With some major national events on the horizon – the London Olympics, Paralympics and the Diamond Jubilee – the UK looks set to see an upsurge in patriotic sentiment this summer. The country’s food manufacturers and retailers have invested a pretty penny to ensure that they can cash in on this jubilant atmosphere. However, Katy Askew suggests, the industry should be equally prepared for the comedown.
The UK has seen a swathe of product development and marketing initiatives highlighting the “Britishness” of products as the nation gears up for a summer of events that are sure to get flags flying.
Walk down any supermarket aisle in the UK right now and you will be greeted with a sea of red while and blue, as food makers put the union jack on their packaging.
Soreen’s malt loaf, Daniels Group’s Farmhouse Fare, Kerry Group’s Wall’s and McIlhenny Company’s tabasco (the only US food group to have been granted a royal warrant) – to name but a few brands – have all been cloaked in the flag. And let’s not forget official Olympics sponsor Kraft Foods-owned Cadbury, which has decked up the likes of its flagship Dairy Milk brand for the season. Not to mention those rather disturbing cream egg adverts.
Meanwhile, other food group’s have opted for the nostalgia option, issuing limited edition packaging from the 1950s, when the queen took the thrown. The likes of Heinz and Kellogg have unveiled vintage limited edition packaging for their flagship brands. Heinz Beanz and Spaghetti and Kellogg’s Coco Pops, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes and Frosties will all receive a Jubilee makeover.
Elsewhere, there have also been a number of “British” inspired product launches. United Biscuits is redesigning the packs for its McVitie’s Digestives brand to promote its “Proud to be British” positioning and the firm has also launched a limited edition McVitie’s Diamond Jubilee Biscuits Selection. Princes’ has introduced a range of British Classics sandwich pastes, while Premier Foods is introducing a British Farmer’s loaf to its Hovis range, which aims to celebrate “Britishness” and British farmers.
In the world of retail, there have also been various of high-profile initiatives.
Sainsbury’s has unveiled a host of moves that it hopes will attract patriotic consumers looking to celebrate the events.
According to CEO Justin King, the retailer is expecting a sales uplift from the Diamond Jubilee on a similar scale to Easter. And in order to ensure it gets a slice of the pie, the firm has shown support for various events, including the Sainsbury’s Jubilee Family Festival in Hyde Park, the Thames Riverboat Pageant and beacon lightings that are to take place throughout the country. The retailer has also been named lead corporate sponsor for the Woodland Trust’s Jubilee Woods Project, which wants to plant 6m native British trees to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the Paralympic Games.
Meanwhile, Waitrose has launched a range of sandwiches, cakes and merchandise “inspired by Britain” and created by British designers and The Co-operative Group is “gearing up for one of the biggest summers ever” by giving away GBP10,000-worth of goodies to communities organising jubilee street parties.
And today (17 April), Marks and Spencer CEO Marc Bolland revealed the retailer’s research found consumer sentiment over the past two months had lifted to the highest levels seen for 18 months, reaching “stable-positive” as March’s warmer weather lifted spirits and consumers looked ahead to the summer timetable of events.
The M&S chief insisted this morning that the firm was prepared to take full advantage of this celebratory mood, introducing a variety of products to celebrate its British heritage from speciality cakes to a Winston Churchill door stop.
The group is well-placed to benefit from increased sales of party food over the diamond jubilee and Olympic weeks has also centred its marketing initiatives on the upcoming events, adopting the strapline: “On Your Marks” to tie-in with the Olympic fever sweeping the nation.
However, while it will pay in the short-term to jump on the “brand Britain” band wagon, in the longer term it would also be prudent to keep a weather eye on the broader economic environment. And here it will take more than raised spirits (and raised glasses of bubbly) to ensure that fickle consumer sentiment remains upbeat.
One suspiciously dark cloud on the horizon is uncertainty surrounding inflation. Figures out today from the Office of National Statistics revealed that CPI inflation rose to 3.5% during March, up from 3.4% in February and reversing the trend of slow-but-steady declines seen since September.
A number of food items became more expensive on the month, the ONS revealed, with fruit, bread and cereals and meat prices all higher.
The Bank of England has suggested inflation will fall to below 2% later this year. While BoE policy maker Adam Posen insisted the increase in inflation does not change the bank’s assessment, a few more months like March could make this prediction look like quite a stretch.
Meanwhile, the spectre of joblessness remains ever present, with pundits predicting that unemployment could approach 9.3% of the UK’s total workforce by the middle of next year, with just short of 3m people out of work. In other words, unemployment levels are likely to get worse before they get better.
A new study from the TUC today again highlighted the impact that the issue is having on the UK’s young people. The TUC concluded that almost 1m jobs have been lost since 2007 in industries including retail, manufacturing and hospitality, areas that traditionally employ high numbers of young people.
Not to seem a doom-monger, it is also worth highlighting something on the ‘good news’ side of the ledger: the IMF today said “some optimism has returned” to the global economy and left the UK’s growth forecast at 2% for 2013.
While optimism is in the air this summer and the economic outlook could perhaps be summed up as “not quite as bad as we feared”, some serious economic questions remain.
If consumers do splurge as expected to celebrate this summer’s events, perhaps the food industry should also brace itself for belt-tightening when shoppers, no longer distracted by royal spectacle and sporting fever, return to reality with a bump. If this happens, it could take more than a union jack to coax open pocket books.