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Barnacles on the hull of the big brand supertanker?


As you stroll down the aisles of your local supermarket these days, have you found your hand straying away from your normal food brands and towards the special displays and gondola ends piled with quirkily-named and interestingly packaged “locally produced” craft brands? You wouldn't be alone if you were now regularly consuming anything from locally sourced sea-salt to jar pasta sauces made with tomatoes grown down the road.

My 4th trend observation in the food and beverage sector focuses on “local or regional food systems” or, as I call them, micro-manufactured brands. Driven by consumer desire for less obviously “processed” foods, fewer “food miles” (shorter supply chain journeys) and reduced packaging, the move to “local” seems unstoppable. A recent survey found that 72% of consumers in France felt it was very or fairly important to buy local whenever possible.

Micro-manufactured brands are the logical extension to the “farmer’s market” trend of a few years ago. Micro –manufacturing units are usually uni-brand businesses with a small industrial base, regional distribution, 10-50 employees, often family-run and always with a great branding story to tell. Take a look at www.les2marmottes.fr and www.thomasleprince.fr.

Craft brands are not bound by the conventional wisdom that bigger is better or the need to be price competitive. They focus on the image of high quality, locally or hand-sourced raw materials, “artisan” if you like, and often eco-friendly packaging. And consumers are lapping up these brands. They are even well-placed to resist economic downturn; consumers surveyed in the UK said that when times were hard, they were more than ever prepared to pay more to support local products.

Big brand producers beware – these craft brands are thriving and multiplying, and, like barnacles on the hull of a supertanker, they will eventually slow down and erode big brand progress.

And things could go further: the brewing industry in the UK and the US has been transformed by micro-breweries. Now start-ups like Ubrew in London have moved to the next level and invite their consumers to come in and brew their own beer on the premises. How long before you spend a couple of hours a month at your local micro-food manufacturer producing a case or two of your grandmother’s special recipe pasta sauce?

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