Does the mere promise of generic product provenance add value?

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 9th June 2015

Allen Roberts is a guest contributor to Australian Food News and writes another of his regular articles here.

true aussie2True Aussie” meat products have been around for 12 months or so in export markets, and we are told of its great success, especially in Japan where the “‘True Aussie’ beef logo can be found already on more than half of retail packs of Australian-sourced meat in Japan, and the percentage is growing fast,” according to a spokesperson for Meat and Livestock Australia in Japan.

Recently, the National Farmers Federation in Australia came to the party with at least public support for the idea, supporting the suggestion that knowledge of the “brand” was potentially more important than just the meat.

“True Aussie” is one in a long line of group marketing initiatives based on generic branding. They are part of the ongoing attempt to leverage the assumed clean green credentials of Australian produce that has been created by industry bodies funded by a levy. Meat, horticulture, dairy and grains have all had a shot, domestically and internationally over the 35 years of my memory of these things.

Where I wonder are all those lavishly promised outcomes, those dollars flowing back to farmers because the international consumers have demanded Australian produce in preference to produce from anywhere else in the world?

Generic brand marketing for Australian products is a very appealing idea, which I guess is why such brands are wheeled out again, and again, as the panacea for all marketing.

Focus the marketing funds against the common concerns of all consumers rather than spreading it around by operators acting individually, build the value positioning of Australian produce by providing the assurance of product provenance, and promising great value for money”.

The problem is that to date, in the real world, it has not worked.

Back in 2001, running a maverick operation called Agri Chain Solutions that had been reluctantly outsourced, at the direction of the then Prime Minister John Howard, from the old department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (AFFA), I commissioned research aimed at uncovering the motivations driving the decision-making of those who controlled the supply  chains in markets targeted by produce exporters. The results were not a surprise to anyone who had really thought about the problems facing produce exporters, but were not popular amongst the industry bodies at the time.

In summary the research at that time confirmed that those who did not sell anything, ie industry bodies, had no power in the game beyond the power to give money for promises, and when the money ran out, nothing really had changed.

Supply chains, particularly those dealing with commodities, are driven by volume, availability and price, at least they are once you get past the regulatory barriers that populate and pollute the commercial environment. If you do not own anything, if you do not have the power to change anything except by committee consensus, have no power of coercion, and if you are not commercially agile, and able to differentiate, you get taken to the cleaners.

Every time!

There is an old saying, we’ve all heard it, ‘Do what you have always done, and you will get what you have always got’.

Well, we are doing it again.

The digital tools we have now have potentially changed the game by giving the real opportunity for supply chain transparency, potentially turning them into demand responsive chains, but that requires real skill and commercial discipline to pull off, which is still sadly absent from the industry-wide generic marketing strategies.

Australian governments and industry organisations are blind to many changes in the marketing of food.

I genuinely hope I am wrong, but unfortunately I suspect history is going to be repeated, and in another decade, the same is likely to happen again.

Allen Roberts is a guest contributor to Australian Food NewsHe is the Director of Strategy Audit and has worked in the food sector for more than 35 years. To read his full biography click HERE.