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Marketing tips from the food industry’s top players

The period spanning from March 2019 to the present moment has been confounding and dizzying time for most of us, let alone those trying to operate within the food and leisure industry. Marketing Week just released its pick of the top 100 marketers within the food manufacturing space – which is well worth a read – and here we hope to distil the list down to its most useful insights.

Get granular, go local

Marketing Director for M&S, Sharry Cramond, seized the opportunity to open communication channels with her customers once the pandemic hit. Initially thought up to keep customers informed on changing opening hours, individual Facebook groups were set up for each of M&S’ stores up and down the country.

But once the initial excitement and confusion of lockdown 1.0 faded, the Facebook groups persisted, developing into important two-way communication channels for the company’s customers, reaching two million of them every week.

As well as a more personal communication method for customers, these Facebook groups also delivered important and highly granular marketing insights to Cramond and her team.

Facebook allows you to be in contact with your local M&S store wherever you go

Keeping it in-house

In a year dominated by SaaS businesses that continue to disrupt markets with their cost-effective outsourcing solutions, many businesses have opted to start outsourcing more and more of their processes.

Caspar Nelson, Head of Customer and Marketing for Iceland, sought to bring all of his company’s marketing processes in-house instead. This allowed the company a great deal more flexibility in tackling the various crises presented by the pandemic.

Iceland’s agility even allowed it to become the first store to offer an NHS-priority shopping hour after Nelson overheard it as a suggestion from a store manager. Keeping the processes in-house allowed the team greater control over projects, both creatively and practically.

Keep brand consistency, even if it bucks the trend

KFC – a brand famously known for its encouraging of hand-to-mouth tongue slathering – was bit in a bit of a difficult spot when a pandemic hit the world and people were encouraged to do anything but lick their fingers.

Megan Farren, KFC UK’s Chief Marketing Officer, took it all on the chin and championed the tongue-in-cheek “That thing we always say? Ignore it. For now” slogan as a direct response to ever-widening slogan chasm developing under KFC. The move was topical, humorous, and on-brand.

On top of this, a tone of levity amongst the pandemic gloom was maintained through the company’s highly successful #RateMyKFC hashtag in which consumers were encouraged to recreate KFC dishes at home for Twitter to judge. This consistency of brand image and awareness overseen by Farren have helped KFC remain one of the fast-food industry’s heavyweights throughout her time with the company.

Measures were taken to ensure this model absolutely did NOT lick their fingers

Don’t be afraid to reposition 

This point seemingly contradicts the last one entirely, but hear it out. Repositioning doesn’t have to mean abandoning what came before, more often than not it means identifying new avenues of growth with which to expand into.

This can be demonstrated by Claire Farrant, Marketing Director for Lidl UK, and her attack on the upper-market supermarkets with which she found her brand increasingly competing.

Lidl has seen itself grown from obscure discounter to one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets, with plans to grow to 1,000 stores in the country by 2023.

A large part of the brand’s continuing success is its ability to suck customers away from traditionally more expensive supermarkets (think M&S and Waitrose) with consistently cheap products. Recently, and instigated by Farrant, a pivot has been taken to provide more premium products in the hope that it will convince these “swing customers” to stay.

This has been followed by an accompanying shift away from purely advertising on price. This, in large part, has been done to avoid the negative stereotype of more expensive = better quality – ergo, less expensive = worse quality.

Lidl has gone from Lidl-known discounter to one of the UK's biggest supermarkets

Final thoughts

The food industry has found itself in a strange place over the last two years, facing somewhat an identity crisis on multiple fronts. First we saw the death of dining out in lockdown, followed by an explosion of online shopping and takeaways (while, paradoxically, consumers also started to cook for themselves more) and now we are beginning to experience somewhat of a return to normal.

We’ve had experience working closely with food and leisure companies before and indeed throughout the pandemic and would be more than happy to answer any questions you might have about your business. Don’t hesitate if you want to get in touch.

The most common answer to the question: “How are you?” when I have asked marketers over the past 18 months is: “You know, busy”.

By Rebecca Garland on 01/10/2021