Buyers had no trouble naming champions

in The Grocer’s 2005 Branded Supplier Survey. Alison Clements gives the rundown

Retail and wholesale buyers applaud the pulling power of brands. Yet, according to those voting in the Branded Supplier Survey 2005, performance excels when brand management works in harmony with each buyer’s operational and strategic framework.
Finalists this year were those suppliers whose brands offered not only outstanding product, sensational packaging and thoughtful marketing, but reliable delivery, good category management and promotions that could flex to suit individual stores.
There is much for branded suppliers to get right. The 10 categories were judged on account management, delivery standards, product quality, value for money, collaboration on brand development, NPD and crisis management.
Despite the tough judging criteria, buyers had no trouble naming the champions, which have been awarded gold, silver and bronze titles according to points scored. As in the past, suppliers who met all the right branding and operational criteria did not go unnoticed by the top multiples, wholesalers and symbol groups.
Clearly collaboration is everything. Müller took the top title in the dairy and yellow fats category, scoring points for being accommodating and flexible about in-store marketing.
Samantha Mullen, chilled and fresh buyer at Iceland, says: “Müller lets us do different promotions to suit our business, but within its supportive framework.” Iceland’s relatively small supermarkets do not always have the breadth of range to carry some promotions, such as three for twos, so Müller’s trade marketing department, with dedicated retailer account managers, will adapt deals to suit. “They go to great lengths to do what’s right for Iceland, as well as what’s right for the brand,” adds Mullen.
The fuel injection of high-profile TV advertising campaigns directly benefits retailers, but collaborative planning is crucial if consumer awareness and demand is to tally with the all-important supply of product.
For example, joint silver dairy and yellow fats winner Arla was praised for successfully boosting the Anchor butter brand with a £4m animated TV campaign this year, and successfully following through to store level.
Grocery category gold champion Nestlé has worked its way up from joint bronze last year, thanks to a sharper focus on customer needs. “Our customers see us striving to improve efficiency at every level of the business,” says group supply chain director Chris Tyas. “From NPD ideas such as half-caffeine coffee, to in-store merchandising solutions which make life as easy as possible for shop floor staff, we are constantly pushing for improvements.”
Rosalind Cowin, Nisaway category controller at Nisa-Today’s, looks for operational efficiency from suppliers and believes good quality account managers are essential. “Because our business structure is quite complex, we need suppliers to understand exactly what’s required. Good account managers - which Nestlé and Masterfoods both have - will take the time to learn how we operate and help us perform at our best.”
Similarly, Simon Eyles, head of communications at McCain Foods, says taking gold in frozen food for the third year running is largely down to long-term commitment, to both the end consumer and the retail customer. “We work very hard to retain our position as the nation’s favourite for frozen food, but we also strive for category growth and are committed to delivering profitable product innovation,” says Eyles.
He says that the annual £15m brand spend must be backed up with support at customer level. “It’s important to see the bigger picture of the needs of retailers, beyond the strength of the brand. Doing so ensures good ongoing relationships, and probably explains our hat-trick.”
Silver frozen winner Green Isle impressed David Stokes, Nisa-Today’s senior buying controller for Nisafreeze, with “the total package” of range, NPD, promotions, service and availability. Says Stokes: “During the last 12 months, the new lines and relaunches have been very successful across the Donegal brand’s fish range, while Goodfellas pizzas have continued to be exceptional.”
Despite the launch of the La Bottega range not being as good as expected, he adds, Green Isle has recognised this and is working to improve. “To me a good supplier can react quickly to adverse comments.”
Lance Matyjasik, category buyer for household at Somerfield, agrees that the handling and performance of product launches can be critical.
He praises household category gold winner P&G’s latest round of product launches - particularly the Flash Dustmaster and the Flash Mark & Stain Eraser. He says: “Getting new products on the shelves is rarely a speedy process, but P&G does its best to give us plenty of notification, so that we have time to plan promotions and make an event of the launch.”
Matyjasik is also pleased to see household runner-up Reckitt Benckiser developing the Dettol brand, taking it into new product areas, and leveraging the brand heritage. “Reckitt Benckiser has also engineered one of the best launches we’ve seen in a long time with its high-profile Cillit Bang debut,” he says.
Confectionery suppliers face a tough challenge in tempting diet-obsessed consumers to indulge, and NPD can help them do so. Innovative Cadbury Trebor Bassett has seized gold in this category for the second year running, impressing buyers with excellent account management, market knowledge and NPD.
Joshua Hetherington, category marketing manager for confectionery, crisps and snacks at The Co-operative Group, thinks highly of Cadbury’s recent concentration on the ‘sharing’ theme, particularly with NPD around the Snaps brand. “It shows they’re not willing to just sit still,” he says.
“The whole team really does support us, providing us with insights, images and information, often at the drop of a hat,” he adds. “They’re always contactable and I think that we have a very good relationship with them.”
Buyers congratulated confectionery silver medallist Masterfoods for concentrating on the basics and their key brands. “Again, their performance in the ‘sharing’ product arena has provided their growth,” says Hetherington.
He thinks Ferrero is deserving of bronze, being joint winner with Nestlé Rowntree. “They are very focused and precise about who their products are for and, consequently, how they should be marketed. They really understand the value of launching products well,” he says.
Clever brand extensions can also stir up the market and invigorate sales. Mike Nemeth, trading controller at Landmark, thinks Masterfoods’ recent brand extensions, Mars Delight and White Chocolate Maltesers, are truly inspirational, and believes their launch responded to a movement in the market towards feminine tastes.
“It’s a very fluid market,” says Nemeth. “At least 10 per cent of this year’s business could be as a result of the right kind of new product work carried out a year earlier. That’s why we need suppliers such as Cadbury, Masterfoods, Nestlé and Ferrero to be responsive to social trends - be they health concerns, lifestyle trends or influences from Europe. These suppliers should be congratulated for constantly changing with the times.”
Drinks giants Interbrew and Scottish Courage share the gold in the alcohol category this year, with Constellation and Western Wines awarded silver and bronze respectively. Last year’s winner Coors and silver champion Diageo disappear off the winners’ rostrum altogether, perhaps revealing how difficult it is to hold sway in buyers’ minds for any length of time. At Scottish Courage, “listening” has made the difference in the last year, says Neil Anderson, trading director for
grocery. “Big brand ownership is fine as long as you are fulfilling the retailers’ objectives as well,” he says. “National level advertising builds giant brands such as Foster’s lager, John Smith’s bitter and Strongbow cider, so they have a place in the public’s consciousness, but to make the whole thing come to life in-store demands a great deal of listening to the individual needs of retailers.”
He says Scottish Courage strives to ensure merchandising materials and in-store promotions will deliver real value to the retailer as well as maintain the brand’s image.
Martin Swadling, category manager for licensed and tobacco at Musgrave Budgens-Londis, says: “Scottish Courage adapted well to the integration of our businesses last year, which is commendable. They are certainly willing to tailor their ranging and promotional activities to each account, and keep in touch at all times. It means things get decided on and done that much quicker.”
Western Wines MD Michael Paul believes gearing every department to the needs of the major customers should lead to strong, long-term relationships. “Our logistics, quality control, sales and marketing departments all have a level of contact with the relevant players at the companies we supply,” says Paul. “Once you are networked across many levels, you can’t fail to offer good client communication.”
Warburtons proves for the second year running that market knowledge and a good client interface win out. Taking gold in the bread, morning goods and bakery field, the 129-year-old, Bolton-based family baker now claims over a quarter share of the British wrapped bread market.
Sarah Miskell, category marketing controller at Warburtons, says understanding today’s consumer interest in healthy eating has blended perfectly with the baker’s obsession with quality ingredients and freshness. “We now have 13 regional bakeries, so can deliver fresh every day, direct to stores. Thanks to our growth strategy we are reaching close to 80 per cent of the population today,” says Miskell.
New products regularly hitting the shelves also deliver brand freshness. Cheesy Crumpets and Muffin Toast have tapped into consumers’ needs, while great things are expected of the just-launched All in One loaf.
Lee Egerton, buyer for bread and morning goods at Iceland, is suitably impressed. “The product is excellent and they go the extra mile for customer service,” she says. “The reps do a great job of working product, talking to store staff about how to merchandise the bread to best effect. If issues arise they get resolved very fast, and, if necessary, drivers return to stores on the day to remedy availability problems.”
Egerton also rates Allied Bakeries, silver winner in the bread category, highly for its ability to fulfil demand on a national scale. “Considering the scale of the operation, they do a brilliant job,” she says.
The crisps, nuts and snacks category is dominated by big national players. Walkers, United Biscuits UK (KP Foods) and Golden Wonder took gold, silver and bronze respectively, with Walkers leading the pack for the second year running.
PepsiCo trade marketing manager Nicky Seal says: “At Walkers we are continuing to invest in consumer and shopper insights.
“This ensures wholesalers, multiples and retailers are provided with effective tools, products and merchandising solutions to grow their snacks sales.”
KP impressed Jon Burton, trading controller at Landmark, for bouncing back from a period of under-performance. “They have improved their category offer and done great things with their nuts range, from packaging through to in-store display.”
In the soft drinks category, Coca-Cola Enterprises won gold for the second consecutive year, pipping Britvic and GSK to the trophy. CCE was noted for determination to perform in category management while driving growth through
innovation and support for the existing portfolio. “We have seen the importance of new products in driving category sales in recent years, for example Diet Coke with Lemon and Diet Coke with Vanilla, the new Fanta flavours and drinks in emerging segments such as Powerade,” says Norman Brodie, marketing director at CCE. “The brands that will be successful will be those supported with high investment to ensure consumers find them appealing.”
Encouraging consumers to ‘trade up’ or buy across a range, rather than just stick to basics, is an age-old marketing technique.
Unilever UK Home & Personal Care has done so to great effect recently, ensuring its gold medal in the personal care category.
“In 2004 the Dove Real Women campaign stands out as a clear example of the unique way in which well-managed brands can engage with consumers to build category growth,” says John Ballington, corporate & consumer affairs director at Unilever UK Home & Personal Care. “The launch of Comfort Pearls is also an excellent example of brand innovation driving category value.”
All these champion suppliers aim to continue working closely with retailers. The days when brands could be accused of failing to meet the needs of retailers are over.