Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Do Something Amazing...

It’s a Monday, late afternoon and I’m in Brixton Town Hall. I’m sitting in a large hall surrounded by a cross section of the great British Public. There are two things on my mind, both guilty pleasures. One is comedian Tony Hancock, the other a packet of ready salted Walker’s crisps. I can guarantee that three times a year these two guilty pleasures coexist and occupy my mind. It’s blood donor day for me, which has become a little ritual that makes me feel ‘grounded’.
I love vintage radio comedy and a late session in the office is often accompanied by Round the Horne, The Navy Lark or Tony Hancock’s ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ masterpieces. Of these two stand out, ‘The Radio Ham’ and ‘The Blood Donor’. If you’ve not heard them (or seen the TV versions) then check them out. Hancock, a much troubled comic genius, portrayed himself as an everyman, but a very pompous one. He decides to do his duty and contribute to society by donating his blood, only to discover that they want as much as ‘an armful’, something he failed to realise. Around him is a reassuring nurse, calm, professional doctor, whose patience he tests, and members of the public played by an ensemble cast.
Today’s Blood Service is welcoming and efficient. For me the double heart logo is iconic.  Its strapline and excellent ad campaign ‘Do something amazing today’ go to the heart of what the organisation is about. The fact that many thousands of people turn up to a public hall three times a year to be poked and prodded (all be it very professionally) and have their blood extracted shows how a campaign message can be a call to action. And all of this for no financial reward. We all know that our health is core to the quality of existence and how vulnerable we are all likely to be at some part of our life. So, while the going is good, giving an armful helps someone, somewhere.
I look at the logo on the water jug, the design of the pvc tablecloth covered in children’s drawings and the logos. Plain crisps and a cup of tea, what a joy as a small group of us munch and slurp then head off into the early evening darkness.

By Pauline

Monday, 21 March 2011

Humble Provenance

One of the delights of the growing awareness of provenance and local-ness over the last few years has been the growth of regional potato crisps.  They tend to be hand-cooked, farmer driven brands with a sense of charm and wit.
Salty Dog is an excellent name for a plethora of puns and fun. They have even bred a sister brand called Darling Spuds. Their websites ooze authenticity and charm.
Kent Crisps come from the Quex Park estate, only recently launched and with a suitably Kentish twist to their flavours: Oyster and Vinegar, Ashmore Cheese and Onion, Sea Salt and Biddenden Cider Vinegar, and Sea Salt.
Yorkshire Crisps are 'moreish and convivial' and show a smattering of Yorkshire grit with their 'Nowt on' flavour (or lack of...)
Pipers, made by farmers in Lincolnshire, embrace the whole idea of regionality in all their flavours. I love the way they embrace the culture of supporting other independent producers with Anglesey Sea Salt, West Country Cheddar & Onion, using cheddar made by John Alvis at Lye Cross, Parsnip crisps using Biggleswade sweet chilli, Sea Salt and Somerset Cider Vinegar with cider vinegar made by Julian Temperley. The tone and generosity create a sense of well being that makes you feel warm about the brand, and the people behind it.
And then, linking to one of Pauline's recent posts, there are the Lusty Pirate Cornish Pasty flavoured crisps. I don't know whether they have to make pasties, crimped on one side, with no carrot, and then extract the flavour - or whether the concept of 'flavour' covers a simpler method. They are definitely made in Cornwall. Another good concept for funning and punning, and what's not to love as Lusty himself says,"I like crisps and I love me pasties so I’ve combined the two and come up with some proper treasures."
The visual cues of these specialist products can be 'borrowed' by some larger manufacturers to try and send out the same authentic and trusted signals. I'm not saying their products are bad, but it is a slightly different offer. Real crisps were an independent Welsh producer but are now part of the Tayto Group. They carefully side-step the question on their homepage "So who are we then?" The small print on the packaging needs to be carefully read so as not to be misled by the effectiveness of the graphic design.

Regionality is part of the trend that has seen the success of Farmers' Markets, Borough Market, Jamie Oliver - and a respect for cooking real food, allotments and seasonal food awareness. It's something that's well worth supporting and building on where we can.

When Special is the Norm

Christmas special offers, long gone. The January sales, well and truly over. What strikes you though, as you walk along the High Street, is that special offers still scream at you from shop windows. ‘Madness!’ is announced in Shoezone. In the perpetual home of discount Holland & Barrett, the posters herald ‘Buy one get one half price’ on everything in the store. I turn around and the 99p Store have their banner ‘When it’s gone, its gone!’ and indeed it will be, but there’ll be another to replace it.

There’s nothing new in retailers pushing these messages, indeed in the UK it verges on being an art form. Our supermarkets do it, pound shops do it, value retailers do it. Playing on the psychology of ‘everyone loves a bargain.’ It works.

Competition has heightened due to the combination of goods costing less relative to income over the last 20 years, and the increasing sophistication of retailers in terms of what they can offer and how they present it. The abundance of ‘3 for 2’, BOGOF, ‘2 for 1’ has created the expectation of significant discount being the norm from Maltesers to Magnet kitchens.

Yet, there are some places where serious discounting just doesn’t happen. I don’t see an Apple Mac or iPod at 50% off, and I don’t expect to. This is about value not discount. Yes, it’s a different marketplace to grocery products, not an everyday purchase. The desirability of the product and the message of the brand mean that we buy into it big time and expect to pay. And what’s more our sense of reward and contentment are generally higher.

So does brand matter in all of this, or is it price that’s king? The reality is that it’s both and that people are somewhat flexible in attitude and action. Our individual preferences and loyalties combine with the practicalities of budget, convenience and time.

I tend to shop local, so my supermarkets are predominantly Co-op and Morrison’s and my good and friendly local convenience store and newsagents. The market as well for fruit and veg. There are occasional forays to a Tesco or a Sainsbury’s for a change of scene and variety. No Asda or Watirose locally so they really are an adventure. My neighbour is a committed Ocado user, another favours Tesco home delivery, another a weekly ‘big shop’ at Sainsbury’s. Then there’s Philip opposite. ‘Bargain’ is his middle name and he’s a heat seeking discount missile who hits the spot on a daily basis.

The times are a changing. Food will become more expensive, not necessarily a bad thing if it results in us all being more thoughtful and less wasteful. Rather than chasing bargains, that often encourage over-buying, we can control our grocery bill by not  throwing away the alleged 25-35% of food we already buy. This could result in effectively being what we pay (for the use of) two now, becoming the price of three, without the accompanying graphic cacophony.

I think there is a fundamental shift imminent alongside a new sense of responsibility. Trends of scarcity, moderation and vigilance will model our behaviours. Discount may be forever with us, but our response to it will become more considered. My mantra will be to not be bamboozled by those special offers.

By Pauline

Monday, 7 March 2011

The Bloomsbury effect

Picking up on one of this year's trends, I was overjoyed to walk past the People's Supermarket on Saturday afternoon and see it looking so fresh and vibrant.

Two things strike me. One is the fantastic sense of cohesion engendered by these local, cooperative initiatives. The sense of well-being goes way beyond the individuals who are contributing and benefitting directly. I feel good just knowing it exists - and thrilled that I could see it, smell the goods, squeeze the fruit.

Secondly, trends take time. I might say 'this year's trend', but this idea will be around for a while, and will take time to actually take effect. Arthur Potts Dawson, the live-wire behind the enterprise, has worked enormously hard over a prolonged period to make it happen. It was March 2009 when he first got coverage in the papers, and must have signed up to make the TV series at around the same time. The series that finished on Channel 4 on 27th February was filmed over two years. So he was picking up on a trend then, and with the opening of the store, propelling the wave forward.

I suspect the appreciation of local, reduction of waste and a collaborative approach to making things cheaper/affordable are ideas that will get bigger and more influential over the next few years.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Crimp my Pasty!

A Ginster's Cornish Pasty
Two of the joys of life are seasonal and regional produce. From a Fat Rascal (a Yorkshire fruit tea bun) to the Wensleydale cheese I so love with a morsel of fruit cake to the delicate white flesh of an Arbroath Smokie. 

Local produce is great and where once these products were literally only available locally the rise of rail and road transport saw these goods transported to towns and cities and across the land. Foods that reflected local topography, commerce and requirements in many cases extended beyond the locality in which they were created. The addition of the place name can imbue a product with positive imagery, evoking the rural, the old, the never-changing. It might be mythical in many cases, but it resonates.

Is a Cornish Pasty vastly superior to one made in Devon? Is it better than one made in Milton Keynes or Carlisle? One can understand the Cornish wanting to claim the heritage as the inventor of a novelly shaped pasty filled with nourishing ingredients, designed to fuel the work of a Cornish tin miner deep down a hot and dirty hole. Today the pasty is 'food on the move', the well loved snack of drivers and those who can't or won't stop for a meal break. It's beloved of visitors to Cornwall, just walk through the streets of St Ives and count how many people are joyously munching their way through their pasties. 

The last time I ate a Cornish Pasty was following a meeting I had at Ginster's. Part of the brand experience and also my lunch. Ginster's rightly claim their local credentials as Larry File, their Brand Communications Manager, states, "It really is an important industry in Cornwall. More than 2,000 people are directly employed in it." The announcement that only pasties produced in Cornwall are able to be labelled 'Cornish' resulted in welcome publicity. There's an issue of shape here too. Pasties crimped on the top and not at the side are also unable to be called Cornish, so there are manufacturers who are genuinely  'Cornish' who will have to alter their crimp.

Hot from the Brand Guardians kitchen...not a 'Cornish' but a hearty meal in itself following the traditional recipe - and no carrot!
The Protected Geographical Indicator, the system under which the origins of products, has become increasingly important in recent years as a means by which producers protect the uniqueness and quality of their products and ultimately their livelihoods. They also deliver a guarantee to the consumer. So whereas a piece of cheddar cheese can originate from anywhere, White Stilton and Blue Stilton cannot. 

There are three different designations under the system:

The Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)
For products processed and prepared in a specific geographical area where the features and characteristic of the product is due to that area.

Protected Geographical Indication (PGI)
For products produced or processed within a specific area where they have a reputation, features or certain qualities attributable to that area.
Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) 
For products which are traditional or have customary names and a set of features which distinguish them from similar products, not be due to the geographical area it is produced nor based on technical advances in the method of production.

The Camberwell Pasty
Our contribution to local food. A new variety with a local feel. An 'all rounder' plenty of crust, lots of lean and vitamin filled filling for busy urbanites on the move.
So, if you like Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb, Cornish Sardines, Whitstable Oysters, Rutland Bitter, Melton Mowbray Pork Pie and Jersey Royal Potatoes are all registered. Many more will follow. These products command a premium because they promise to deliver a high level of quality and taste established over generations. They're important tools in the Grocer's brand armoury. Each has their time and place. Eat them all at once and you'll have mighty indigestion!

(I think it sounds like a rather perfect pub lunch - Kate)

by Pauline

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Let the kids do it

Yes, logos are often controversial. Yes, they are often misunderstood. But hey, some things are charming and some things are just a bit, how can I say it, less charming.

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee logo, above, was designed by 10-year-old Katherine Dewar from Chester, the winner of a Blue Peter competition.

The London Olympic logo was designed by 46-year-old Wolff Olins from London, and is the subject of yet more controversy. And could even cause a boycott. Not least from the design community...

What do you think?