Archive for August, 2011

A Class Maiden Voyage

by Ed Silk

From the small island of the wild boar, Inish Turk Beg, comes a big whiskey that has been tripled distilled before being matured for at least 10 years. As seen here in the prestigious CLASS magazine (Issue 11), each bottle is hand-blown using some sand from the island’s own shores, only a limited number will be released – 2,888 to be exact. The shape is inspired by the bouys which boats traditionally moor themselves to and echoes the ethos of the brand – Live life at a tilt.

Chip and Question?

by Ed Silk

I recently stopped to refuel at The Co-Operative. Upon paying using Chip and Pin I was surprised to be asked a question displayed on the small LCD screen. It read, “Do you know that Heinz makes mayonnaise?” and offered up two answers – yes or no. For me the answer was yes (You’d be hard pressed not to know that, what with Hellman’s being one of our main clients).

The Co-Operative were the first to launch this innovative approach way back in 2008. (Clearly I don’t shop there very often – well, never if honest.) But I thought it was genius. Such a simple idea and essentially with a captive audience all waiting for the ‘Remove Card’ to pop up, who wouldn’t want to oblige them with an answer. I’m just amazed that this isn’t more prevalent amongst more retailers and restaurant chains. Why aren’t they embracing this technology to galvanise opinions about their products to services?

Personally, I’d love to be able to rate my shopping experience at the point of purchase or help inform corporate decisions about which community project to support, say, as The Co-Operative plan to do. In an age when consumer diaologue and feedback is vital for brand survival, I predict that we’ll all be answering a lot more questions in the future.

Will John West initiative founder on rocks of consumer hypocrisy?

by Ed Silk

The UK is the second largest market for tinned tuna in the world. So the news this week that John West, the second largest player in the second largest market, has committed to making all its tinned tuna sustainably sourced by 2016, has genuine significance for environmentalists and brand owners alike.

The Company says it will start to roll out its new range of Pole and Line sourced tuna products from September this year. The new range represents a major investment for John West. It places sustainable fishing at the heart of its business and is a triumph for corporate social responsibility. It shows that multinational businesses can and will instigate substantial shifts in their approach to the environment – even if it means going beyond cosmetic changes to their marketing and restructuring the fabric of their operations.

Environmental charity Greenpeace which helped develop the plan is thrilled. It described the initiative as “ground breaking” and says,“it sets the bar for the rest of the UK’s supermarkets and tuna brands.”
That may well be true. Other tinned fish brand owners such as Princes, Asda, and Tesco, will certainly feel at a moral disadvantage and hopefully may even be inspired to copy John West’s example. But there’s a catch. (No pun intended).

Initially, the John West Pole and Line range will comprise of 185g cans of Tuna Chunks selling for £1.59 and multipacks of three 80g cans selling for £2.09. Currently 185g cans of tuna in brine sell in Sainsbury, Tesco, and Asda for 88p.  And if you shop around,  80g multipacks can be bought for as little as 99p. So John West will be charging customers a price premium.

Yet all the evidence suggests that while consumers talk a good game when it comes to environmental matters, demanding all sorts of ethical behaviour from brand owners, they are rarely prepared to pay any significant premium to fund it. Over and over, in market after market, consumers demand that brands take a lead in responding to ethical and environmental concerns, and then fail to follow.

A study by the EC of the impact of ‘green’ labelling on foodstuffs in 2009 concluded that consumers were indeed prepared to pay a price premium for more ethical goods. The problem was that they were only willing to pay a miniscule price increase of just one per cent for a 39% reduction in carbon, a 17% increase in water efficiency, a 22% reduction in waste/packaging or a 6% increase in vitamin content.  Clearly they wanted all these things, but not enough to pay for them.

In the fashion industry, consumers also express concern about the environment. But a study last year of the fashion industry by academics Stephen Potter and Claudia Eckert concluded that: “attitudes did not translate into action…It was also apparent that consumers were inconsistent, acting differently to what their stated attitudes were… When shopping for clothes many factors were important to participants. Unfortunately sustainability was last on the list.”

Yet consumers and environmental groups still tend to view business as the villain when it comes to the environment. True it is often with good reason. It is said that corporations are psychopaths – having no conscience or compassion. And it is true that much harm has been done to the world by companies in the greedy pursuit of profit.

But big companies possess at least two attributes that put them in a much better position to act on the environment than individuals. Firstly, they have a much longer time perspective. Shell, P&G, Ford, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Sony all want to be around in fifty, sixty a hundred years. Not only do they have the ability to think long term, they can afford to. When they spend millions on greening their supply chain, it doesn’t hurt them in quite the same way, with quite the same immediacy, as consumers who are paying a 100 per cent mark up for their new green products.

The fact is that business is in a much stronger position than consumers to lead on the environment. But you can’t help feeling that consumers often blame business for global warming and other ethical problems because they are not prepared to take responsibility for their own consumerism. Let’s hope that John West’s bold ethical initiative doesn’t founder on the rocks of consumer hypocrisy.

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