After the excesses of the late 1980s, boom turned to bust in Thatcher’s Britain. The recession coincided with the arrival, in 1990, of several new discounters: Aldi launched its first store in Birmingham Netto announced its UK arrival in Leeds and Poundland opened in Burton-on-Trent.
In a bid to boost sales, Asda and Tesco joined an estimated 60,000 retailers defying Sunday trading laws on 1 December 1991. By the time Sunday Trading was officially endorsed in 1994, Tesco had overtaken Sainsbury’s as the UK’s biggest retailer, on the back of its opportunistic investment in cheap land during the recession, as well as innovations introduced by then marketing director Terry Leahy, such as its Value range and convenience stores. The addition of Clubcard and its first online grocery shopping service, in 1995, went on to cement its pre-eminence among the big four grocers.
The 1993 Agriculture Act brought further power to supermarkets, as it dispensed with the Milk Marketing Board. But processors also grew valuable brands out of dairy-based commodities - Cathedral City (1995) and Seriously Strong (1996) on the cheese side, and, in milk, Cravendale (1998). More crippling to farmers was the growing BSE crisis, especially when it emerged that the government had covered up evidence linking BSE with CJD. As the first genetically modified products went on sale in the UK in 1996, beef exports were officially banned.
Concerns over food safety coincided with the arrival of mainstream organic and ethically traded brands. The likes of Green & Black’s (1991) and Cafédirect (1991) were formed a year before the Fairtrade Foundation was established. Others to embrace ethical trading were Yeo Valley (1993), Divine (1998), and Innocent Drinks (1999), the latter skilfully combining sustainability, health, fun and entrepreneurialism into every one of its new fruit ‘smoothies’.
In a different vein, the rise of alcopops was tapping into ‘ladette’ culture and the ‘girl power’ pioneered by the Spice Girls. But the most significant event of the decade year was Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the internet in 1991. As the 21st century loomed, British brands and British retailers were entering a new digital age.
History of Brands
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History of brands: the 1990s