Reaching the global market A Scottish heritage has proved a valuable marketing tool in the past but for those companies with global aspirations it brings the danger of being seen as parochial. Mary Carmichael reports on the fine llines that must be drawn To be or not to be­ Scottish. That is the question facing Scottish food and drinks companies with global aspirations. Do they play up their heritage and make the most of perceptions of Scotland as a land of environmental purity, quality and innovation? Or do they keep their Celtic origins quiet and minimise the risk of being seen as a parochial "cottage industry"? Most Scottish producers share the view that their country's image with consumers and retailers alike is positive nationally, south of the border and internationally. "Scotland is seen as a place where the air is cleaner, the water clearer and where things grow in a very pure environment," says Robin Lambie, marketing director of 133-year-old soup, jam and sauce producer Baxters. "And when you're dealing with food and drink, that's a definite advantage." These perceptions are especially valuable in the wake of public concern over BSE, GMOs and other food scares. "Many countries would give anything to have an identity as strong as Scotland's," says Jim Walker, MD of shortbread, cake and biscuits specialist Walkers. And it's not only the perception of purity and quality of product. Scottish food and drink companies agree that they are also generally perceived as having creativity, integrity and honesty ­ valuable characteristics in today's cut-throat market. However, while this may put Scotland on the international food map, it hasn't produced any global giants so far. Of the 200 companies that control 75% of the international food and drink market, none is Scottish. Scottishness as a marketing tool works best for those products seen as essentially, traditionally Scottish ­ especially ones that really benefit from a cleaner environment. Scotch whisky, shortbread, haggis and beef producers are wise to emphasise their highland heritage as strongly as possible. Jim Walker describes Walkers' shortbread range as being "unashamedly draped in rich tartan". "Some people say this is overused," he says. "But I say not if it's tasteful. Anyway, tartan is 100% appropriate for our products as they are indigenous to Scotland." Walker believes that the products' popularity internationally means that the tartan decoration is more than just a marketing gimmick. "Rather than just selling biscuits or shortbread, what we are marketing is the country's heritage. The tins bear the seal of Flora Macdonald and Bonnie Prince Charlie while gift tins feature authentic Scottish paintings of dramatic events in Scottish history." Walkers has also shown that it can adapt its regalia to suit the products, which are not so traditional. Two new ranges ­ liqueur cakes and Scottish biscuits, both of which aim at younger, less gift-oriented consumers ­ play down the all-over tartan look. According to Baxter's Lambie, companies needn't overdo the Scottishness on packaging. "There are no absolute rules to this," he says. "But for us, conveying the Scottishness of the Baxters brand is something that has to be done relatively subtly. We've added a touch of tartan to the lids of our fresh soups, but that's about all." Colin Warden, managing director of pâté specialist Castle Maclellan Foods, agrees that subtlety is key in most markets. "To take Scottishness to extremes could be counterproductive," he says. His company prefers to hint at Scottishness, placing the Scotland the Brand device (see box) on the side of packs and choosing product names that allude to the materials' Orkney Islands and Scottish loch provenance. "Scottishness has always been our USP within a category which had previously been seen as purely continental," says Warden. "Our product names advertise their heritage and identify them with all good things Scottish, but our packaging says we're a player." Seafood producer and grocery importer Sco-Fro plays both the Scottish freshness and Scottish integrity cards ­ although it focuses on different aspects in each of its two divisions. "With the seafood division, we certainly play up our Scottishness, as Scottish langoustine in particular has a very high reputation," says chairman and chief executive Stanley Bernard. "Our Newton Stewart plant concentrates mainly on breaded fish products, but we still like to promote the Scottish provenance of the products and raw materials." However, within Sco-Fro's grocery division, Scottishness is almost irrelevant and can actually confuse the consumer. "We import the products, primarily canned products from Italy and ethnic sauces from the Far East so the products aren't Scottish and Scottishness is not appropriate," says Bernard. This irrelevance spreads across many categories. Gordon Johncox, grocery and specialists trading director at brewer Scottish Courage, stresses that 85% of the company's take home beer business ­ which includes Scottish products such as McEwan's and products brewed under licence such as Millers Genuine Draft ­ is outside Scotland. "Purchasing behaviour in beer aisles is based on a range of factors beyond simply the issue of location," he says. Robert Wiseman Dairies finds that freshness becomes an issue with consumers in the south of England when the company's Scottishness is too strongly emphasised. "Their milk is produced down there but consumers get a bit worried if they think their milk has had to travel from Scotland; they don't believe it's fresh. As most of our product sold in the south is now processed and packaged in England, we can't call it a Scottish product anyway," says sales and marketing assistant Joanne Rae. Alasdair Cox, marketing manager of expanding meat producer Grampian Foods, says the company has also found some limitation in the benefits of Scottishness. "With 30 sites across the UK, we consider ourselves an international company," he explains. "Twenty years ago we very much played upon our Scottishness but that's changed somewhat. We don't promote all the products as Scottish because they're not. What we do say is that we're a Scottish company with Scottish products. We also have factories in Wales and they're also very patriotic. We use Welsh branding on Welsh lamb." Lambie admits that emphasis on Baxters' Scottishness has been an issue. "Although Baxters has concluded that promoting its heritage is far more advantageous than otherwise, there are questions: Is it an integral part of the brand or is there a danger of being seen as too parochial or too political?" he says. Castle Maclellan's Warden warns also that there is still a tendency internationally to view Scotland as a place of handmade products, of cottage industries and to take Scottish companies less seriously as a result. So a company that wants to make sure it is seen as a premiership player rather than a third division country cousin has to keep its and Scotland's rural, tartan-wearing image under control. Timing is important too. Scottishness is a positive trait now, but this can change with issues such as devolution and the foot and mouth outbreak in Dumfries and Galloway which affected the country's image in England and internationally. But should these issues really worry Scottish companies wanting to make their mark in the international arena? Jonathan Tait, director of Scottish Enterprise's Food and Drink Division, thinks not. "Companies which relied solely on Scottishness are no longer around," he warns. "Scottishness is a very powerful additional selling point but it can never be the only selling point. Products that are not traditionally Scottish are not going to benefit in the same way ­ McLamb Rogan Josh and so on ­ at least not yet, although I do foresee a time when provenance grows even more important as food gets further away from its origins ­ for example Scottish steak being emphasised as the basis for a ready made lasagne. "With one or two exceptions, such as Grampian Foods, we in Scotland are wasting our time trying to compete with the huge commodity suppliers. We have to recognise that for the vast majority, we need to go down the route of value added, niche players." And Scottish competitors should remember that even a share of a niche sector of a $3 trillion worldwide market or $800bn European market is still a nice little earner. {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}