Opinion

The farms that don’t exist

What do the following farms have in common? Astro Farm, Redmere Farm, Big Barn Farm, Animal Farm, Rosedene Farm, Dappledown Farm, Suntrail Farm, Cold Comfort Farm and Nightingale Farm.

None of them are actually farms.

Now this isn’t really an issue for most of them, as they ‘exist’ in literature or on TV, but for Redmere, Rosedene, Suntrail and Nightingale they do exist – on packaging in Tesco.

Tesco recently launched their own-label produce under various brand names of farms that don’t actually exist. In fact, much of the produce that is sold under the ‘farm’ brand names is sourced from abroad. Creating fictional ‘places’ is nothing new for consumer goods, I’m pretty sure that Nature Valley and Sun Valley aren’t actual valleys, but is the Tesco issue different?

Tesco have said in a statement “We’ve named the brands after farms to represent the quality specifications that go into every product across the range.” (source, BBC).

However, the use of these ‘farm’ brand names are suggestive of a certain provenance, they communicate the idea that the source of the items inside the package are from the farms named on the outside of the package.

 

Phil Bicknell, the NFU’s Head of Food and Farming had this to say about Tesco’s communication strategy; “What are these brands trying to communicate? If this is not aligned with the origin sourcing and specification of the product we must ask if this is misleading to customers.” (source, BBC)

In an environment where transparency is becoming an increasingly valued (and in my opinion necessary) approach for brands, this naming strategy from Tesco is a huge step backwards for them. I don’t suggest that they are trying to make shoppers think that these farms actually exist, and they are being quite clear in press communications that they are own-brands. But when shoppers are standing in the fruit and veg section of a Tesco store they don’t see press releases, they see a range of goods that are often grown on farms in packaging labeled as appearing to be the produce of various ‘farms’. It didn’t go down too well on social media either.

Professor David Hughes from Imperial College London, an expert on food marketing, speaking on Farming Today said: “I don’t think it is particularly insidious.

“But particularly when it comes to fresh produce and fresh food, then from a consumer point of view if there’s a farm name there, the understanding from a consumer perspective is that it reflects a true farm. That isn’t the case. It seems misleading.

 

“I don’t think it is done maliciously. It’s probably a marketing mistake.”

Let’s be clear on this. If the naming strategy was a ‘marketing mistake’ then Tesco brand people are being truly incompetent. This naming is no mistake. For me, it is clearly intended to put certain thoughts into the minds of shoppers, i.e. nice, ‘English-sounding’ farm names which might bring back memories of beautiful orchards or fields of vegetables in the green English countryside. It is certainly not a transparent supply chain, or an authentic brand strategy.

There is already an important reference point here within food goods and produce. There are some products that currently benefit from being protected designation of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI), or traditional specialities guaranteed (TSG). Foods that benefit from these schemes include Gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Melton Mowbray pork pies, Camembert, Herefordshire Cider, Cognac, Armagnac and Champagne. These schemes are in place to ensure ‘authentic’ products, eliminate unfair competition and stop the misleading of consumers by ‘non-genuine products’. For example, to be called a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie you’ve got to be from Melton Mowbray.

Considering this, we could ask whether ‘farms’ should also be protected by these schemes? It seems to me that the reasons they are in place for geographic destinations also apply to this Tesco misleading naming strategy.

So what impact might this have on Tesco? Will this inauthentic naming strategy stop shoppers buying the produce? Probably not. Will it make people think twice when considering the Tesco brand and how authentic any communication that comes from them is? I suspect it might.

More reading on this.
Telegraph | BBCThe Guardian

Image © Retail Week

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