We recently held our annual food and drink conference, discussing the opportunities, challenges and issues faced by the sector. Overcoming a challenge in itself by having to make our conference virtual for the first time! Spanning from sausages and scampi to yoghurt, our last three speakers of the day from Whitby Seafoods, HECK! and The Collective provided food for thought on the importance of building a strong brand.

Building a brand

Whitby Seafoods Limited started in 1985 and has gone from strength to strength since, turning over £60m in 2019. Graham Whittle, Chairman and Founder of Whitby Seafoods, puts this success down to being obsessed with building and investing in a brand. This perseverance has led to Whitby Seafoods having the strongest brand in UK foodservice for scampi with ambitions to become the strongest brand in the retail sector. An accolade Whitby Seafoods is sure to achieve given it is not one to shy away from a challenge - when experiencing interruption in obtaining fresh seafood supplies, it simply acquired its own fishing boats.

Launching in 2013, Andrew Keeble, Co-Founder and Managing Director HECK! started the business with a clear view. It set it sights firmly on a target market of 18-35 year olds who were not engaging with the category and got off the ground with a bang – or bangers in their case. Even so Andrew acknowledged that launching a new brand is "a tortuous job" but with hard work you get there and HECK! is a testament to that. It's catchy, memorable name and distinctive packaging has helped to get the brand on the supermarket shelves and more importantly keep it there in a competitive market.

"Bringing taste and fun to the dairy aisles", The Collective started in 2009 with the aim of being the best tasting yoghurt in the world. Amelia Harvey, one of the Co-Founder's helped launch the business in the UK in 2011 with its passionfruit yoghurt. It now offers a range of goods which are available in over 5,000 supermarkets and the brand has hit retail sales of over £42 million. Along with offering great tasting products, innovation has driven the brand, being the first yoghurt producer to have clear pots, as well as to offer fresh yoghurt pouches.

Focus on consumers

A common thread from all of the speakers was that consumers are at the heart of their businesses. In an ever-competitive market, the importance of an attractive brand to entice new shoppers and different sections of the market cannot be underestimated.

Driven by grassroots advertising, The Collective in particular has a lot of engagement and interaction with consumers, which is very important to the brand. Equally, one businesses obstacle is another's opportunity, as Whitby Seafoods successfully attracted one million new shoppers during Covid-19 due to consumers changing shopping habits, with an increase in online shopping as well as frozen food purchases.

There was also a shared focus on younger audiences and capturing those consumers overlooked by competitors. Each of the brands have expanded from their original offerings to open up their ranges to a breadth of consumer. Whitby Seafoods has branched out from scampi to calamari and fish cakes, The Collective is diversifying from dairy to plant based and HECK! has expanded from bangers to burgers, with both meat and veggie offerings.

Brand protection

When investing heavily in a brand it is vital to protect that goodwill. This is something HECK! and The Collective are well versed in, having both taken on Aldi for producing lookalike versions of their products.

There are a number of options available to food and drink producers to protect their goods. Whilst the brand name of a product is a key identifier and badge of trust for consumers, it is also worth considering whether other unique components which make up a product are worth protecting. From manufacturing processes to packaging, a brand protection strategy is key.

Take away

The overarching message was very positive for those in the food and drink sector. The takeaway being that times like these, whether Covid-19 or Brexit, are just a blip but having a strong brand can get you through.

Protecting those elements that make your offering unique should be a key consideration for businesses of all shapes and sizes. There is a plethora of IP in any one product, making it all the more important to explore all avenues of protection available and determine which approach would best serve to protect the brand and the goodwill therein.