By Claire Amber Young

Christmas is coming – and so are all those novelty foodstuffs that grab the headlines. They might not be staples in the larder, but products like Walkers’ Brussels Sprout crisps are staples of festive food and drink PR campaigns.

The food stunt has long been a favourite tactic of those looking for publicity. Just as an example, one of Scotland’s supposed national dishes – the deep-fried Mars Bar – was dreamt up by a tabloid journalist to promote his pal’s chippy in Stonehaven two decades ago.

Stunts live long in the memory. And that’s what Walkers is relying on as it and other brands use the technique to boost brand awareness.

Pretty much everyone who tries those Brussels Sprout crisps is expecting to dislike them. It’s a challenging product – the kind of thing you’d eat for a dare, or because someone in the office has bought them to share for a laugh.

It’s a product that’s all about promoting Walkers, which has a history of stunts involving its flavours (remember Salt & Lineker, anyone?). Much of the firm’s marketing hinges on being talked about for off-the-wall and fun choices.

This festive season, it is even offering Christmas-themed multipacks, one for Sprout Lovers (with sprouts, turkey and stuffing, and glazed ham in the pack) and one for Sprout Haters (cheese and cranberry replaces the sprouts).

Controversial combinations

The company isn’t responding to a demand with these products, there’s no suddenly emerging taste trend; it’s purely for the novelty, for being seen and for making that brand impression. And as a by-product of this food and drink PR stunt, they’ve produced an easy stocking-filler for people who love (or loathe) sprouts.

These new, novel flavours and controversial combinations certainly grab the attention – and not just of journalists. I saw Iceland’s Marmite Brussel Sprouts (surely the most divisive foodstuff ever invented) crop up in my Facebook feed three times in one evening last week.

The novelty aspect, combined with the demand for Christmassy copy, means that there’s a newsiness to these products that journalists find difficult to ignore and people just can’t help talking about. That’s why the festive special is a guaranteed food and drink PR win.

Thus, we saw Lidl getting plaudits for its £7.99 Christmas dinner for six inside a Yorkshire Pudding rap, while Aldi landed coverage with its foot-long pigs in blankets. Yum.

Sainsbury’s entered the fray with its own pigs in blankets contribution – this time as a tea, alongside a sprout-flavoured one. You can bet only one bag from each of those boxes will ever find itself in hot water.

Novelty drives brand awareness

For the supermarkets, this kind of own-brand product reminds shoppers that they’re there. For brands the idea is to get themselves spotted by retailers and consumers.

Retailers will be thinking about how the novelty products drive brand awareness, and see that the brand has money to put into these kind of promotional products that have a very short life on the supermarket shelves. They also know that loyal consumers will be willing to take a chance on this kind of product, while the novelty might draw in people who are new to the brand.

It’s established brands that have a strong position in the public conscience that branch out like this. It doesn’t particularly matter whether these short-term novelty products succeed – they have the freedom to do these kind of promotional activities for a limited time. It’s not a risk for them to invest in the product research, development and manufacturing in the way it would be for a smaller brand. In the end, it’s great PR, and shareable social content.

And who knows, some of these flavour combinations might stick around. Not that long ago, the idea of sweet and salty popcorn seemed outlandish. Pringles is trying a similar surprise with its festive flavour – Prosecco and Pink Peppercorn. Who knows – could these celebratory crisps take off? 

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