By Rachel Gladwin

Food and drink PR and marketing that build brand loyalty is becoming ever more import to manufacturers as the inexorable rise of own-label products continues.

Supermarket own-brands represent the fastest-growing sector of the grocery industry. And just a few days ago, The Grocer magazine announced the creation of its Own-Label Accreditation Scheme.

It will give the best non-branded goods an independent seal of approval after testing by a consumer panel put together by the experts at Cambridge Market Research.

Products that were once seen as better value commodities will soon have their own, independently regulated status symbols. Whether they go on to inspire the loyalty or emotion that buyers invest in their favourite brands remains to be seen.

The rise of discount retailers such as Aldi and Lidl has created a new generation of savvy shoppers. They realise their staples, their fruit and veg, their meat, taste just as good at the lower price as they do from the more expensive stores.

Temptation to switch

Having given the other side a try, the temptation to switch to own-label products is obviously proving irresistible for some.

But others are still hooked on their favourite brands, filling their store cupboards, fridges and freezers with products they have grown up trusting, while making savings in areas where they feel safer straying.

Many companies come to a food and drink PR and marketing agency looking for help to build brand loyalty and tackle sales that are being eroded by own-label products.

The days when own-brand meant sacrificing quality and taste are long gone – supermarkets, even the discounters, are focusing on keeping standards high and prices low, especially at the top end of their ranges.

So why would a shopper pay an extra 10p for a bag of crisps, for example, when they could pick up a very similar own-brand version for less or even  on promotion?

With own-label products being cheaper and every penny in the purse a prisoner, brands have to convince shoppers there is something more to them. They have to give the brand a personality and make people feel that they are getting more than just the contents of the packet.

Brands need an X factor

A brand needs an X factor. For example, it’s my heartfelt belief that Heinz Baked Beans are just better. There is no second-place, no other choice – and there’s no reason for this other than the way they make me feel. I associate them with beans on toast made by my Mum, warmth, family and familiarity. They are also quintessentially British, even if they are an American invention.

And the reason I feel that way is because of the way marketers sold my Mum and then me on their brand values – values that we bought into. Heinz Beans have heritage and history, their quality never wavers, and they rescue families in need of a quick, cheap tea.

Where we start is by building up an understanding of the brand’s unique selling point – what makes it different? That often comes back to the brand’s history, values and culture.

Think about brewers – Brewdog’s Punk IPA, with its swagger and attitude. The brand wouldn’t have taken off in the same way if it had stuck to the traditional model espoused by the likes of Greene King, which also makes IPA.

And that’s one of the keys to building a food and beverage brand: linking it to an emotion, whether that be the desire to rebel, longing for the traditional, or the warm glow that baked beans, cooked by Mum, gives me.

Triumph in taste tests

The other route is to focus on quality or kudos – to hunt down those product awards, to triumph in the taste tests, to get that endorsement from the hottest TV chef of the moment. That doesn’t mean being boastful about a brand’s achievements, either – think how the likes of Innocent are self-effacing about their success, while letting you know they’re successful.

Brands also play up perceptions of quality in their food and drink PR – that a branded product is better, more cared for and more cherished by its producers than a generic rival decked out in supermarket livery. Often, those products, the original and the own-label, are made on adjacent production lines, with only minor tweaks to the recipes.

Traditional brands can also benefit from doing the unexpected, like linking up with influencers to post recipe ideas. What also helps build brands is their ability to come up with disruptive products that open up the market to new ideas and flavours. You don’t get that with the commodity that own-brands are. They follow new product developments, they don’t lead.

Buying brands is essentially a lifestyle choice – you pay a little more for the name, for the story, for the culture. The product differences may be imperceptible. But the way they make the buyer feel is far clearer. 

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