In the past six months alone, Hershey's, RC Cola, Amy's Kitchen and SoBe have all achieved listings with UK supermarkets and on 3 August frozen yoghurt brand Pinkberry opened its first UK concession in Selfridges.
However, there are both stark contrasts and striking similarities in the factors driving the flow of brands back and forth across the Atlantic.
For many US brands, the need to unearth new revenue streams has driven them into the UK. "A lot of it has to do with the fact that these brands have saturated their home market and they're under pressure to find growth somewhere else," says International Marketing Partners director Allyson Stewart-Allen, who advises US companies looking to expand into Britain.
Just as the global consolidation of retail has provided opportunities for British brands in the US, American producers have also benefited here in Britain. Tesco recently rolled out its rebranded and reformulated Goodness kids brand, previously sold through Fresh & Easy, while Asda has been in the vanguard of the US brands movement through its global leverage activity with its parent Walmart.
"There's always been a demand for US brands in the UK, but in recent times our relationship with Walmart has enabled us to facilitate bringing a lot more of these products over," says Chris Silcock, category director for impulse grocery at Asda.
Asda launched an exclusive range of 12 Hershey's products earlier in the year, including chocolate Kisses and Nuggets. Other US lines exclusive to the retailer include Lion Bar cereal, Arnotts Shapes, Pepperidge Farms biscuits and RC Cola, while Asda's new Elegant Living range is inspired by Walmart's Canopy range.
The intention is always for US products to become permanent lines, says Silcock, although each brand still has to earn its place on shelf. "Some will work, some won't work, but we'll keep trying it. There's not a limited-edition mentality. We want to put products in that will stay the course."
Marketers have long been vexed by the question of whether US brands need to adapt their offer to succeed in the UK. Stewart-Allen believes there's no fail-safe recipe for UK success but says it's rarely as simple as bringing the same concept to the UK and assuming it will swim.
The retail scene here is profoundly different and that has to be one of the big lessons for any brand," she says. "UK consumers are a bit more resistant to trying something new. There's much more scepticism than there is in the US."
Researching the market is critical to understanding what UK consumers want from a product, she says.
"Doing it intuitively isn't going to get you there. You have to understand if and how you have to be different is it packaging, is it flavours, which aspects are not appreciated in an overseas market that are at home? One of the problems US companies have in the UK is an in-built assumption that because consumers speak English they don't have to do a whole lot different. Challenging that assumption is really important."
The examples of Hershey's and Amy's Kitchen demonstrate two contrasting approaches to launching a US brand in the UK. Hershey's, by far the best-known confectionery brand in the US, has opted to keep the product formula and branding the same.
Although Asda has made some concession to local tastes by stocking an Extra Creamy variant to appeal to the sweeter UK palate, Silcock says consumers in general want the authentic Hershey's products and recipes they've seen and tried on holiday.
The lesser-known frozen ready meals brand Amy's Kitchen, on the other hand, has created UK-specific branding to incorporate the cues important to UK consumers a decision that was integral to securing listings with Asda and Sainsbury's.
"Supermarket buyers were saying they loved the product but the branding was not what was needed to sell at the volume they required," says Doug James, MD of Honey, the design agency that developed the UK branding for Amy's Kitchen. "The specialist whole foods market can be way more artisan in America. Over here it's become much more refined. We needed to evolve the brand to become more relevant to the UK without losing its soul."
The result, according to James, is design that reflects the "personal and homey ethos" of Amy's Kitchen through the tone of copy, the use of images and style of photography. Other US brands, such as SoBe Pure Rush, have targeted the UK because they believe they have an entirely new proposition and can kickstart new sub-categories.
"There was a real gap in the UK for a drink that was completely different to anything else in the stimulant energy market," says Jon Evans, head of seed brands at UK distributor Britvic Soft Drinks.
"SoBe Pure Rush is unique in the sense that consumers love the taste and the fact it contains naturally sourced caffeine, guarana and ginseng, with no artificial colours or flavours."
Rather than go all out for supermarket distribution from day one, Britvic's approach has been to seed the brand through a number of key outlets to create a "word-of-mouth buzz".
Four months on from launch, the product is performing particularly well in forecourts and has now won listings with Tesco and Sainsbury's.
The influx of US brands to the UK shows no sign of abating. Just a few weeks ago, US breakfast cereal giant Post initiated a major assault on the UK by launching its Honey Bunches of Oats products into Morrisons, Tesco and Asda, and the arrival of Pinkberry is expected to pave the way for the introduction of more frozen yoghurt brands. "Once you've got Pinkberry I think you're going to get other frozen yoghurts. I think there's a big growth opportunity there," says Marketing Partners' Stewart-Allen.
Asda, meanwhile, promises a continuous pipeline of US grocery brand launches. "We're just dipping our toe in the water at the moment," says Silcock. "There's so much potential for US brands over here and you'll see the global leverage activity getting much bigger in the future."
The Yanks have landed
SoBe Pure Rush
Britvic launched the energy drink into the UK market in April after identifying a gap in the market. It's already secured listings with the likes of BP, Esso, Shell, Total, WHS Travel, Tesco and Sainsbury's. Amy's Kitchen The frozen ready meals brand, which hit the UK market in March, was forced to create UK-specific packaging that reflected the brand's "homey" ethos to secure listings with Asda and Sainsbury's.
Originally launched in 1905, Royal Crown (RC) Cola hit Asda's shelves in April this year. The brand's imagery and retro packaging plays on RC Cola's American heritage. Hershey's Many pundits questioned whether or not this American brand would be to the taste of UK consumers, but Asda started stocking select items from the range in March, including a sweeter Extra Creamy bar.
Post Honey Bunches of Oats
Cereal behemoth Post announced its intention to mount an assault on the UK market with the launch of Honey Bunches of Oats in August. Post says the brand is the first of many new products it intends to roll out in the UK.