Morrisons’ pledge to never stock ‘fake-farm brands’ is a move which, on paper, will satisfy consumers and successfully convey its desire to be seen as ‘the people’s supermarket’. For Morrisons, it looks like a move that makes sense – a way to differentiate from the other ‘deceptive’ supermarkets and align itself with the customer – but it also uncovers the exceptionally complex dynamics that underpin consumer shopping habits.
ASDA launched Farm Stores and Tesco its own Farm brands in the war against the discounters to create a product directly competitive on price. Prior to this, the big four had their premium range (way above the discounters in price); their own label range (still above the discounters in price); and their value range (below the discounters in price but lower quality, and the perception was that it was undesirable). The fake-farm ranges cut in between the value and own-label ranges to create a product which was directly comparable to the discounters’ own-label ranges.
For Tesco, which is the most successful example, it was one of the largest factors in its recovery from losing market share and margin. Tesco now sees that 64 per cent of baskets contain at least one item from its Farm brands range, which would appear to contradict Morrisons’ survey, which found that 70 per cent of people are opposed to the idea of fake-farm brands. Consumers said that they found them misleading and gave the impression of ‘a rural origin’. Of course, in an ideal world we would all know the origin of our food by just glancing at it, but Farm brands are still grown on a farm and their actual origin is printed by the best before stamp. Food provenance is important, otherwise we wouldn’t have laws restricting the naming of items which come from certain areas, such as Cheddar cheese, Melton Mowbray pork pies, and Champagne, to name a few; but it clearly isn’t putting consumers off purchasing the ranges.
Recent research by Oracle purports to show that 40 per cent of customers want assurance that the food they buy has been responsibly sourced. This is an excellent development in terms of ethics and sustainability but it neglects to consider that the survey results do not say 40 per cent of consumers are driven to purchase products because they are responsibly sourced.
Morrisons’ pledge is a way to comfort its customers about its sourcing habits and portray itself as an ethical supermarket. But as disposable incomes continue to be squeezed, price and convenience will remain the two most important drivers of spend, over an item with a label stating the exact farm from which it was sourced.