The Marketing Society Forum - Do consumers care more about price than they do about provenance?

LONDON - Warburtons has axed plans to launch its first loaf produced using only British wheat after it conducted research that it claims revealed consumers were put off by the concept

NO- Andrew Hawkins, Managing director, DCH

Not when provenance is both relevant and differentiating. Or, put simply, adds value.

The advertising battlefield is littered with the carcasses of campaigns that grasped at provenance as a platform, only to find it collapse. Budweiser, for example, famously failed at launch in the UK, precisely because there was no value in being American. Similarly, for a long time, Alfa Romeo failed to reach beyond the Alfisti because all that beautiful Italian style couldn't quite disguise the Italian electrics and lack of quality control beneath. Skoda, meanwhile, began to turn the corner only when the Germans made it like a Golf.

The world of food and drink successfully relies on provenance to add value in terms of freshness, quality and taste, so we have Jamie Oliver eating a sausage made of 100% British Pork in a field where it, er, grew up.

So what made Warburtons change its mind? I'd hazard a guess it wasn't about price or value, but rather that Hovis got there first - and did it rather well.

MAYBE - Bart Michels, Managing director, Added Value

Bread and milk; staples in our daily diet. For many, bought without much thought as to where they're from.

Yet provenance is now part of our weekly grocery shop. Brands such as Waitrose promise traceability across many ranges, and have carved out competitive advantage in doing so.

On the shelves, we're offered choices such as Yeo Valley, Dorset Cereals and Buxton water, where provenance is not only visible, but also the crux of their proposition. This influences our purchase decision by showing at least some interest in the region's welfare.

Arguably, many guises of provenance have been lost in the emphasis on ingredients over process and tradition, as with the rich expertise passed down through generations of bakers in the Warburton family. However, unless there is a noticeable difference in quality, or product characteristics inextricably linked to home-grown ingredients, such as wholesome taste or fluffy softness, for a staple such as mass-manufactured sliced bread, price and product performance will win out.

NO - Vanessa Cohen, Partner, Prophet

Warburtons' decision to scrap plans for a 100% British wheat loaf clearly comes after detailed research into whether such a product would succeed.

It may also be the result of the need to differentiate more clearly from Hovis, which has shifted its entire portfolio to British wheat and gained ground on its rival.

That said, Warburtons is a very British brand, and a British loaf would have sat well within its ranges. I doubt the feedback would have been against it and am certain most consumers would state they care about provenance.

However, the recession has made them more pragmatic and price-conscious. For now, the patriotic and environmental benefits of a British loaf have to take second place to economic realities. As better times return, we will have the chance to make decisions based on idealism and Warburtons has left the door open to reviving the British loaf in future. Consumers do not care more about price than provenance, but do try to take the best decisions for their wallets and families.

MAYBE - Jane Asscher, Managing partner and founder, 23red

The answer depends on the brand, category and consumer. Price is an easy means of choosing a brand in commodity markets, such as insurance. Look how successful price-comparison websites have been in this space.

Provenance, too, plays its part. National stereotypes are useful shorthands for brands to exploit. French fashion houses benefit from perceptions of France as stylish and sensuous; the German car industry plays on its nation's synonymity with performance.

The UK is unusual in the strength of its brand and eclectic image. Even in the same category, brands can build on different aspects of Britishness - such as the 'classic' British Airways versus 'inventive' Virgin. In the case of Warburtons, its desire to produce the all-British loaf wasn't matched by public demand.It's only by understanding what a consumer really values that we can discover the role price and provenance play in brand choice.

The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to inspiring bolder marketing leadership.


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