Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery. Try telling that to Seachill, whose brand, The Saucy Fish Co, is set to be axed by Tesco in favour of a new six-strong own-label range called Fish in a Flash.
The shock delisting has left both Seachill and other brand owners scratching their heads in disbelief. Saucy is still in its infancy but, within three years and in a recession to boot, it racked up annual sales of £35m in 2012 by creating a new category in pre-packed chilled fish.
The industry is rife with speculation as to ‘why’. Had Tesco taken umbrage over the fact that Saucy, which was exclusive to Tesco for the first 12 months, is now on so many competitors’ shelves? Was the move prompted by the proliferation of own-label me toos, with their often cheaper price points? Was there any link with the delisting of New Covent Garden Soup Company last October?
Outside Saucy’s Grimsby and Tesco’s Cheshunt HQs, we may never learn the real reason behind the decision, but in the wake of the news, perhaps the more pertinent question to ask is - ‘what now?’
Seachill - which retains a substantial own-label fish contract with Tesco - says it is disappointed by the news but by no means broken. It is confident that Saucy will still grow sales this calendar year (to a forecast £43m), despite the loss of the contract. It is also taking solace from the fact it is now in Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Ocado, Budgens and Booths. Sales of Saucy Fish are flying beyond the UK too, with listings in Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Republic of Ireland.
But other brand owners are worried that it’s indicative of a wider trend and that it’s not just tired brands such as the New Covent Garden Soup Co that should be watching their backs.
“I suspect Saucy Fish is just the first casualty on a long list of young, ‘fun’ and, though relatively successful, less established brands that could face the same fate,” warns Don Williams, CCO at branding agency Pi Global.
Brand owners need to wake up to the threat “pretty damn quick”, he says, warning that Tesco had realised the need to inject own-label lines with more personality and that even strong brands could find themselves in the firing line.
There may also be unintended consequences of the delisting of Saucy for Tesco, too, argue other experts. There is a real danger that it could lose market share in fish as a result of ditching Saucy, given the loss of Seachill’s accompanying marketing spend, believes one marketing source. “Unless Tesco launches something that’s absolutely amazing and they really tap into Saucy Fish consumers with what they do, they’re going to lose out.”
Seachill agrees. “Hard data evidence from retailers’ own loyalty cards is compelling and shows that where The Saucy Fish Co is not available, shoppers will leave the category, even if an alternative is available,” says sales and marketing director Simon Smith.
Of course, it is not the first time similar takes on Saucy’s products have launched under own label. In October, Sainsbury’s launched three copycat products under its bySainsbury’s Just Cook range, but in contrast to Tesco, it hedged its bets by retaining Saucy Fish alongside those products.
Time will tell whether Fish in a Flash turns out to be a flash in the pan. Meanwhile, Seachill is keeping a watching brief on the situation. “We hope that in the fullness of time, Saucy’s role in the category will be recognised,” says Smith. And the role of brands at Tesco in general, others would add.