Being a foodie, I was intrigued watching Fair Go’s expose on some New Zealand wine companies. Their gripe was that the wine companies’ brands celebrated their NZ source - think Shingle Peak and White Cliffs - quintessential NZ scenes/logos on the label.
A consumer would assume that what was inside the bottle was NZ wine when in fact the small print on the back of the bottle noted that the wine was sourced from Australia.
Is this merely a case of buyer beware and “check the small print”? Maybe yes legally speaking, but morally speaking, no. In the food world, consumers rule.
Food is different to clothing, where rightly or wrongly, we have got used to the idea that our fashion piece may have been designed here, but it certainly wasn’t made here.
As soon as we put something in our mouth, we have a different expectation of safety and provenance. In the world of food scandals, a consumer’s desire to know and trust their producers is of increasing importance. In my mind, food companies pulling out the line “check-the small print” doesn’t cut it.
What does it mean to be a NZ food producer and exporter? When 1000 Shanghai consumers were interviewed (by Data Driven Marketing Asia), they believed buying food products from NZ meant clean, green, safe and trustworthy. In fact, we were the number one country of choice for food products for those consumers. How fragile is their perception?
For a number of years Ireland has invested in a branding programme based around quantitative evidence - “Origin Green” - to support their primary industry. The programme is jointly driven by the private sector, industry and the Irish Government.
According to Aidan Cotter, the past CEO of Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, “we’ve a huge natural asset in the Irish food industry in terms of our climate, soil and farming methods. We know that we are perceived as being among the most sustainable food producers in the world. The purpose of Origin Green is to prove that by measuring it.”
I have followed Origin Green for some time now and have been impressed by its progress. The programme has seen 90,000 farms audited and carbon footprinted, a world first. At the manufacturing level, over 470 food and drink manufacturers, which represent almost 95% of their total food and drink exports, have registered to take part.
The NZ equivalent to Origin Green is The New Zealand Story, and a branding programme called FernMark. Great initiatives but without teeth should any companies using them come under the radar. They have few use requirements, other than being a “reputable” NZ company.
The majority of our farmers and processors are regulated and audited on a common basis. Could we simply make some adjustments to existing quality assurance programmes to put some teeth and meaning behind BrandNZ?
The heart foundation tick is a wonderful example of a meaningful brand standard for consumers locally. The FernMark is a step in the right direction but it must mean something to consumers to be of value and there must be rigour around who is allowed to use it.
When Ireland came up with Origin Green, ironically, they looked first to NZ as a model for quality primary products.
On the provenance branding front, they have overtaken us, but it’s a big world out there and surely room for two high-end provenance brands. Getting the wine industry on board would be a great start.