Caught off the Cornish coast before being salted and shipped all over Europe, they had been a delicacy for centuries, until the advent of domestic refrigeration and freezing caused the appetite for salted fish – at least outside of Portugal – fall away. “The market was dying fast as the little shops that sold them closed down,’ says Nick Howell of the Pilchard Works fish suppliers in Newlyn. ‘I realised I needed to do something about it.’ Fortunately, Nick though creatively. He discovered that what the Cornish often called the pilchard was related to the fish that was served, with lemon and olive oil, to British tourists in the Mediterranean as a fashionable sardine. So he changed the name from the pilchard, a name redolent of ration food, to the ‘Cornish sardine’. Next, a supermarket buyer who called to ask for French sardines was deftly switched to buying ‘pilchards from Cornwall’. A few years ago Nick successfully petitioned the EU to award Cornish sardines Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, and the result was extraordinary: the Daily Telegraph reported in 2012 that sales of fresh sardines at Tesco had rocketed by 180 per cent in the past year, an increase that was partly explained by a huge increase in the sales of Cornish sardines.
In one study I told participants that a 250g box of PG Tips cost £2.29, while the same weight of Tesco own label tea cost £1. When questioned about the price, 31% of the respondents rated PG Tips as good value.
I then asked another group the same question but with one tweak. Rather than compare PG Tips to own label it was contrasted with Twining’s, priced at £3.49. In this scenario, the number who thought PG Tips represented good value jumped to 65%.
Brands can apply price relativity in two broad ways. First, don’t accept your comparison set as fixed. Do everything you can to change the field of reference shoppers have to one that is even more profitable to you.
The obsession with easily quantified date crowds out the need for discretion and judgement.
Two examples illustrate the resulting issues. First is the experience of Terry Leahy who, when he was head of marketing at Tesco, analysed the performance of their gluten-free products. The sales data hinted it was an under-performing section – those that bought gluten-free goods only spent a few pounds on these items each shopping trip. A naive interpretation suggested de-listing them to free up valuable shelf space.
However, sceptical of the number, Leahy interviewed gluten-free shoppers and discovered that their choice of supermarket was determined by the availability of those products. They didn’t want to make multiple shopping trips, so the visited whoever had the specialist goods. After all, every shop had milk and eggs but only sone stocked gluten-free goods. Leahy used this insight to launch Tesco’s hugely successful “Free From” range long before the competition.