The grocer is planning a £1.5bn investment over the next three years to “support and celebrate British food”. That includes a marketing push that will include British-themed marketing materials in aisles and on shelves and a greater focus on British products in marketing campaigns.
Steve Murrells, Co-op Food Retail chief executive, says the decision to focus on British food and provenance comes after trust in retailers was “dented” by scandals such as horsemeat. He hopes that Co-op’s “openness” about how it sources produce will encourage other retailers to follow suit.
“Shoppers want to know about the origin of their products and if supermarkets import meat for use in products it is important that, as well as being identified on product labelling, in-store marketing should not seek to unwittingly mislead. Backing British must mean more than just rolling out the bunting,” he added.
The importance of provenance
The move comes after research conducted by Opinion Matters for the Co-op found that 90% of shoppers want supermarkets to sell more food from British farms while 81% believe retailers should support UK farming by only selling British meat and poultry.
The survey also found that “origin” is the second most important piece of information when buying fresh food, behind just use or sell-by dates. Some 84% say buying British-sourced food is important to them with one in three calling it “very important”.
The latest figures from IGD’s ShopperVista tracking data also found that supporting local producers is important to consumer. Some 43% say they have purchased local products in the past month while 35% say they plan to buy more local products in the coming year and 42% say whether a product supports local or British producers is “extremely or very important” in shopping choices.
Focus on provenance
The Co-op says it has conducted a “clear and honest” appraisal of its own-brand meat and poultry sourcing, including in ready meals and sandwiches, to ensure consumers are not misled. For products that contain imported meat, such as Danish bacon and New Zealand lamb, the retailer promises to communicate that clearly on packaging.
“We believe that marketing campaign and in-store promotions should be honest and truly reflect the sourcing position and commitments that we have made as a retailer. In doing so, we can help customers make informed choices about buying British products,” says the company.
The Co-op is not the only brand to focus on sourcing. Morrisons created an own-brand sourcing team last year following the completion of its “own-label to own-brand” review and earlier this year create an own-brand unit responsible for sourcing, packaging design and product development.
It also tried to rise above the horsemeat scandal at the start of 2013 by highlighting its focus on provenance and control over its supply chain. Sainsbury’s meanwhile trumpets the role of its “values-driven” message while Tesco aimed to regain consumer trust and improve perception of the quality of its food offering through its “Love Every Mouth” message, which highlights the provenance of fresh produce.
Given that, the Co-op appears a little late to the market. However it claims to be going beyond competitors by reporting annually on its British sourcing performance and labelling where products come from – not just where they are British or there is consumer perception of quality linked to the country (for example with Danish bacon) but anywhere in the world a “characterising” ingredient orinates from. It will also label individual countries, rather than just regions such as the EU, where possible.