The Dynamic Duo! Mother-daughter team Jan England and Clare Otridge reveal new study ‘Do consumers still love British food’
Perishable Pundit by Jim Prevor, March 20, 2022
Are UK consumers willing to pay more for locally produced food? Will they buy imported produce when the food they want is not in season in the UK? Are food and nutrition campaigns such as British Food Fortnight and Veganuary getting their messages across? Do consumers feel brand loyalty to supermarket chains that demonstrate their support for UK growers and producers, or is price and convenience a more important factor? Is supporting local farmers a higher priority for consumers than buying organic? Consumers buy products with a quality assurance mark on the label, but do they know what standards are behind that seal? Are UK supermarkets supporting locals or bringing in more foreign produce? How can supermarket managers support the UK fresh produce industry to reinforce the brand message of British foods and increase sales?
These are some of the questions answered by Jan England and Clare Otridge, Managing Director and Account Manager respectively at England Marketing, who will present ‘Do Consumers Still Love British Food? at the London Produce Show 2022. The mother-daughter marketing team from Cambridgeshire, England, worked with Love British Food, a non-profit campaign to promote consumer support and consumption of locally produced food.
Jan England expressed her excitement at having the opportunity to speak with the Perishable Pundit, as well as share her recent consumer research findings at the London Produce Show. We asked Linda Brockman, editor of Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, to find out more:
Q: Jan, we were seduced by your research in the past. What inspired this specific research on UK consumers and their local preferences?
JE: The Love British Food campaign has been around for about 20 years. We do a lot of work with consumers on behalf of our clients, but we cannot share this information because it is commercially sensitive. So, from time to time, we do this on a voluntary basis, so that we can share the results. It’s an excuse to go to our panel and get original data that we can use ourselves. Thanks to Covid and confinement, we have put together a panel of around 2,000 people. We gave away a giveaway for Love British Food on the basis that we can use the results ourselves, hence this report. We will therefore present relevant elements of the report and what it means for the fresh produce industry. We base the presentation on our recent research project, “Do Consumers Still Love British Food?”
Q: What does your sign look like?
A: They are all passionate foodies about what they eat and how it is produced. Our panelists are really engaged and they love to give their opinion. One recently wrote a 600 word essay and provided lots of useful information. They have a little more knowledge of the food industry, so we get much better answers. We started small by asking our friends and family to participate in focus groups, but when Covid hit we lost quite a few people. We couldn’t get together and had to close our tasting center. We decided to do more online, so my daughter Clare and the young team, who love social media a lot, spread the word that way. We’ve recruited more and expanded into Scotland and Wales, so it’s a national project. Depending on the demographics a client requires, England Marketing can start to segment them more effectively, so if someone says, ‘I want to hear from people aged 35-45 with young children’, we can start to do and we did. for this project.
Q: I have seen a list of national food days celebrated in England. Apparently National Veggie Month is celebrated in March in the UK. There are many other examples, such as the UK Picnic Week and the Fair Trade Fortnight. Do these campaigns raise awareness about nutrition and health?
A: In the UK we run a lot of campaigns to promote ‘This Food’ or ‘That Food’ week, but half the time I don’t think consumers get the message. For 20 years, Love British Food has organized a British Food Fortnight, which encourages people to choose British food when shopping or dining out for two weeks in September and October. When England Marketing polled consumers to see how well known the British Food campaign and other campaigns were, there wasn’t much to it.
Q: How can the industry increase awareness if the current method is not so effective?
A: While people care about what they eat, they don’t have time to research the foods they eat. When they go to the supermarket, they are usually in a hurry. My opinion is that there are too many such campaigns in the UK. I think the food industry and the fresh produce industry need to collaborate more and maybe work more closely with retailers to get the message out. The industry is quite fragmented. Fresh produce doesn’t have much branding – we don’t have promotional signs like you have in the US. And there is no marketing budget. Without a brand, it is quite difficult to push references. With so many campaigns, the message is watered down and it becomes confusing for the consumer. Consumers are willing to pay more for British goods, but supermarkets need to tell more about the story.
Sometimes farmers have received government funding, but on the whole the funding is for administration or a little support, but does not help with marketing. The growers of the AHDB (Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board) decided to disband the horticulture side of the organization because they didn’t think the horticulture branch was doing anything useful. They would rather spend their royalty money promoting themselves because the industry just wasn’t supporting them.
Q: Were any of your discoveries surprising?
A: I don’t think there are any real surprises for anyone in the industry. I think the whole food industry is broken in the UK and consumers have echoed that. We talked about it in our report and we will discuss it in our presentation. With the war in Ukraine, prices are about to increase enormously, which will put many people in a difficult position with food and fuel. We don’t have a strategy in place that supports what is about to happen globally now.
Q: What can the UK government do?
A: Consumers want the government to take a stronger stance on food. Henry Dimbleby of the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs drafted the Food Strategy and published the second half of it last summer, but the government has not reported on it. At COP26, the climate change conference in Glasgow in November, food wasn’t really covered at all and it should have been. Even consumers say more should be done to promote British food at local and national government level. Local councils should be insisting that we use local food to supply local schools and hospitals, but the government has not put this in place.
Many years ago, we hosted a global series of consumer focus groups in the English-speaking world. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Ireland and some other countries.
I moderated the focus groups and, of course, I kept my role in the industry private.
Some of the groups were in the south of England, very close to the English Channel. In leading the groups, we found a strong preference for the local. We also found a much more sophisticated consumer than we have in America, with a relatively deep understanding of issues such as sending local products to distant depots for redistribution.
But we also found that in the minds of the British consumer, the definition of ‘local’ had almost nothing to do with geography!
In fact, after consumers in the group gave speeches about the importance of local, 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 etc.” The group participants raised their voices, in unison, saying, “No, no, that’s not what we mean.” In fact, they viewed produce from the Scottish hinterland, 800 miles away, as their version of local and produce from across the Channel in France as foreign and distant.
Something tells me that this presentation with Jan and Clare will be extremely revealing!
Come to the London Produce Show and Conference and get a taste of this new research. Admission is free and you can register here.
There are still some sponsorship and exposure opportunities. If you want to seize an opportunity, let us know here!
We look forward to seeing you at ExCeL for the The relaunch of the London Produce Show and Conference!