Tesco is in trouble again after launching products with fictitious British sounding farm names that sell imported goods.

They were names like:

Willow Farms (poultry)

Woodside Farms (pork, bacon, sausages)

Boswell Farms (beef)

Rosendene Farms (local and imported fruits)

Redmere Farms (vegetables)

Suntrail Farms (local and imported fruits)

Nightingale Farms (salads)

While many of the products under those brand names were from the UK (the Willow Farms name has been around for years and all the chickens come from the UK), others came from Spain, Morocco, Germany, Chile…you get the picture. Yep, the biggest supermarket in the UK has launched a range that is misleading.

This isn’t something new. The discounters have been doing the same thing for years. What you think of as an unknown brand from Germany in Lidl is their own brand. M&S has done it too (Lochmuir Salmon and Oakham Chicken aren’t real places either, although M&S have clear links on their website explaining the products ethics and all the salmon is sourced from Scotland).

You will find many brands also do it.

Häagen-Dazs has a Nordic sounding name, but it isn’t from Denmark. It’s from the USA. But they have a story, a reason for the name. Reuben Mattus invented the “Danish-sounding” “Häagen-Dazs” as a tribute to Denmark’s exemplary treatment of its Jews during the Second World War, and included an outline map of Denmark on early labels.

Fosters is marketed in the USA as an Aussie imported lager. But it’s got a brewery (and is made) in the USA for the USA market. Someone in the USA is actually suing them! But it is an Aussie brand in the same way Crocodile Dundee was still an Australian when he was in the USA. Fosters ‘Australianess’ is genuine, but like many breweries (including Guinness) they make the product all over the world. But Guinness is still an Irish brand. HP sauce is made in the Netherlands, but it’s still a British brand (it was called HP Sauce after Frederick Garton, the greengrocer who started it, called the sauce HP because he had heard that a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament had begun serving it. Tabasco is (and always has been) made in the USA but sounds Mexican (although it’s label clearly says it’s made in the USA).

What’s the difference between the examples above and the supermarkets?

The brands have a strong background story which makes their products genuine, irrespective of where they are actually made. This story has built loyalty and is based in truth.

The own brands have created a veneer of branding which isn’t true. Aldi and Lidl get away with it because they have one point of loyalty. They are cheap. People are more forgiving when something is cheap.

Tesco are big and are everywhere. Many people hate them. This just adds fuel to the fire.

The litmus test is, when someone asks you ‘why’, do you have a good answer?

If someone asked why Tesco made up farm names, their truthful reply would be something like ‘we copied the discounters because we fear them’ or ‘we wanted to create exclusive brands to Tesco to create customer loyalty because own brand sales are flat’. Neither of these answers is likely to hold much sway with the general public.

If they had built a brand with integrity, based on truth, they might have succeeded. As it happens, they have scored an own goal which has generated lots of bad publicity.

What if Tesco had built their brand around the people sourcing products instead?

In the 90s Tesco ran 10 ads featuring Dudley Moore trying to source chickens. Tesco were no2 then, behind (but rapidly catching) Sainsbury’s (remember these?). If Tesco built own brand ranges around their staff, sourcing products etc, it could empower the workforce (one of their biggest problems) and would enable them to build a real brand around real stories and real people.

If you want to build a strong brand, have a true story, communicate the reason why you do what you do. Be honest to yourself and your customers.

Don’t try to be something you aren’t.


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