Tips for Marketing Your Artisan Food or Drink Business
In episode #015 of The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show I talk to Tom Hunt, the former Marketing Manager for the Ludlow Food Centre, an award-winning farm shop with a retail floor of 4,000 square feet that is based just outside the market town of Ludlow, in Shropshire, England. This episode provides useful tips for marketing your artisan food or drink business.
After university Tom worked on big brands, both national and international, so he brings a professional understanding of the marketing discipline to promoting and selling artisan food and drink.
Topics Tom discusses on the show include the marketing tools and techniques he uses, the value of having a marketing plan, the importance of being flexible with your marketing plan, why you should know your target market and what to do if you haven’t got thousands to spend on marketing.
This is the first of a two-part series with Tom; you can listen to part two in the next episode of the show.
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If audio isn’t your thing, you can download a transcript of the show here: Ep #015: Tom Hunt: Marketing the Ludlow Food Centre, a Multimillion Pound Food and Drink Business. You can also find the full transcript of the show at the end of this post.
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Key Points from the Show
- Identify your point(s) of difference as these will help you stand out from the crowd and give customers a compelling reason to buy from you. Identifying your points of difference will also help you develop your brand positioning and will be the core of all your marketing messages. Your points of difference should link back to your customers’ needs and desires. Here are three steps that can help you identify your points of difference. There are some great example here on why your points of difference should always link back to your customers’ needs.
- Understand your target market and the different segments within this group. This will help you to understand those aspects of your products that appeal to your potential customers. With this information you can adapt your marketing messages so that they appeal to different customer segments, which in turn will increase the likelihood that they will respond positively to your brand.
- Some degree of marketing planning is essential, not least because it helps you to map out your marketing objectives, the direction you will take and the tools and budget you will need to achieve these objectives. The ‘four P’s’ of a marketing plan (known as ‘the marketing mix’) are summarised here and here.
- As Tom mentioned on the show, it’s a good idea, when deciding which products to enter into awards, to look at things from a commercial point of view. Which scenario is better, to win an award for a product with low commercial appeal or to win an award for a product that has great commercial appeal? Other factors to consider include the margin on products you are entering into awards as well as how difficult or easy they are to make.
- Setting targets for your business will enable you to measure your progress across a range of parameters. Here is a really smart article on setting business targets, including for start-up businesses where owners can feel they are plucking numbers out of the air. That’s OK. You have to start somewhere.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with new marketing tools. But keep your focus on a core set of tools that you can use well and get good results from.
- Telling the story of your brand is a powerful way of standing out from the crowd. Here are 5 secrets for using storytelling for brand marketing success. Here is superb in-depth article on how good stories can give big voices to small ventures.
Very Sounds Bites from Tom Hunt
Check out the infographic below for some direct quotes from Tom during the show.
Thanks to Tom for generously giving his time to come on the show and for sharing his food and drink marketing expertise. To connect with the Ludlow Food Centre online and to find out how you can buy its vast range of food and drink, check out the Links and Resources section next.
Links/Resources Mentioned in the Show and Other Useful Links
- Ludlow Food Centre website
- Ludlow Food Centre on Twitter
- Ludlow Food Centre on Facebook
- Ludlow Food Centre on YouTube
- Ludlow Kitchen website
- FARMA (National Farmers’ Retail & Markets’ Association), a cooperative that is the largest group of independent retailers in Europe
- Chase Distillery
- The Shropshire Hills
- Edward Berry, Managing Director of the Ludlow Food Centre
- Great Taste Awards
- John Brereton, Butchery Manager at the Ludlow Food Centre
- Gloucester Old Spot breed of pig
- Content Marketing Institute
Thanks for Listening
Thanks for listening to the show. If you are a food or drink producer, or industry professional who would like to appear on the show (it’s free!), don’t hesitate to get in touch with me by using the Contact Form on this website or by tweeting me @FoodDrinkShow. To hear when each new episode of the show is released simply sign up for my newslsetter.
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Transcript of the Show
Catherine: Hello. Welcome to episode #015 of The Artisan Food and Drink Business Show, the show where artisan producers tell their brand story and share the secrets of their success. I’m your host Catherine Moran.
On today’s show we’re going to hear from Tom Hunt, the former Marketing Manger of the Ludlow Food Centre, a four thousand square feet and multimillion pound artisan food and drink business that’s based just outside the town of Ludlow in Shropshire, England. This is the first of a two-part series. You can listen to the second instalment in the next episode of the show.
Tom was responsible for marketing not just the Food Centre but also two of its associated businesses, the Ludlow Kitchen, a stylish 140-seat venue with an open kitchen that’s part bistro, part café, part restaurant, and also the Ludlow Pantry, a smart food and drink retail outlet and café based in Ludlow town itself.
The Ludlow Food Centre broke new ground when it opened its doors in 2007. It brought a transparency to food and drink production and retailing because it presented a central retail floor around which are dotted eight glass-fronted production kitchens including a dairy, a butchery, a jam, pickle and preserves’ kitchen, the main kitchen, a coffee roasting room and a bakery. The idea was that customers could watch their food being made — see how it is made, what ingredients are being used and who is making it.
Talking about transparency, I should note that, as a food producer, when I outgrew my home kitchen it was to the start-up unit in the Ludlow Food Centre that I moved. I rented a kitchen there for about two years at a favourable rent. I had a state of the art space for making my products and of course a high-volume outlet for selling them. I enjoyed my time there immensely.
This episode of the show is very much about planning and strategy — putting a marketing plan in place and then executing the strategies in that plan. Tom talks about the tactics and tools he has used to communicate the key message of the Food Centre, which boil down to ‘quality’. As you’ll hear on the show, storytelling is a central feature of Tom’s approach. Let’s now listen to what Tom has to say about marketing artisan food and drink.
Catherine: I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Tom Hunt, the Marketing Manager for the Ludlow Food Centre and its sister businesses onto the Artisan Food and Drink Business Show. You’re very welcome, Tom.
Tom: Thank you, Catherine.
Catherine: I know we’re going to be mostly talking about the marketing of artisan food and drink but before we do, would you mind giving a little background about yourself and what you did before you came to the Ludlow Food Centre?
Tom: Well, I guess in a good way for me, I’ve been involved in marketing for quite a long time. When I graduated from university, that was 2003, which seems like quite a long time ago now, sadly, but following that I was able to go sort of straight into marketing and I have been ever since. I’ve worked predominantly for marketing agencies both within the region here, I’ve worked in Birmingham for some time, but also down in London, and further afield as well. I was lucky that some of the businesses that I worked for had arms that reached beyond the British Isles.
Catherine: Are you talking about an agency background there?
Tom: Very much so, yeah, I mean working for marketing agencies, working on behalf of clients, brands from all over the country and all over the world, and the benefit of having that variety to have worked with certainly stood me in good stead for working at Ludlow.
Catherine: Absolutely, and bringing a professional into the business undoubtedly has been very good for the Ludlow Food Centre. Would you give us a little overview of the Ludlow Food Centre and its sister businesses? What are they? What size are they?
Tom: For those who aren’t aware, Ludlow Food Centre is a food hall with production kitchens. They’re glass fronted, so as you walk around doing your shopping you have the pleasure of watching our employees actually making the food that you’re going to buy.
There are 8 of these production kitchens, ranging from a dairy to a butchery, but in addition to that core business, we have had the luxury, if you like, to have expanded beyond being just a farm shop. In essence, the café, that we used to call the café and now has grown into something a little big bigger, was the Conservatory Barn all those years ago when we first opened, but it was nearly two years ago now that we developed it into Ludlow Kitchen, which was the first of our forays into doing something a little bigger than being a farm shop and café.
When we developed it, it was a 60-seat café serving food that was largely prepared in the Food Centre, and now it has its own open restaurant, open kitchen, and we have 140 seats. It’s a much bigger concern and there were certainly some thoughts, and we were all a little bit, kind of worried as to whether we were going to fill it, and yet… and so we got to the opening weekend, which was Easter of 2013, and lo and behold we had queues out the door. So we kind of thought we may have got the anticipation, at least, right.
Catherine: Yeah. Yes. I know it’s an incredibly busy place and serves some really wonderful food.
Tom: Yeah, it is. It’s a fantastic building. The development, which was done by a local contractor here on the estate actually in Ludlow, was very sympathetically done. We are converting old barns, after all, and so we want to try and keep some of the nice feel and feature that comes with them and certainly what’s been achieved with Ludlow Kitchen as a business, but also is a place for customers to enjoy our food. It’s brilliant, it’s absolutely brilliant.
Catherine: What is roughly the floor space of the Ludlow Food Centre itself?
Tom: The Food Centre is 4,000 square feet, so we’re a pretty decent sized-
Tom: -food hall by any account. Obviously we have the production kitchens as well, which, in their own right, are little feeding business, if you like, into the food hall itself, but no, if you’re a customer then you’re experiencing 4,000 square feet of retail space.
Catherine: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That retail space is made up of your own products and products from local, or national, maybe even international, food and drink producers?
Tom: Yeah, correct. From our point of view, and certainly the founding statement for the Food Centre was that at least 80% of the food that we sold would be coming from Shropshire and its surrounding counties. Then what we wanted to try and do was hit the highest percentage we could for food produced physically, by hand, by our staff onsite because that way we knew what it was. We knew how it had been sourced. The customers could see how it had been made. They could even taste it, enjoy it before they bought it, and it was a totally different sort of food retail experience to what the average person would do if they were to go to a supermarket, or a corner shop, or something else.
It was very much trying to look at the whole food experience and not just the buying experience so that people could see the whole story of how that produce actually made it onto their table.
Catherine: Absolutely, and with a floor space like that, you’re going to have an awful lot of lines, and I’m wondering therefore what a typical day in the life of, for a marketing manager of a food and drink business, looks like.
Tom: Luckily, for me, it’s extremely varied. I have the benefit of being able to do so many different things for a business of our size. We’re still small enough to require all sorts of things to be done in-house, and so I’m still doing a lot the press releases. I still attend all of the events on our behalf.
We’re not the type of business that can employ events companies, and PR agencies, and marketing agencies to do everything. We’re still working to relatively small budgets, and we’re still trying to get as much out of each pound as we can, and so that means that I’m kept pretty busy doing my bit because my salary is essentially part of that marketing budget.
The great thing for me is that, in terms of what you say, ‘a day in my life’ is that it can almost be what I want it to be. That sounds a little bit self-indulgent but it certainly is an opportunity for me to look at the business and think to myself ahead of time at what are we going to be able to do that’s going to make the difference, and then mould myself into it.
I’ve had a certain amount of experience over the years of doing all sorts of different things to do with marketing, and I find myself either drawing on those, or actually just having to get out the books again and start reading up, and learning about new things because businesses, marketing, retail, it’s forever changing and there is no way you can rest on your laurels and just expect everything to be the way it was yesterday because we all have to learn and progress, and if we don’t we stand still.
Catherine: Yeah, in terms of things that you read, whether it’s physical books or maybe dedicated marketing websites, obviously you’re very keen to keep on top of things, and things are changing all the time, and so therefore how would you describe your approach or your general philosophy to marketing food and drink in particular?
Tom: I think for me with the brands that we’ve developed at the Food Centre we have something which is quality. It’s all about the very best in what food can be, and that makes it a very clear brand statement. It’s a very clear way to actually market yourself.
When you market things on price, or you market things on availability, or quantity, or whatever else, it shifts around so much that it’s very difficult for you to be able to know exactly what it is that you’re marketing. When you know that you’ve got a premium brand, when you know that you’ve got something that the entire time is trying to be the best, that’s all you have to mirror, all you have to emulate is that in everything that we do we want it to be the best it can be.
Yes, we have a certain amount of constraints. We don’t have multi-million pound budgets to be able to do what the multiples do, and do what the big brands do, but certainly with the same basic philosophies, as you say, and with the same belief that we can achieve things within our own sphere, if you like, then yes, we’re basically promoting something which is trying to be the best it can.
Catherine: You’re primary focus, or the key message, I guess, you are continually striving to get across is quality, or even best quality?
Tom: Yeah, quality as a word is over-used and probably under-appreciated. It’s one of those things that everybody uses the word ‘quality’ to mean something better. I think the simple fact of the matter is that Ludlow Food Centre is better than a lot of other options for you to go and buy food from.
Whether you describe it as ‘quality’, whether you could describe it as ‘best of breed’, ‘award-winning’, whatever you want to say, the simple fact of the matter is that all of those terms are designed to show somebody that it’s better, and it’s worth going to spending money at, and certainly the actual product that you’re going to receive is going to be a worthwhile buying experience.
Catherine: Actually, I notice, because we were in the Food Centre a few minutes ago, I noticed you have quite a large sign up saying that the Food Centre won the Farm Shop of the Year Award, 2014, which is clearly a big thumbs up for the quality of the offering inside there.
Tom: Yeah, I think possibly over the last couple of years or so we’ve really seen the place take on a character. It’s taken on a different feel, and customers have noticed it. And certainly when we won the award that you’re referencing, which was the FARMA [National Farmers’ Retail & Markets’ Association] 2013, Best Farm Shop, we were judged by our peers. We were judged by people who owned farm shops, who had run them for many years, and who had been to the Food Centre on many, many occasions. Two of them, actually, who were judges, came and spoke to me and they said, ‘You know you’ve done a really good job over the last year or two. The place has changed.’ I almost thought to myself well, I didn’t want it to change but their comment was that it had changed from a customer’s point of view, from a feel point of view. It was fuller. It was friendlier. There was more going on and they felt that it was the sort of place that, well, deserved that sort of award.
Catherine: Yeah, it’s very striking about going into the shop floor. I’m not sure if ‘opulent’ is the right word but it’s just dripping with lovely things to eat, and to cook, and I guess that’s the whole point about a food and drink outlet. It should be just a very sort of generous opulent place, and it does feel like that, which is nice.
Tom: Yeah, I love opulence. It’s a great way to describe it but in essence we’re never going to be able to achieve the sort of vibe that you would get from a Borough Market [probably the UK’s most renowned food and drink market]. On the flip side, we’re never going to have that family feel that you get from a small family-owned farm shop that’s gone through the generations, and this is kind of the latest thing.
We are quite a large business. We’re an employer of well over a hundred people. When you look at it like that, from my point of view, certainly from marketing and a brand point of view, is how do you get across the fact that you’re still working with the little guys who will turn up on your doorstep with a basket of cobnuts and ask you if you’ll buy them off them at the back door, and then work with the likes of your Tyrrell’s and Chase brands who are talking to you about the amount of shop floor space they want next month? You’re going from the pure commercial to the absolute, I guess, community spirit, and to try and do all of that at the same time whilst controlling margins, and footfall, and it all become this kind of great big puzzle.
I think the one thing that Sandy, Sandy Boyd, that is, who created the Food Centre, probably didn’t quite realise was that he’d created something which was always going to sit in the middle. It was never going to be the small business, and it was never going to be the big business. We constantly have this dichotomy at the Food Centre whereby we’re not the little guy; we employ over a hundred people.
All of our businesses combined are turning over somewhere in the region of 5 million pounds, so we’re not a small company but because of the industry that we work in, and because we’re representing very small artisan producers, and because we ourselves are made up of lots of little production kitchens with small teams making food by hand, we’re also the artisan. So, somehow we’ve got to try and balance ourselves as a responsible, big company who employs a lot of people and has to make sure that it sustains that and keeps those jobs flowing, and hopefully employs more people, but also supports the little old lady who turns up with her cobnuts and wants to sell them to her local shop because we are the local shop.
Catherine: And if somebody did show up with a basket of cobnuts and said ‘Will you buy these off of me?’, do you say, ‘Well, let’s talk, let’s talk a price here,’ and you will buy them?
Tom: Yeah, we do. The funniest thing is that yes we still do. We’ve got a fantastic relationship with a guy who calls himself John Smith, but I have questions over whether that is indeed his real name. Half the time he’s in France. The rest of the time he’s scrabbling around on the Shropshire hills searching for those wonderful things we call wimberries [also known as bilberries, whortleberries or winberries].
Catherine: Oh yes.
Tom: What a fantastic local product with such a great and rich history associated with it, but it’s one of those things that we’re never going to be able to find commercially. There is no source of wimberries that we can find a local supplier of. There is just John, and John will turn up with his buck teeth and his bed head on a Saturday morning saying, ‘I’m going to find all these wimberries. Will you take them?’, and every year we say to him, ‘Yeah, okay, what are your terms? What are your prices?’, and he just kind of wanders off and he comes back a couple of days later with a boot full of wimberries, and says, ‘I think they’re going to be a couple of quid this time,’ or something.
You can’t manage that. You can’t and for all, I’m sure, the business guru’s out there would be saying, ‘Oh, no, no, no, you don’t want to be getting involved in that sort of stuff. You’ve got to stick to it, everything.’ There is a certain amount of compassion, I guess, that you have to have for the people who are still interested in doing that sort of thing, and are still willing to turn up on our doorstep and give us the opportunity to sell it because it’s what gives us that point of difference. I think we probably are one of the few retailers with wimberries in the country. We certainly, I think, are one of the very few people who make wimberry jam.
Catherine: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. A very clever approach of his to secure the deal before he goes out and forages for the wimberries.
Catherine: As a marketer you must have a firm opinion on the value of digital tools like a website, you’ve clearly got a website, blogging, social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and all the rest. What do you think is their value for marketing your products?
Tom: Absolutely, absolutely, they’re without a shadow of a doubt… every tool that is available to somebody in my position should be utilised to the best of its ability. Having said that, I will hold my hand up and say that personally I don’t really like social media very much.
Catherine: I’m really surprised.
Tom: I am an extremely social person-
Tom: -But I prefer to be able to talk to people and I’m not a big fan of flippant 140 character comments every 5 minutes. It’s not about me. It’s about the brand. It’s about the business, and certainly I resisted, in some respects, using some of these tools, shall we call them, for the benefit of this. They’re great for certain people but you do need a certain frame of mind to use them and to use them well, and that needs to be learned and developed.
Yes, we use Twitter. We use Facebook. We use Instagram, and so on and so forth. We have a YouTube page, and these are all parts of the business, but what I would probably say is that the reason I held off with the Food Centre was because the brand and the customer base were not in tune with that type of media.
What you find is that media platforms that come along and certainly trend, they will trend for a period of time, and they have a certain market. They have a market that’s willing to respond to that trend, and obviously when you’re talking social media the catchment, if you like, of probably 11 to 25 year olds, is that trend market. They’re the ones who are using it, and using it far more than anybody else, and once they move on you tend to find that these things start to dip quite quickly. The number of people using Twitter, for instance, has actually dropped by more than 30%, and that’s not just using it as in having an active account, it’s using it on a daily basis, actually using it for what it’s designed for, which is a constant communications tool.
And so Twitter may well be seeing its drop off point already, and what will be the next, you know? Is it Snapchat? Is it Instagram? Is it, you know, what’s coming next? But while they’re there you would be silly not to use them. They’re a way to get to thousands, if not millions, of people. The only thing that I’ve found is that to know the target market that you’re talking to. When you see our average customer coming through the door and they’re a semi-retired or retired 55+, rural living person, they’re not going to be on the end of a smartphone or sat in front of a laptop all day, so it’s not necessarily the obvious connection to make with them. They would probably much prefer you to send them a newsletter through the post that they could sit and read with a coffee and a cake. And so it’s knowing the differential between the platform that you’re choosing to use to communicate and the audience who you’re expecting to communicate with.
Catherine: The point being that if your customers aren’t on a particular platform, well, there’s really very little point in using it and, conversely, if they are on a platform, well, really you should be on there as well.
Tom: Absolutely, and funnily enough actually, you say you shouldn’t be using it if they’re not, the funny thing that I realised a while ago when I was at a conference was that even if your target market aren’t on that platform somebody they know is, and so if you’ve got the instance where you’ve got grandmother, mother, and daughter, and they’re a family unit, and they’re looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon, well, if daughter’s heard that you can get fantastic cake via Twitter at Ludlow Food Centre, and mother’s heard that the café is really nice to take granny to, then because she’s read it in the magazine, and then granny thinks that Ludlow Food Centre must be a wonderful place because her sister lives in Ludlow and has been 5 times, and called her yesterday, then you’ve actually got 3 completely different types of communication. Somehow, all of them have come to the same solution; let’s go to Ludlow Food Centre this weekend.
Catherine: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. Let’s have a quick chat about your marketing plan because I’m sure planning is really, really important for you. And is there a particular time of year that you sit down and write a plan, or is it a much more free flowing thing?
Tom: I think obviously you have to sit down with the anticipation of budgeting for a new financial year. I tend to do most of my planning around about now: December, January. People obviously say to me, ‘My God, Christmas is the busiest time for you,’ but when it comes to actually marketing the business, the marketing for Christmas is already done, and I’m already marketing well into the New Year and beyond.
So now is the time that I need to start thinking about budgeting. Certainly, the business needs to start thinking about budgeting, and let’s be frank, marketing only comes down to pretty much your budget and what can you do with it. I will be putting together my plans now. I’ll be having a meeting in January that says, ‘Right, I’d like this much money, please, because I’d like to do this and I think it’s going to return that.’ If I don’t do that sort of planning then certainly the Managing Director of the business, Edward Berry, would look at me very, yeah- yes, very harshly and say, ‘What have you been doing for the last few months if you have not been thinking about next year?’
Yes, there’s an element of sound planning that goes into everything, and certainly some agreement into how much money’s going to be spent. However, fluidity in all forms of planning is extremely important. The ability to jump on an opportunity, to free up a little bit of budget to do something that you hadn’t planned to do is key.
We’ve been privileged to win awards, and when you win awards like that and you think to yourself, ‘Well, but we’ve got to do something with this.’ It’s no good just winning it and sticking it on the shelf and saying, ‘There we go we’ve won it.’ That means you do have to change a little bit about your marketing, and there needs to be things that reflect that award-winning capability, if you like, of the business. Certainly you want to broadcast it to as many people as possible. You can’t plan for that. You can say, ‘I’m going to enter awards,’ and every year we put into plan that there will be awards entered but it would be extremely presumptuous to believe that we would win them all.
Catherine: You’re doing pretty good I think. Do you plan for things like the Great Taste Awards then? Do you say, ‘Right, we’re going to put x number of marmalades, and jams, and whatever else, into the Great Taste Awards every year?
Tom: Yeah, funnily enough we do. I’ve just had the stuff through for the Great Taste Awards. It literally came through this week, and of course they do it ahead of time because they need you to be thinking ahead of time. It also works to our benefit because there are certain things that we would just not make at certain times of the year, so if we feel that we can make something now, because we’ve got the seasonal ingredients for it, or because we’re thinking about making it, or because it’s part of our production planning, then we can factor that in.
Certainly, I have the conversations then with our producers. We’ll talk about what they think they’d like to win awards for, what they think is their stand-out products at this particular point in time. We’ll also look at it commercially.
Tom: There’s little point winning an award for something that you may only sell a hundred of a year.
Catherine: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tom: It’s far better to win awards for things that you feel you can get some long term benefit from. Certainly, in the past when we’ve won awards for, I don’t know, things like bacon, for instance, which is pretty much a staple, but we’ve won it because we’ve innovated bacon into something different. John Brereton, our butcher, created a beetroot and black pepper bacon a couple of years ago and he just won awards everywhere.
Tom: He said to me, ‘I’m going to make this bacon,’ and I said, ‘Well, is it going to beetroot coloured?’ He said, ‘Yeah, exactly.’ I said, ‘Well that’s it. You’re going to win the awards because no one will have ever seen purple bacon,’ and so off it went. Everything we entered it into we won an award for because it was just such a wonderful piece of innovation and it tasted good.
Catherine: Yeah, yeah, sounds fabulous. I haven’t tried that. Is it still available?
Tom: It is indeed, yes, beetroot and black pepper Gloucester Old Spot bacon. It’s wonderful.
Catherine: Yeah, it sounds great. When you do your marketing plan, what are the biggest factors that you take into account?
Tom: I think each year we have to set ourselves new goals. There are things that just roll on because you create them one year and then they just need to be kept fresh for years following. Every year we try and add new things into the marketing mix. Some are by necessity because the business demands them, so it may be the case that there has been a new opportunity in a new media platform, for instance, that we want to invest some time or some money into. There may be some new techniques that we can use. But the simple fact is that when we’re planning for the following year it’s got to be bigger and better than the one that’s just gone by.
Catherine: Do you mean financially?
Tom: Yeah, absolutely, we set ourselves targets to achieve things that we haven’t achieved in the previous year. If you turn over a 100 pounds in your first year then you want to be able to turn over a 150 in your second year, and 200 in your third year, and so on and so forth, and to do that there are things that you need to keep going. From a marketing point of view, I would never stop the PR for the business. I would never stop the free stuff that you can do. I say ‘free’ lightly because it does take time but social media is essentially a free platform. There are then things that we invest money into so you’ve got printed media and leaflets, you’ve got advertising, you’ve got relationships with publications that help get that message out constantly throughout the year. All of that is just on-going.
Tom: That’s kind of a ‘take for granted’, that’s going to happen. Certainly, my directors expect that to happen. That’s not part of the new and exciting for next year. That’s just a, ‘We know that’s going to be happening so what else are you going to do?’
Tom: That’s where the exciting stuff comes in because we look at things and, for instance, I think last year it was cast out, but I’m going to have another pop at it this year, I wanted to do a magazine for the Food Centre, and I wanted it to be supported by our producers, and I wanted it to be this kind of… I see the Food Centre as a regional hub for local food, so this magazine was kind of going to be the regional food magazine. We don’t really have one. We did have one at one stage but it kind of went by the wayside.
So, I saw that as being the ultimate communication tool. If people like the idea of a food magazine, then the people behind that magazine would be the first place they go to shop for their food, if that place was, like us, a retailer. For me, that was a little idea that I wanted to do in addition, and I was pretty much told, ‘Tom, you can’t start up a magazine at the same time as being marketing manager for the Food Centre.’ They were probably right.
Catherine: It’s just in terms of time. Your time?
Tom: Just in terms of time, and certainly it was probably another little business plan in its own right, rather than just being an extension of my marketing plan. There are other ideas that I’ve had before where I’ve wanted to do television advertising at Christmas, for instance, because I saw it as being the ultimate way to drive footfall.
Christmas is the one time when we can really seriously change our turnover for a month. December is a critical month for the food business, and I just thought, ‘Well, come on, if we are going to think like the big boys, then let’s act like the big boys and put together a regional advertising campaign on ITV, or whatever else.’ I put together the figures for it and I presented it to the board and when they said to me, ‘It’s too much time to do a magazine,’ it was, ‘too much money to do a TV advertising campaign. Too much risk’.
But you’ve got to push boundaries every time. You’ve got to be coming up with things that… I’m in the position where I have to present to the board of directors. There’ll be people out there probably listening to this who are actually the owner, director of their business, and thinking, ‘Well, it’s me who has to make all of the decisions.’
In essence, when I’m thinking about new and exciting things to do for the following year that are actually going to return on an investment, then it’s got to be right. It’s got to be right for the business. It’s got to be right for the brand. It’s got to be right for the customer. And then, if you get all of those things right and it doesn’t take too much time and effort, and it doesn’t take too much money, then it’s worth a pop.
That’s kind of the way that we’ve tried to do things at the Food Centre is incrementally just add new and exciting things, experiment. We’re a young business. We’re still only 7 years old and there are so many things that we still haven’t done yet that would be lovely to try. And, if we can do some of those things, learn from them, maybe do them again, then they will go into the pot of things that we’ve already done, and they are continuing parts of marketing that make the business what it is.
Catherine: You mentioned the magazine that you’re going to have another attempt at introducing next year. To me that sounds like a very good example of content marketing. Is that what you had in mind?
Tom: Yeah, absolutely, you’ve use the jargon term of ‘content marketing’-
Catherine: Yeah, buzzword, yeah.
Tom: -it’s certainly the buzz term as far as marketers are concerned at the moment. Content marketing is certainly part of the mix. It’s one of those things that you have to constantly be thinking about but it’s such a broad area. People mustn’t forget magazines, and social media, they all qualify as part of content marketing.
If you’ve got a content rich business like the Food Centre, with so many things going on, so many stories, so many people, so many products, to try and get that across all the time is tricky. You can’t really do it in an advert. You can’t really do it in a single tweet. It’s got to be that kind of well planned out, thought out, how do I use lots of different touch points for different markets to try and get that message across?
Yeah, I’m in the position of creating that content, and so I have to sit down and, essentially the voice of the Food Centre, the muse, or whatever, is me. If we’re going to write something, if we’re going to do something, it needs to recognisable, it’s going to be consistent, and it certainly needs to be a brand message.
But content varies massively. Social media, it’s very difficult to be corporate on social media and still be accepted and be interesting. You do have to have a little bit of tongue and cheek fun, but if you’re going to write an article about why has our blue cheese just been voted the best in Britain? Well that’s quite a serious, kind of scientific, interesting thing in depth. What is it that made that one cheese win among 72 others on that particular day? That’s where things get interesting. And it’s all content.
Catherine: Absolutely, I can see how that would work so well for all the different production kitchens that are dotted around the shop floor. You have the dairy. You have the cheese makers telling their story. Then there’s opposite, the jam and pickle makers telling their story, and it’s really all about story isn’t it, how the product has come to be? So, I can absolutely see how that would be of great interest to customers.
Tom: Yeah, content marketing and storytelling pretty much: full stop. We have the great benefit of having so many stories to tell, and interestingly, this year, in the Shropshire Magazine, I did a series of features on our producers. These were interviews with me —an employee at the Food Centre — and them —an employee at the Food Centre — which is a little bit odd in its own right. Normally these things would happen while you’ve got a third party interviewing. I felt that for some reason it would be nice for me to actually understand more about the motivation behind them coming to the Food Centre in the first place, and why were they there? Why did they love what they were doing? Why were they still doing it after so many years?
And so I interviewed John, our butcher, and had the full life story of sort of man and boy butcher, and Dudley Martin, our cheese maker, and how on earth he ended up in the weird and wonderful world of cheese and to Darren and Tess, our jam and pickle makers who prior to working at the Food Centre were on the deli at Tesco’s down the road. Really, you can’t write stories like this but you should, and that’s why I thought, that I needed to write stories like this because it’s the reality of the Food Centre. It’s what makes it so unique, and certainly from my point of view, it was the ultimate story to tell. It was how all this food gets made and why, and that is down to the passion of the producer.
Catherine: What really appeals to me about content marketing is that it sort of turns marketing on its head, traditional marketing on its head, and it’s not pushing ads and information about your company that frankly nobody wants to know. It’s giving people useful information about your brand, and to the extent that you then pull this information toward you rather than pushing stuff away, and you being interrupted, and being annoyed by ads or information that you have no interest in.
And, I think, I personally think there’s a huge opportunity for food and drink producers to get on board the content marketing train, so to speak, not least because they have very photogenic products but there is the whole story behind food and drink producer’s businesses and their brands, and how they got there. It’s just crying out for turning into interesting information for their customers. I don’t know if you would agree with that?
Tom: Yeah, the value of an artisan producer is they are their brand. The best person to actually describe what they do is them. Now, you cannot expect somebody who makes fantastic jam to necessarily understand how to do fantastic advertising campaigns. But what they can do is they can tell their story, and as you say, it’s a very relaxed way of being able to get their message across that their product is worth buying. Let’s never forget that all of this marketing, content driven or otherwise, is designed to get people to buy products.
Now, you’re, as a consumer, you’re there listening to a million messages a second from all sorts of people but the ones that really kind of, I guess, resonate with you are the ones that are honest. They’re the ones that are coming direct from the person who makes that food product. It’s very easy for us to see through the big brand campaigns, and it doesn’t stop us from liking those brands, we know why they do it, but yet we still want to go and buy that can of Coke because we just want a can of Coke. All of the marketing that goes on around Coca-Cola as a brand is fantastic and it keeps them being that number 1, fizzy drink brand, but we don’t believe in Coca-Cola as a wonderful producer of food. They just produce a product that they’ve pushed at us so far for so long that we still want to buy it.
When you turn things, as you say, when you turn it on its head, and if you’re a small producer how do you have the same effect? Well, you have to go about it a completely different way, and not be pushy, and not be this sort of yappy dog of the marketing world. It’s better to actually have a very calm and an interesting story, something that people can actually relate to that they want to buy into. You can do that very well with content.
I’m a member of CMI, Content Marketing Institute, and we… I get these emails almost daily about how you can get the most out of content. But the simple message is one that if you’ve got a story to tell, then tell it, and find the right platform to tell it on.
Content Marketing Institute. I came across them online a couple of years ago and was interested because I think it was around about the same time actually that I was thinking about doing a magazine for the Food Centre. I had head about people who did similar sort of content exercises of trying to approach the brand from a different perspective and write stories, and find ways to get across messaging in a more in-depth way but in a way that actually made people appreciate the fact they’d had that message, as opposed to feel as if it had been thrust upon them. Yeah, as a resource there are people who spend a lot of time and do a lot of head scratching into how to make content in marketing important.
Catherine: I think that given that… I absolutely agree with this myself, that your customers don’t care about you, your products or your services. They only care about themselves, their wants, and their needs, and no matter how much they appear to love you and your brands ultimately it’s all about themselves, but because of that I think it’s all to do with how you pitch your message then to consumers. If you can wrap it up in such a way that you are giving them what they want, answering their needs, well then they will be open to your message.
Tom: Yeah, funnily enough we’ve done quite a lot of customer surveying over the last 6 months or so. It’s something that I really wanted to do more of this year. In the past we’ve had the mystery shoppers, which worked to a very kind of in a clear and cut out way of doing things. There are a bunch of questions that you walk around shop and you answer, and then you leave and you put your form in. Customer surveys are ever so slightly different because you can ask far more qualitative questions. You can get into the personality of the customer and it’s not just a case of ‘How old are you?’, ‘What’s your post code?’, ‘What did you buy today?’ You can start asking some more interesting questions, you know, ‘What’s your favourite food?’
Tom: Suddenly you get this barrage of different answers as to what people’s favourite food is. You can start asking much more open-ended questions to try and establish what people’s daily motivations are or what it is that you’re doing wrong. You can say ‘What’s your favourite place to go and have a coffee?’, and they say ‘Costa’ and you say ‘Well, what is it that Costa are doing that we’re not so that we can make ourselves better or more appealing to you?’. Sometimes they can’t answer but they’ve been bullied, if you like, into that, that’s where I need to go, and we are a nation largely of sheep. We do tend to follow, sadly. There are very few people who will leave the flock.
But yeah, it’s so easy to just follow convention, and in marketing, especially when you’ve got a small brand amongst very big ones, it’s very hard to get people to look elsewhere and to think outside what they’re doing. Certainly, for us, everybody goes to the supermarket every week. They don’t all come to Ludlow Food Centre every week. We have been described as the ‘posh supermarket’ which, I don’t know whether to take it as a compliment or not, but I’ll gloss over it for now. They go to the supermarket every week. They buy food every week. We know that everyone’s buying food all the time. We have 200 odd thousand transactions at the till each year, and that’s 200,000 decisions to spend money at Ludlow Food Centre, which is fantastic, but the multiples have billions.
Tom: Every time I’m putting together a marketing plan, every time I’m putting together an advertising campaign or press release, I’m thinking of that little nugget of information, or offer, or something that I can put in there that’s just going to coax a few extra people through the door to see what we’ve done, to see what we’ve achieved and see what we’re actually doing, physically doing, and hope that that grips them, hope that it takes them beyond the, ‘I’ve been, I’ve seen, I’ve done it,’ to the ‘That was better than any where else I’ve been to shop for food so I want to go again.’
So that is the end of the first of two episodes with Tom Hunt. In the next episode, Tom talks about food and drink branding, and packaging and copy, and PR — the whole marketing mix. He also discusses the importance of product tastings. Thank you, Tom, for being on the show and for sharing your marketing insights with us.
You can visit the Ludlow Food Centre website at www.ludlowfoodcentre.co.uk. The Food Centre has an online shop, so you don’t need to come to Ludlow to buy its products. The Food Centre is @ludlowfoodcentr on Twitter — they run a nice account; it’s very ‘foodie’ and ‘drinkie’, as you’d expect.
And if you’d like to get a free transcript of this episode with Tom, just go to www.myartisanbusiness.com. You also find the show notes for this episode there and can check out photos of the Food Centre, too.
To get in touch with me you can use the contact form on myartisanbusiness.com. Alternatively, you can find me on Twitter. I’m on there as @FoodDrinkShow, so do follow me and I’ll follow you back, if I like the cut of your jib, which I’m sure I will.
That’s it for this episode folks. I’m Catherine Moran from the Artisan Food and Drink Business Show. Until next time, happy cooking, happy fermenting, happy brewing, and thanks for listening.
You can listen to the podcast episode Tom at myartisanbusiness.com/podcast.