With 28% of consumers saying they will change their shopping habits during the World Cup, the stakes are high for brands and retailers. Nick Hughes reports

Three weeks until kick-off and the big guns are upping the ante in their bid for World Cup glory. Morrisons has drafted in Alan Shearer to spearhead its attack, Frank Lampard is playing a central role in Tesco's campaign and Carlsberg's latest ad looks like a who's who of English sporting heroes.

With both the election and the domestic football season beginning to fade from memory, the nation is warming up for the World Cup's first kick-off in June. But with time running out to impress punters, which brands are best placed to strike gold this summer?

Exclusive research carried out for The Grocer by TNS Omnibus shows the usual suspects are currently at the forefront of consumers' minds. When asked to spontaneously name a grocery brand associated with the World Cup, 22% named Coca-Cola not a surprise in itself, but when you consider that the next highest mentions were for Carling (5%), Walkers (4%) and Budweiser (4%), it brings home the scale of Coke's advantage.

Coke is an official partner of the World Cup, but there's more to its success than throwing money at sponsorship, says SPA executive chairman and Market Research Society spokesman Jon Priest.

"Coke is a massive brand and there's an assumption that if there's any global event they will always be involved in some way. There's also a long heritage of Coke being associated with sport. It's part of the brand's landscape."

Coke also tops the chart of fmcg brands consumers believe to be official World Cup partners and sponsors, although Pepsi also makes the top 10, despite having no official link to the World Cup.

"Consumers will misattribute sometimes in assuming a global brand is involved as a primary or secondary sponsor when they're not," says Priest. "They see Lionel Messi and Frank Lampard advertising Pepsi in a World Cup year, so it's not surprising."

Both Mars and Carlsberg brands that had not launched their World Cup ads when the four-day sample period began on May 6 were notable absentees from the list of brands consumers spontaneously associate with the tournament, despite their status as the official chocolate and beer brands of the England football team.

Carlsberg has traditionally produced big-budget TV ads as part of its World Cup marketing and 2010 is no exception. Ian Botham and Bobby Charlton are among the stars to feature in the current If Carlsberg Did Teamtalks ad, which first aired on May 8.

Mars, meanwhile, recently repackaged its bars in the colours of the St George's Cross to highlight its football credentials and signed up John Barnes to recreate his infamous World In Motion rap in a forthcoming TV ad campaign.

Priest believes that while partner brands may get lost in the early marketing pandemonium of a World Cup, they will benefit from higher levels of recognition once the tournament gets under way.

"In the preamble to the World Cup, people don't yet have a clue about who are the sponsors and a lot of the challenger brands benefit by association. It tends to clarify itself when the event gets under way and they can talk up their accreditations in advertising breaks."

The survey also explored attitudes towards supermarket World Cup offers, with consumers citing Asda (16%) and Tesco (14%) as offering the best-value football promotions a verdict Priest attributes to price perception. "Consumers associate price as a key part of Asda's brand offer. It's the defining part of their architecture, so people assume they're going to be price-led in World Cup merchandising."

More specifically, TNS Omnibus managing director Sue Homeyard believes alcohol promotions are informing perceptions of price.

"I think it's beer promotions that are driving these mentions," she says. "Sixty per cent of women couldn't give an answer here, compared with 51% of men, so that suggests it's to do with cheap booze."

The fact men are taking an interest in World Cup promotions could have important ramifications for supermarkets. "It could be that men are saying, 'rather than go to our usual supermarket, let's go to the other one a few minutes down the road because I know they've got this really good beer promotion on'," says Homeyard.

Over a quarter of shoppers (28%) said they were likely to change their shopping behaviour during the World Cup, but persuading shoppers to switch their supermarket allegiance permanently will not be easy, says Homeyard.

"It takes a lot for shoppers to change their behaviour consistently. If they go into a new store and it exceeds their expectations, there is a chance they will stay, but generally it takes a lot for people to completely change their loyalty."

In the run-up to the World Cup, Tesco is placing emphasis on creating a sense of theatre in its stores. Its World Cup range landed last week and features a mix of official licensed products and St George's Cross lines, both of which will remain in store for the duration of the tournament. As official supermarket of the England team, Tesco is allowed to use player images at point of sale, and plans to capitalise on this in the coming weeks.

"Supermarkets have a role to play in the pageantry of it all," says Priest. "Alcohol is a part of it but it's as much about joining in with a sense of national fervour."

According to TNS Omnibus, 16% of shoppers plan to host World Cup parties, each spending an average of £120. There are few surprises among the categories set to benefit from increased spending, with beer and lager (78%), crisps, nuts & snacks (78%) and soft drinks (72%) likely to see surges in sales.

The main contrast with previous World Cups is the volume of non-food items retailers are looking to shift. A Tesco spokesperson says the core of its early advertising has been around setting the living room up for the game. TVs, HD devices, furniture and football-related merchandising are already seeing "great consumer interest".

Asda has yet to reveal its World Cup strategy, but promises to unveil a host of initiatives and new product launches in the weeks leading up to the tournament.

On 11 June, the talking will stop and the battle for consumer spend will begin in earnest. Where the World Cup is concerned, it's not just the players who are under pressure to perform.

...of consumers say they will change their grocery shopping behaviour during the World Cup.

...of shoppers say they're not affected one way or the other by World Cup branding on grocery items.

...of consumers plan to host some kind of World Cup party.

Consumer views
What grocery brands do you associate with the World Cup?
Coca-Cola 22%
Carling 5%
Walkers 4%
Budweiser 4%
Other mentions <3%

Which partners and sponsors do you associate with the World Cup?
Coca-Cola 14%
McDonald's 9%
Adidas 9%
Budweiser 5%
Sony 5%
Mastercard 4%
Visa 4%
Nike 4%
Pepsi 4%
Other mentions <3%

Are you planning to host a World Cup party, and if so, what will you buy?
Beer/lager 78%
Crisps/nuts/snacks 78%
Soft drinks 72%
Food to barbecue 70%
Wine 52%
Buffet-style pre-prepared foods 42%
Chocolates/confectionery 42%
Spirits 41%
Ice cream 36%
Deli-style dips/salads 36%
Cakes/desserts 31%
Cider 30%
World Cup-themed food 24%
South African-themed items 9%

Which supermarkets run the best value-for-money promotions?
Asda 16%
Tesco 14%
Morrisons 6%
Sainsbury's 4%
Don't know 55%
Other mentions all 1%

Will you spend more during the World Cup period, and if so, what will you spend the extra on?
Beer 34%
Crisps/nuts/snacks 33%
Soft drinks 26%
Food to barbecue 24%
Takeaway 19%
Wine 17%
Buffet-style pre-prepared foods 17%
Deli salads/dips 15%
Cider 14%
Chocolates/confectionery 14%

Source: TNS Omnibus