Wednesday, 6 May 2020
Christine Watts, AHDB Chief Officer for Communications and Market Development, on how the industry has come together during the COVID-19 outbreak.
There’s an ancient curse which says: ‘May you live in interesting times’ – and, boy, we are living that right now. Being a farmer myself and having had a lifelong passion for what we do – and the food we produce – it feels very much like we are at the heart of the storm.
Like most sectors, agriculture is dealing with its fair share of dramatic upheavals, from changing markets and disrupted supply chains, to strange work patterns – not to mention families having to live through their own crises with ill loved ones.
However, at times of crisis, our industry has a fantastic ability to come together and find solutions. In the past few weeks, AHDB, with the help of colleagues in Dairy UK, Defra, Quality Meat Scotland, Hybu Cig Cymru, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive, has pulled together marketing campaigns worth almost £2.5 million to tackle specific supply chain challenges directly arising from Covid 19.
Even without adding in the next burst of Red Tractor’s advertising campaign, airing on TV through the end of April and into May, which we support, that’s an impressive marshalling of time, resources and money, both to help ease current shorter-term supply chain problems and respond to changed consumer trends. Our analysts estimate we could be looking at an extra 300 million meal occasions eaten in home every week in the current lockdown, as well as predicting recessionary purchasing behaviour as we slowly emerge from the current restrictions.
Much has been made in the past few days of the problems faced by dairy farmers supplying foodservice outlets, with some having to dump milk or take price cuts. In response, AHDB and Dairy UK are launching a £1 million campaign, supported financially by Defra and devolved government partners, with the theme of ‘Milk Moments’. Taking its cue from the need to look after our mental health, from next week, it will encourage consumers to reconnect with loved ones and family and remind them of the role liquid milk plays in these moments, whether it’s a cup of tea over the fence, or a milkshake in the garden with the kids.
Together with QMS and HCC, AHDB has launched a £1.2million Make It beef campaign, aimed at showing consumers how they can recreate easy to cook restaurant-style meals in the comfort of their own homes, with high-quality, hindquarter cuts, like steak. With mince sales up by 45 per cent in the four weeks to 22 March, processors are having to mince more expensive cuts to meet demand, with a subsequent drop in carcase value and impact on carcase balance. Working jointly on this for the next 12 weeks means that colleagues in Wales and Scotland are able to promote their own regional beef brands, and AHDB will be promoting Red Tractor beef. With many consumers experimenting with new recipes and looking for inspiration, we are offering plenty of new ideas with the #makeit hashtag on social media, as well forthcoming spots on radio and TV. This campaign has already gained impressive retail support.
Finally, two of AHDB’s successful campaigns are making a comeback on social media over the next couple of months. Make it Pulled Pork will be running recipes and shareable social content for six weeks, to the end of July, aiming to boost sales of pork shoulder. Also, the impactful potatoes More than a Bit on the Side assets will be reminding consumers of the versatility and taste of potatoes as they tire of running down their stockpiled pasta and rice, helping to take the sting out of reduced demand from chip shops closed during lockdown.
Collectively, this is a huge achievement and significant investment, made possible by the industry coming together to share supply chain insight, hard cash, expertise and effort.
The farming sector has had its fair share of sector-specific issues over the years, but never all at the same time. This collaboration has been amazing to see and reaffirms the central role of farmers and growers in the 21st century. We are all doing our bit to ensure that consumers can rely on British farmers, growers, processors and retailers to provide a choice of affordable options during this time.
We do, though, need to pause and reflect. You can’t necessarily market your way out of a sector-specific crisis, particularly when the nation’s attention is still focused elsewhere, most importantly on our wonderful NHS. However, we all still need to eat, and this work will help ensure the commodities that my farm, and those across the UK, produce remain relevant to consumers in ways which reflect the challenging and unpredictable times in which we live. AHDB will continue to work to give new inspiration to connect with this produce, demonstrating tangibly how your levy is spent, so people continue to enjoy what we work so hard to supply.