The Borough Works is a new name in fresh food and drink, based near Borough Market, London. But its roots stretch back to 2004 with the launch of Arbor Creative. Produce Business UK speaks to the brains behind the business and delves into some of its fascinating case studies to find out what the sector can do to sculpt its own future
From branding, packaging design, experiential marketing, digital and social media, to promotional campaigns, public relations, consumer research and food photography, the company has harnessed an unusual mix of experience and expertise to pursue its aim of putting clients’ fresh food and drink at the centre of retailers’ and consumers’ minds.
Its work in the produce sector, a combination of innovative ideas, well-planned and coordinated multi-channel campaigns, and collaborations with other talented businesses and individuals to build product and brand loyalty has already spawned an impressive back catalogue of projects that have, crucially, achieved the ultimate goal – driving sales and turnover.
The duo that has driven first Arbor Creative and now The Borough Works are Dorian Perry and Sue Hurst. Whether it’s been working with Tesco to revitalise its mushroom and onion categories, touring the country with Mr Pippy and English apples, using the Marmite analogy and elevating Brussels sprouts to Ferrero Rocher status, or through clever awareness-building film reinvigorating a zombie brand such as Jaffa citrus, the pair have been behind many of the most impactful creative marketing campaigns in this sector in the last decade. They have also worked with retail and supply-chain customers around the world, often using their own qualitative and quantitative consumer research and insight to instruct marketing strategies from Hamburg to San Francisco.
Hurst is a graduate of the Harrow School of Art, who cut her teeth as an illustrator on magazines such as Jackie, published by DC Thompson & Co. “That was what got me into the industry,” she remembers, “but I decided I wanted to get more into the design side of the business and after working for a small firm that specialised in the travel sector, the chance came to work for a large American design group Cato Johnson, with consumer facing firms such as Nestle and Esso. They were then bought by global advertising agency, Young & Rubicam, and there I worked extensively with brands such Cadbury’s and Hennessey Cognac. You think that brands like Cadbury’s stay the same forever, but we worked regularly on small changes that many people wouldn’t even have noticed, but kept the brand fresh.
“We did a lot of work with the food and drink sector, developing new brands such as Appletize and developing Danepak’s image – and it wasn’t always for the UK market, we did huge jobs for lots of different products across Europe. Often, these were top-secret projects, so I’d be cooped up in a hotel room for days!”
After trying her creative hand at many design functions, she eventually became senior packaging designer, before taking the leap and becoming a freelance designer (to allow for some family time), mainly working for SMEs and carrying out identity and brochure work. It was while she was working for her first employer after that spell as a freelancer that her current role came about, however. More of that later.
Perry graduated from Harper Adams in 1991 and took a job buying soft fruit for Saphir International. The twist of fate that set him on his eventual road into marketing was his switch to buying exotic vegetables from Zimbabwe, for M&S. “At first, I was working with Daniel Perlman of Hortico on the M&S account and it was a fantastic business,” he says. “I also helped set up a Pacific Rim business for Hortico’s runner beans, which was still a relatively new business and we made some fundamental changes that shaped the next few years – moving all the packaging back to Zimbabwe to add value at source, for instance, and then working with BA to set up a dedicated BA World Cargo facility at Heathrow.”
Ian Gordon of Country Fresh in Zimbabwe was also a supplier and it was over a lunch with him and Jo Thorneycroft that Perry was given a 24-hour ultimatum, which led to him setting up Arbor International with Gordon and Jo Thorneycroft, in 1995, to sell vegetables from sub-Saharan Africa to the UK retailers.
That business bloomed, with several out-of season products, including baby corn and asparagus, added to the product offer before work began around 1999 to develop African production of what became Tenderstem. “It was a reputed product,” says Perry, “but it had been given to UK growers and they didn’t really understand how to grow it. It’s not like growing broccoli, it’s more like asparagus and requires intensive harvesting. Someone working as a trainee at M&S (I think it may have been one of the Barfoots) decided there was potential for the product though and then technical manager Andrew Sharp agreed, suggesting that if we could supply it year round, the product might make more of an impact and perhaps we should try growing it in Africa.
“We came up with the name Tenderstem, registered the trademark and it was available exclusively to M&S for two years, before it was released to other retailers. Ian grew it in Zimbabwe but had problems with phytophthora, so we also grew it extensively in Kenya.”
Around this time, of course, there was a huge transformation happening in Zimbabwe, as President Mugabe’s policy towards white farmers put the brakes on a thriving export business. Perry took a call one morning from Gordon, who had decided to focus his production on the domestic market and to plough his export production back into the ground. “It was a huge shock at the time, but Ian had to do what he felt was the right thing to do and eventually, I bought Arbor,” Perry recalls. “The obvious question it left us with was ‘what’s Arbor without its flagship supplier?’ I decided to focus most of our attention on Tenderstem and establishing its presence in the market.”
Perry therefore started working more on the promotional and proprietary aspects of Tenderstem and this is where Hurst popped up on the scene. “Sue was working for us as a QC in the office. She kept making suggestions and pointing out things that she had worked on in the past, so we asked her to bring her portfolio in,” he says.
Hurst adds: “I kept hearing them talking about Tenderstem, the design, the printing, the ads, the marketing and I started to tell them what I thought, as I’d done it before. Because my work was mainly with blue chip companies, with decent marketing budgets and sizeable marketing teams, it was an eye opener for me to see that the fresh produce sector did hardly anything to market itself by comparison.”
The realisation that the skills set within the company was suited to something else persuaded Perry that the time was right to change direction again. “I’d been spending so much time with, and so much money on agencies to develop the Tenderstem image, that in 2004 I decided to change the nature of the business altogether. Tenderstem had become a big business by then, so we sold the patent agreement to M&S and established Arbor Creative to help retailers and suppliers to develop intellectual property to differentiate their products and give themselves a distinguishable point of difference from their customers.”
A dozen years on from the establishment of Arbor Creative, newly branded The Borough Works begins its life with extensive experience with the fresh produce industry, and has worked with enlightened and less enlightened clients. But Hurst still sees the same patterns across the piece – many key marketing and design decisions are being made by people without experience in those areas. “We come at this from a completely different background,” she says. “Going back to my education, part of my degree course was in psychology and one of the things that highlights is the need to think beyond the obvious. “If you are working for a company in the produce industry and you’re under pressure to deliver on all sorts of things, why would you think like that? Looking at it another way, why does a company like Mars, for example, employ so many people in their marketing teams? It’s because they are employed to see things in a different way to the people who do the day-to-day stuff.
“It takes those kinds of people to make customers understand that there is value in brands, marketing those brands etc… They have completely different skills sets.”
Perry says the produce industry is more challenging: “It shouldn’t be, but it can be hard to justify what we do. The fresh produce industry generally has a trading mentality and a lot of decisions are made purely on the bottom line figure. If you look at the likes of Schweppes or Cadbury’s though, they do plenty of advertising and often it must be difficult to know what impact that advertising has had on sales. Even if it is not easy to quantify though, they know that it works because they have seen the difference advertising and marketing has made to their sales over a long period of time. There is not always an immediate effect.
“Whether you are a supplier or a retailer, if your sales are flat-lining for any reason, you obviously need to find the way to shift them up again. Lateral thought is often the way to differentiate your product and levitate it away from commodity status.
“Most sizeable food companies would have a minimum of 10% of their annual turnover ring-fenced foe marketing spend,” says Perry. “But many produce companies have no designated marketing budget at all. If we want to stop produce being commoditised, that has to change.
“If you’re establishing a product or establishing a brand, then you have to communicate to as many people as possible through as many means as you can. Of course costs are high and margins are low, but you don’t necessarily have to spend millions to make an impact – the produce industry at the moment isn’t telling enough people what it’s messages and values are.”
Hurst continues: “I can see the politics – it can be a slow process to convince people about what we can do for them. Occasionally we come across enlightened people who want it, understand it and how it will help them stand out in the sector. But there are an awful lot more people out there who could benefit but just never do it.”
So much time, effort and expense goes into the supply-chain process that gets the product from field to shelf, she says, that it is a crying shame that more of the same isn’t being invested at the consumer end of the scale. “You have to make the consumer want to buy the product; getting it on their weekly shopping list is the ultimate aim,” says Perry.
“The consumer wants innovation and choice, not low price necessarily, so it’s surprising that the supermarket chains have managed to convince themselves otherwise.” Hurst adds: “It doesn’t have to be artisan or exclusive to sell; tangible provenance and a story behind the product are extremely successful. Combine that story with the right values and a good, consistent product offer and you are onto a winner.”
Perry says: “UK consumers are probably the most fickle in the world – they don’t have the [food] tradition of Spain or France and they are always up for trying something new. Aldi and Lidl have managed to fuel that desire and they have made some big wins as a result. The rest of the supermarket sector has to think about what they do differently to compete. It isn’t all about driving prices down – of course everyone wants to sell more, but why does that need to be at the expense of price and margin?”
While the retailers do, of course, dictate the way many things are done, Perry’s own experiences fuel his belief that the industry can do a lot more to shape its own destiny, particularly with brands. He uses a motoring analogy to pinpoint the distinction between supplying own-label products and brands. “An own-label supplier is in front wheel drive, but the branded suppliers are in rear wheel drive and they back themselves with more marketing spend and that has many virtues. It’s not always easy for a retailer used to dealing predominantly with own-label to then deal with a brand and it doesn’t suit every supplier, but we have to find more of a balance in the produce sector.
“Retailers are looking for strong strategic partners who offer dynamic solutions to their customers and to the consumer. At a corporate level, any retailer is concerned about their brand first and foremost, not a carrot or a blueberry campaign. But every buyer is looking to their category manager to increase the profile of their products to customers and there are plenty of mechanisms to do that.
“I think the way for one of the big four retailers to find their way out of the squeezed middle ground is to differentiate their offer again. And the fact that so many of their shoppers are now top-up shoppers means they need a fundamental rethink. It’s easy to say that the supermarkets do their own branding and promotions, but because they have to work within very tight guidelines, there is not much scope for truly creative thinking.
“That’s where suppliers can take a lead – you can’t just say ‘we don’t do brands’, because you do. They may just be M&S, Tesco or Sainsbury’s and these are brands with a huge cachet.”
Perry, Hurst and their team at The Borough Works have built their own cachet over the years, as the following case studies illustrate. They will be exhibiting at the London Produce Show and Conference on June 9 – register here to come and meet them.
Kanzi® is a premium eating apple that blends the sweetness of Gala and tanginess of Braeburn to create a uniquely sweet and sour taste sensation. Originally grown only in Belgium, Kanzi® is now produced in the UK and sold in supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons.
To create and sustain brand awareness among UK consumers, The Borough Works used social media to drive traffic to the brand’s website. It comprised setting up Facebook and Twitter pages, and populating them with brand-relevant content, in-store activities and other marketing initiatives to engage those interested in premium fresh food and healthy lifestyle choices. Monthly competitions rewarded fans and encouraged them to share content with friends and family. Social media advertising maximised exposure.
In a very short space of time, the Kanzi® Facebook page grew from 0 to 16,500 fans, with a total reach of 15 million and rising.
AMC North America is a major citrus and grape importer and supplier throughout North America. It commissioned The Borough Works to develop the branding for an innovative pouch that held small packs of fruit.
These were to be sold in North American retailers as healthy snacking options. The design therefore needed to be versatile to work successfully across a range of fresh fruits. It also needed to be exciting, eye-catching and natural looking. The target audience was younger, health-conscious convenience shoppers.
Launched across North America, Go-Gos are now supplied to a number of retailers and distributors. So successful was the launch that AMC North America is now looking to extend the range across other fruit varieties.
Millione Foundation is a not-for-profit that was set up to raise £1m to build 20 schools and educate 10,000 children in Sierra Leone. It is doing this through the sale of Millione wine, a light, sparking rosé produced in Northern Italy.
The Borough Works created the brand and designed the packaging and website. Subtlety was key, resulting in a traditional Italian feel with an elegant, modern touch. As news of the Foundation’s aim spread, celebrities including Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson got on board, pledging support for the I am ‘One in a Millione’ campaign.
A slick sales presentation and the resulting celebrity endorsement convinced Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons to stock the wine. One million limited edition bottles went on sale, with £1 per bottle going to the Sierra Leone project. All sold out and Millione has subsequently launched a full range of wines.
A ‘zombie’ brand in need of resurrection. That was Jaffa. Although the classic citrus was a favourite among the 40+ age group, Jaffa wanted to forge a fresh connection with today’s younger generation. While paying tribute to its rich heritage and current customers, a brand overhaul was necessary to reach this desired demographic.
The Borough Works freshened up Jaffa’s look, giving it a new identity with youth, vitality and fun at the core. Central to this was evolving the logotype to give it a more modern, though still recognisable, feel. The work spanned everything from packs and in-store promotions to lorry trailers, and introduced fresh photography and custom illustrations. Central to the new look was the colour blue to give the brand greater on-shelf stand-out against a “sea of orange”. The Borough Works also devised a long-term marketing strategy, using both digital and experiential platforms.
As a result of the rebrand, a stronger consumer presence has been created and brand awareness has risen dramatically. Jaffa now commands up to a 50% price premium over many of its competitors.
M&S British apples
The Borough Works has been working with M&S to promote British apples since 2006. In support of its then Plan A promise, now Plan A 2020, the retail chain needed fresh ideas for promoting this traditional product.
One of the most important aspects of the campaign was the sustainability, which rendered a previous creation – the Mr Pippy ice-cream van tour of Great Britain – no longer appropriate. So an electronic Mega Van was sourced to transport Cox to the appreciative public. It had a traditional grocer’s look and feel to remind customers of the rich heritage of British apples. And its maiden voyage was on National Apple Day.
Exclusive press packs were produced and distributed containing juicy, tree-ripe apples to important media figures. This led to nationwide exposure. Meanwhile, the promotional team whizzed around central London, giving people a taste of British autumn.
In total, more than 12 million consumers were reached due to press-pack recipients, and one of the nation’s favourite presenters Chris Evans gave the campaign significant exposure on BBC 1’s The One Show and his BBC Radio 2 Breakfast show.
The Muñoz Group
The Muñoz Group is a family owned, global business. In the UK, it supplies citrus fruit, grapes, juice, ice cream and flowers to the key food retailers including Tesco, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Aldi & Costco.
Tesco Warehouse Day was a rare occasion to present new concepts to Tesco’s senior fresh produce management and buying team to re-invigorate citrus sales at the supermarket. It was an opportunity to demonstrate that Muñoz was a category lead supplier and an innovative thinker about the end-consumer needs.
This was just one of a series of innovative category days created specially for Tesco. Each was at an unusual venue and structured on a theme: feature film at an independent cinema, a retail shop in a north London high street; Dragon’s Den interactive etc…
The Warehouse Day enhanced Tesco’s view of the group as one of its most innovative and go-ahead suppliers, resulting in Muñoz eventually supplying 100% of Tesco’s citrus.