Every quarter, Brägger and Saunders meet up to keep the range up to date, iron out any problems and discuss new ideas. Food from Britain’s managing director for Germany and Switzerland, Roy Edleston, also takes part in these discussions. He is the third link in this buyer-supplier chain and acts as an extra marketing arm for Marlow, as well as interpreter and legal advisor. He says Marlow Foods has made the correct exporting moves by entering a new market through one or two key retailers.
A famous vegetarian may seem the unlikeliest of matchmakers to unite a Swiss delicatessen meat buyer with Marlow Foods, the maker of the Quorn meat-free range. But Linda McCartney it was who acted as the conduit to bring the two together.
Ten years ago, Erwin Brägger, a product manager at Swiss supermarket giant Migros, settled down to read his new Linda McCartney cook book and came across the British brand for the first time.
As it happened, Brägger was in the throws of launching Migros’s first meat-free range under its own brand Conatur, which had soya and vegetable products already signed on. Brägger was not quite sure what Linda McCartney was talking about in the recipe book but had an inkling that the range would fit into the Conatur brand. He asked a friend, who was touring London at the time, to visit Sainsbury to bring back samples as a holiday present.
“Once I had tasted Quorn, I was quite sure we would have success,” says Brägger. “It was the only meat-free product to have a bite and taste so close to meat, and 10 years later it still is the only one around.”
An initial meeting was quickly set up with Marlow Foods, an exclusive listing agreement was arranged and four months later Quorn was on the shelves of the biggest supermarket in Switzerland. Quorn is now stocked in the 500 stores across the country and sales have shot up by 50% over the past three years.
Since Migros made the move and “asked Marlow out on the first date”, the partnership has grown, says Barry Saunders, Marlow Foods’ senior national accounts manager.
“We are quite a small company so cannot march in and spend a huge amount of money on marketing - we have to have a partnership with the retailer.
“It’s been great for us to work with the leading supermarket in the country and one of the key benefits to us has been the excellent discipline in every store - compliance is terrific.
“Communication is also very simple. Erwin has been our contact for the whole 10 years. We’ve built up a great relationship and can always reach him.”
Migros’s local knowledge - of the Swiss food regulations for example - was invaluable for Marlow Foods. The rules, reportedly, are tougher than those in the EU and the supermarket chain was able to advise Marlow Foods on what ingredients could and could not be used.
Since then the partnership has worked together on product range. “A lot of time has been spent working in the development kitchen,” says Saunders. “Working closely with Migros on range development has meant that we have the right mix for Switzerland. By sitting around the table together, we have been able to avoid making too many mistakes.”
The partnership also had to come up with the correct marketing strategy. First of all, the packaging had to be changed for the Swiss market. Brägger insisted on developing packaging that would clearly show the product, because his customers like to see what they are buying. An agreement was also reached on how to co-brand the product, with the Quorn logo displayed on the pack’s front.
However, introducing Quorn to the Swiss market was not without its risks for Migros. “We were taking quite a big chance because we were creating an entirely new category with our Conatur meat-free products and needed to get our customers to understand what Quorn was and how they could use it,” said Brägger.
So he and Marlow Foods had to figure out a way to raise customer awareness.
Brägger says that education and promotion were vital in persuading Swiss consumers to buy. However, as the product was new, it was also a risk and only a small marketing budget was initially allocated
“Marlow Foods was able to give us ideas about how Quorn was sold in other markets and we could use our knowledge to tailor that to our consumers,” explains the Swiss buyer. “We didn’t have a huge publicity budget, but we were able to develop recipe cards and made good use of in-store demonstrators.”
Both Marlow and Migros contribute to marketing costs and, as sales have rapidly increased over the last few years, so too has the marketing budget. Quorn now makes up 50% of the Conatur range, which equates to 35% of the meat-free market in Switzerland. One of the bestselling products in the Conatur range is the Quorn Ribster. Having tasted the British version, Brägger liked the base product but knew it had to be adapted to Swiss tastes. He enlisted the help of Migros’s long-term packing and distribution partner, Fredak, to help Marlow develop a marinade to suit his customers.
Its success in Switzerland, coupled with a big breakthrough in the US, has won Marlow Foods recognition for its exporting prowess. At the end of last year, Food from Britain gave the company three awards for export, including its top gong, Food and Drink Exporter of the Year.