Confessions of a national brand snob

It was early afternoon on a chilly but bright spring Wednesday, halfway through the week and halfway through yet another diet and my fiancé had again neglected to provide me with any packed lunch for work. So I took advantage of the weather and decided to walk to the local M&S to pick up a tin of my favourite Heinz tomato soup. Upon arrival I got a shock!

M&S was all out of Heinz soup!

What does that mean for my lunch? I didn’t even register any other soup brands to exist but Heinz. I’ve grown up admiring those gorgeous red tins in the aisles of my favourite supermarkets and putting those into my trolley. What am I to do next?

I look to the right and see that M&S do their own brand soup. “Mmmm… I’m not sure about this…” I think to myself. Shall I give it a go? I have little option if I want tomato soup for my lunch.

Brand snobbery has always been a shopping trait of mine. When we used to eat chicken when I was a child, my brothers and I always joked to my mum “Are we eating poor people’s food?” When we had pork or beef it felt special. During the 80s and 90s if you didn’t have McCains oven chips people would look at you with pity.

It was the same with Heinz. As a leading brand that dominated the shelves; beans, soup and ketchup just had to be Heinz. Maybe they looked and tasted better than everything else? But come to think of it, maybe we just didn’t have any viable alternatives? Supermarket brands were always considered inferior and there wasn’t much choice back then.

That has changed nowadays with a lot more competition from supermarkets against the market leaders, but I’m still stuck in my ways. It’s hard to change when you’re used to something for so long which has consistently been so good. So trying a new tomato-based soup made by a supermarket rather than a specialist brand name was a big deal for me and of course I was very sceptical.

I take the plunge and purchase a tin of M&S brand tomato soup. I fit in a quick trip to my favourite clothes shop to check what’s new in stock and then head back to work where I  sit down to have my soup with a crusty white roll whilst skimming through emails at my desk.

After waiting two minutes for the microwave to do its thing, I sit myself down and take my first taste, the silver spoon slowly punching in beneath the rich red velvety tomato. “I bet it’s rubbish, I so wish M&S hadn’t run out of Heinz” I think to myself.

As I take my first taste I unwittingly raise an eyebrow. “Wow, this actually tastes quite good.”

I continue to slurp, gulp and swallow like never before as I raced through my soup dipping my bread against the side of the bowl to get every last drop. Dare I say it…it was even better than Heinz.

For years I have been ignorant and insensible to these ‘alternative’ brands to Heinz and that goes for other things too: washing powder, shampoo, tea, coffee, bread, bleach, toothpaste; you name it, if I’ve not heard of it bellowing out in the ad breaks during Coronation Street “I aint buying it.” An attitude which has also rubbed off on my thirteen year old son.

But my trip to M&S made me more open-minded. Since then I have even been to Lidl and experienced a whole new thrill, buying low-priced alternatives to the big brand names that I’m used to. I bought Lidl’s Choco Rice instead of Kellogg’s Coco Pops and my son didn’t even bat an eyelid. Not only did I save myself over £2 on the same size box, but the taste I’m told, was just as good. Proof that being a brand snob is not always cost or quality effective!

I know I’m not alone in this experience, my colleague Rob Neill has written a very similar blog inspired by his childhood love of Mr Kipling cakes. The point is that supermarkets here in the UK have a relatively long history now of attracting customer loyalty via their own brand products. I’m just a bit late to that party as a customer!

In my role as Solution Consultant at S4RB I get to see first-hand how our retail clients are striving to keep ahead of national brands and their supermarket competitors as well as take great strides with innovation. What I didn’t know as a brand-snob shopper was the complexity for retailers in having such a wide range of products with their own name on the label. It takes a lot to keep on top of all of the suppliers that make these products and it comes back to the retailer properly collaborating with their supply base to be able to continue to make these products a success. That’s why we keep touting the importance of supplier engagement – a blog topic in itself!

Tags: Customer experience, Consumer trust

Michelle Decelis

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