British Meat Processors Association
British Meat Processors Association
Deckchairs on a British beach

What is ‘Britishness’ and how can we sell it successfully?

As we prepare to leave the single market we need to start thinking about persuading overseas consumers that ‘British is best.’ This raises the question of what ‘Britishness’ is and how can we successfully sell it to the rest of the world?

How successfully the British nation brand is managed and promoted has come into sharp focus recently after the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committeeannounced its latest consultation into the ‘Brand Britain’ campaign.

This is a timely review of how well the campaign is doing and how effective it is proving to be both at home and in overseas markets.

The ‘British’ brand, means different things to different people. It’s a patchwork of perceptions and pre-conceived ideas built around what we’re told through news and media along with what we’re presented with in dedicated marketing campaigns. It’s also what we experience through actually buying productsor interacting with Britain and its people. It embodies what the nation is known for (both good and bad) and our reputation.

How do overseas consumers see British food?

According to a 2015 Nation Brands Index study, Britain is not strongly associated with food as an export. South Africans make the strongest connection at 36% of people surveyed, but many countries have a much lower association. Japan for example saw just 7% of people making the connection between Britain and food.

Another interesting observation comes from AHDB’s most recent ‘Horizons report:International Consumer Buying Behaviour’. It shows that overall awareness of British food amongst overseas consumers is very low. When asked ‘what does ‘British food’ make you think of?’, only 4% of respondents said ‘meat’ with no food type getting over a 5% response. Nearly half of consumers from all countries surveyed, simply ‘didn’t know’.

How do British consumers see British produce?

AHDB’s ‘Consumer Focus: Buying British’ report captures market sentiment here in the UK. It suggests that, while people feel positive about buying British and say they would try to do so whenever they can, they are increasingly price-sensitive. Even a modest price increase of 10% could see 30% of shoppers opting for lower priced imports.

The report also offers an interesting glimpse into future tastes and trends, showing that younger shoppers find ‘Britishness’ less compelling, instead basing their buying decisions on quality, health and convenience.

A useful insight is that, when it comes to food, ‘Britishness’ is partly about patriotism (benefiting local farmers and the economy) but also synonymous with freshness, sustainability, environmentalism and traceability.  These are the attributes we need to promote more effectively. 

Is the ‘Britain is Great’ campaign working?

This is not a simple question to answer because it depends on how ‘success’ is measured. The official metrics, an overview of which can be found on the National Audit Office website here may not be the most reliable measure because the time scale and assumptions employed were established before the Brexit referendum.

Many of the defined categories of economic benefit and growth rely on also ‘intention to spend’ and forecast numbers rather than actual data. And, the role the campaign played becomes harder to quantify the more other factors like commercial diplomatic work start impacting growth.

In reality, the ‘Great’ campaign is focused on a general positioning of Britain as an attractive destination for tourism, education and investment; it is not a focused product category campaign. It falls to individual sectors and companies to use the established ‘Great’ brand assets as the basis for their own, more specific marketing activities to sell into export markets where the ‘Great’ brand is being promoted.

What does the industry think?

Figures from the food industry have expressed various reservations about relying on the ‘Britain is Great’ campaign. In their latest ‘Consumer Focus’ and ‘Horizons’ reports, AHDB contend that ‘behaviours and motivation of shoppers differ greatly across the globe and we cannot rely on Brand Britain alone to increase our exports. A one-size-fits-all approach to promotional activities will not work going forward’.

AHDB’s Market Development Officer, Christine Watts adds that ‘in a post-Brexit world we can see that simply featuring the Union flag on products is not enough and so industry needs to demonstrate the other attributes they provide to meet consumer requirements around quality, provenance…and so forth’.

It’s back to finding a more targeted way of leveraging the right qualities into the right markets.

This sentiment was echoed by respondents to a survey that was carried out by England Marketing on behalf of The Grocer magazine. In a recent article The Grocer reported one representative of a national retailer as saying: ‘There is too much in the farming press about how great we are. They need to be crystal clear on why we are great and what it means.’

Another contributor to the same survey commented that ‘The industry seems to think consumers need to understand their industry. But other sectors aren’t like this. The industry need to listen, not try to convince people.’

What more can be done for the meat industry?

If Brand Britain is focused on general positioning, we need to deliver more targeted marketing that is specific to the tastes and demands of each of our different geographical markets.

What this industry is not currently doing well is putting out a concerted, singular message that everyone can get behind. Currently, we have multiple fragmented organisations representing subsets of the industry, each committing small budgets to an individual message. We need more collaboration and pooling of resource.

If one properly funded organisation were to take on the task of marketing product in a coordinated way we would get more ‘bang for our buck’ and be able to deliver a much stronger and more effective message to consumers both here and overseas. It would be something that retailers could get behind to further magnify the message.

This approach works extremely well in other countries. Australia’s levy board, Meat and Livestock Australia(MLA) is a prime example of this. As the name suggests, they span the whole meat industry from farm to fork, which contributes to their effectiveness.

Through careful stewardship of the brand, MLA have managed to establish meat as part of the national identity, injecting a heavy dose of patriotism and pride into their marketing campaigns over the years. The result is that MLA has managed to build a formidable position for Australian meat in the minds of consumers.

Funding is also a significant driver of success. In the 2016-7 financial year MLA spent £30.5m (A$53.9m) on marketing red meat aloneto consumers. Their entire budget for marketing, promotion and market intelligence was £50.4m (A$88.9m), which is set to rise.

Contrast that with around £10m spent on marketing over the same period in the UK and overseas by MLA’s equivalent levy body, AHDB Beef and Lamb. Per capita the difference is significant: £1.27 (A$2.24) per citizen in Australia versus around £0.16 in the UK.

Jane King, CEO at AHDB has also recognised the need for more collaboration, saying “The industry needs to be less fragmented and join forces around common goals”.

There seems to be an appetite for collaboration among industry groups here in the UK but currently no one is stepping up to take the lead. However, without a clear, cohesive and well-funded message, the British meat and livestock sector will come under increasing pressure from different quarters but with dwindling resources to fight back.

About BMPA

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) is the leading trade association for the meat and meat products industry in the UK.

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