Tesco horse burgers: hope for brands?

One of our brandgym rallying calls is "Where's the Sausage?", or as they say in America, "Where's the beef?" And this is a question that millions of Tesco shoppers are asking this morning, following reports that Tesco's Everyday Value "beefburgers" have been found to contain … 29% horse meat.

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This is bad news for Tesco, who have remove all their burgers from stores and suffered a 1% drop in share price, wiping £300million off the company's value. But it could be a welcome ray of sunshine for brands, in today's tough times of retailer power, own label copy cats, consumer caution and raw material price hikes. 

Brands make life easier by standing for "A known and trusted experience, that appeals to head and heart." The key word here is trusted. And trust is easier to build when a brand focuses on a core business and being famous for something. Common sense says that someone focused on making a few things really well should sell better stuff than someone trying to be a "Jack of all trades", such as Tesco selling thousands of different own label products. So, we trust Heinz to make great Ketchup. Hellman's to make the best mayonnaise. This trust has been created through decades of consistent performance.

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In contrast, many consumers tend to believe that standard own label is not quite as good. They question the quality of ingredients and production. After all, Tesco selling thousands of different own label products. And Tesco's horse burgers have reinforced this negative memory structure, helped by the power of online news propogation (a Google search for "Tesco horse burgers" have 750,000 results).

Here are some suggested action points for brands:

1. Sausage (or beef) matters

Tesco's troubles are another reminder that product quality, or sausage, cannot be taken for granted. Don't rely on emotional sizzle alone to be distinctive versus own label. The best brands combine both sausage and sizzle. A good example is Bird's Eye (Iglo), who are trusted to make the best frozen peas. And good burgers too. Will the brand be brave enough to run some burger ads today I wonder?!

2. Focus on the core

Trust is easier to build up if you focus on being famous for something. This means having a brilliant core business, and a stream of renovation to keep it fresh, exciting and up-to-date. For example, McCain have focused on the core of frozen potato products, delivering these in different formats for different occasions.

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3. Strategic supply chain 

This story shows how important the supply chain and sourcing have become today. The occasional factory trip is no longer enough for marketing folk. Of course, the best companies have always known this, with Mars a shining example. Mars offices are built next to the factory. All Mars marketing and sales trainees work on a factory production line for couple of months. And the product is tasted daily on the production line, even if you work on Whiska's catfood.

In conclusion, Tesco's horse burgers are a reminder that being famous for product quality on the core still matters and is a key way for brands to build trust.