British-made products have long been associated quality and trust, but research suggests brands need to work harder to effectively market the advantages of buying British or consumers will simply opt for cheaper, imported alternatives.
Currently, just 51% of Brits say they prefer to eat food produced locally even if that means they have fewer items to choose from, which is well below the global average of 63% and the lowest figure from all 30 nations surveyed by market research firm Ipsos Mori.
But with Brexit looming, the variety of produce available on supermarket shelves could well decline, given the price of imported goods has been pushed up by sterling’s weakness and could rise further if new tariffs are introduced. The UK currently supplies about 50% of its own food and imports 30% from the EU, according to government data.
So with potentially fewer, less affordable choices, there may be more compelling reasons to buy British, which gives brands an opportunity to play up their British heritage.
One of those brands is Dairy Crest, which makes products such as Utterly Butterly, Country Life, Davidstow and Cathedral City. Its marketing director Lee Willett says he can’t base his assumptions on any “hard facts” but believes there might be a shift in Brits’ attitudes toward local goods post-Brexit.
“Brits are likely to support our own farmers over any other people, but [marketing Britishness] needs to be handled carefully because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, so you don’t want to go too hard on that bandwagon,” he says.
“What you can do is highlight your supply chain and highlight where you are supporting local farmers because there will be a shift and I think people will start moving toward those [local] products.”
Consumers tend to say they’re interested in British products when responding to a research document but are they as interested when they’re standing at fixtures comparing the prices of a commodity like butter or cheese?
Lee Willet, Dairy Crest
Reinforcing its commitment to British produce is something Morrisons is also keen to do. All the beef, lamb and fresh poultry it sells is British and two-thirds of what it sells overall is also produced in Britain, “so we have to play to our strengths and recognise that,” says CEO David Potts.
Brexit might have triggered uncertainty among consumers, but cost and convenience continue to dominate their purchasing decisions, coupled with the fact many varieties of fruit and vegetables cannot be grown in Britain’s climate, forcing consumers to opt for foreign produce.
But one thing remains clear: Britain is well behind the rest of the world when it comes to eating locally, meaning farmers and supermarket giants alike have plenty of work to do to enhance Brits’ enthusiasm for local products post-Brexit.
Last year, Morrisons lauched a TV ad that aimed to “show who Morrisons is” while highlighting the “close relationship” it has with suppliers and how most of the food it makes comes from locally sourced produce.
“[The campaign] brought to life the fact Morrisons has a lot of reach into British farming and it reminded both ourselves and everyone else that a lot of what we sell is British. We would always want to do more of that, and this year is probably a good time to do it,” Potts explains.
Similarly, discounter Aldi is not worried about the UK’s exit from the EU as more than three-quarters of its total sales come from products sourced from UK suppliers, putting it at a “real advantage”, according to the supermarket’s communications director Richard Thornton.
“Whatever happens in the future, we will be far less affected than retailers who rely more heavily on imported products,” he adds.
With so much uncertainty around Brexit, consumers are understandably lacking confidence as they wait to see what impact it might have on their wallets. More than two-thirds (67%) say they think the cost of food is going to get worse next year, according to the Ipsos Mori data, compared to 48% globally….