Heritage brands must not get stuck in the past, says Premier Foods marketing director

Helen Warren Piper, the marketing director of grocery brands at Premier Foods, argues heritage is a strong foundation but brands need to modernise to avoid becoming obsolete.

Helen Warren-Piper: heritage brands need to innovate to stay relevant
Helen Warren-Piper: heritage brands need to innovate to stay relevant

When we study the top 100 grocery brands in the UK, we notice that there has been a shift in which brands command consumer love over the past 10 years – with many historical brands falling down the list.

In our fast moving, price conscious, problem solving world, more traditional and much loved brands must make themselves relevant to younger consumers, or suffer the consequences, as the ‘new kids on the block’ muscle in on their shelf space.

What happens when you are a long-standing brand and not seen as fashionable?

Where we have seen upward movement in the Top 100 is amongst the younger, more innovative, fashionable, problem/solution brands.  

But what happens when you are a long-standing brand and not seen as fashionable? It's a challenge to evolve brands that have been around for ages to meet the needs of today’s consumers. But if you get it right, it's a big opportunity.

For many grocery brands the target consumer is Mum.  Marketing ran a lengthy and thought provoking piece this month on marketing to mums, and I couldn’t agree more. It states that marketers need to realise that a ‘typical mum figure’ is no more.

'Mum' wants to spend less time cooking

Although the emotional and practical needs of their families are still important, they have other outside pressures such as work and finances to worry about – whilst still wanting to retain their own identity and be seen as something more than a ‘mum’.

Mum wants to spend less time cooking, but deliver guaranteed family-pleasing results, which are nourishing and tasty.  This is driving a major trend for convenience, counter-balanced by a desire to provide ‘real food’ – all a far cry from the 1970s or 1980s stay at home mum whose life revolved around the family meal and home.  Cooking times have significantly dropped from 60 mins in 1980 to 32 mins in 2013. 

Brands built on fundamental beliefs can evolve with the times

Our insights have shown that mums believe that ‘meals only deserve as much time in the making as they do in the eating’. So, unlike when I was growing up when my mum used to start cooking at 4pm for us to sit down at 6pm – the 2015 mum figures that a 20 minute average eating time means a maximum 20 minutes prep time.

This challenge between ‘short of time’ on the one hand and ‘serving up real food’ on the other forms the basis of our ‘way-in’ on product innovation and most importantly a way for grocery brands to stay relevant.

Bisto is a much loved brand, with more than 100 years heritage, bought by 60% of UK households. Its brand benefit has always been about bringing people together around the table for a meal, which drove the well-known ‘I pledge to get home for dinner’ advertising in the 1990s.

This brand benefit is highly relevant because it builds off a fundamental human belief which runs deep through British Society, that proper meal-times are important for family conversation and bonding. 

Core truths

Brands built on such fundamental beliefs can evolve with the times as their core truth remains relevant.  In fact, the sentiment of ‘Togetherness’ is even more relevant in today’s fast-moving society.  So, in 2014/15, we have naturally evolved the campaign into the ‘Bisto Together Project’, which seeks people looking to be reunited with family over a Bisto meal. Filming these people has been heart-warming and consumers have loved the content generated.

Businesses must be careful not to get stuck in the past 

Results have been impressive, the campaign reached over 8.5million consumers online and the brand achieves engagement rates which are 12% above industry average through delivering engaging and sticky content.

However, this equity communication has to be supported by a revolution in product offering. This brings me back to mum and her need for time efficient and simple solutions. NPD is our heart-land and we have recently taken Bisto beyond gravy, with launches into adjacent categories, including Package mix with Bisto Simply recipe pastes – meeting a need for real food with short prep time.  Our new paste products in Gravy and DPM have already added £2.5M RSV to the brand since launch last Autumn.

Brand belief should be rooted in human values

So what can we learn from this? It’s clear from the change in the top 100 grocery brands that it is becoming crucial to continue to stay relevant to build growth for brands. Add into the mix the price wars amongst the big retailers, the fact that our shopping habits are changing with convenience and discounter stores on the rise, it’s obvious that UK food brands have to continue to modernise themselves, and their products, to keep in the race for growth.

Heritage can be a great foundation for a brand, but businesses must be careful not to get stuck in the past and let it hinder growth and innovation.

It is important to find a brand benefit rooted in a fundamental human value, which stands the test of time.  Marketing is all about storytelling and engagement, so if you have a heritage story, be nimble and adaptable - build on it to make it relevant and memorable for your current consumers and ensure that product innovation is a corner-stone.


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