Last week we hosted a Q&A on what Brexit means for the food and drink industry – and despite our forthcoming departure from the EU (whatever that eventually looks like) being the biggest thing to happen in food and drink since WWII, it seems the category is woefully under-prepared and often internally mis-aligned.
Around half of the country’s major food and drink companies claim to have done close to no meaningful preparation ahead of Brexit, especially when it comes to their comms – mainly because they simply don’t know where to start. With our politicians arguing at every turn, suppositions and rumours are rife so it’s easy to see how hard it is to make firm plans without financial and practical risk, so how do companies even start to consider a comms strategy?
However, even against this backdrop of confusion, consumers expect reassurance. Reassurance that they’ll still be able to get their favourite yoghurt, fruit or biscuits, that the standard of the meat they pick up in their supermarket shop won’t be compromised and that prices won’t rocket beyond the family’s grocery budget.
This is where growers and producers need to think about all that trust they have built-up with their consumers over the years. There’s no point in just shrugging their shoulders and pointing to the Government in an ‘ask them!’ gesture. Consumers are smart, they know that inevitably the new trade agreements, proposed tariffs, special deals and whatnot will open the door to both opportunities and opportunists. Fears around empty shelves, price rises, food fraud, lower standards of production and so on might lead to sensationalist headlines, but they are also rooted in genuine consumer concern and scepticism of a category that already has its fair share of challenges.
If food and drink suppliers are not prepared to consider and have clarity around their messages when it comes to what Brexit means for those who buy their products – where they’re going to get their ingredients, whether supplies may see the odd delay, that price rises are the last resort and standards won’t fall (being an optimist)… – then they’ll have only a passive voice in the conversation that impacts their bottom line and fewer ways to reassure and retain the loyalty of their consumers.
Now while a full comms strategy is always the ideal – a clear and consistent internal message is as important as whatever your community manager is posting on your social channels – when there is so much fluidity among the factors impacting on the category we need to start somewhere and at least be part of the conversation in a meaningful way. So let’s talk.
Kate Hopper is Director of Food + Drink at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. For further information or any questions, please contact her directly.