also found that the definition of ‘local’ in the minds of UK consumers has virtually nothing to do with geography!
After consumers would give speeches in the group about the importance of locality, we would ask for clarification. “So you want a lot of the products to come from the north of France, about 30 miles across the Channel to reduce the carbon footprint and so on.” The group members raised their voices in unison and said, “No, no , we don’t mean that.” In fact, they considered produce from 800 miles away inland Scotland as their version of local and produce across the Channel in France as alien and distant.
Something tells me this presentation with Jan and Clare is going to be extremely insightful!
Come to the London Produce Show and Conference and gain insight into this new research. Admission is free and you can register here.
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We look forward to seeing you at ExCeL for th The relaunch of The London Produce Show and Conference!