Learning from Pink Lady’s branding success in the UK

Gill McShane

As one of the few fresh produce brands in the UK, we take a look at what others can learn about increasing household penetration and retail sales, and how retailers can tap into Pink Lady’s brand awareness.

Pink Lady is recognised as the UK’s number one fresh produce brand, and the world’s first apple brand. Since the first Pink Lady apples were imported, the brand has achieved impressive progress on the back of decades of marketing efforts by Coregeo, the Master Licensor for the brand in the UK. With total brand awareness at 84 per cent, PBUK takes a look at some of the reasons behind that success, and considers what strategies other produce sectors can apply in their own quest to raise household penetration and retail sales in the UK.

Develop A Consistent Offer

First and foremost, the highest quality produce must be available consistently to consumers to back up a produce brand. To achieve that, strong partnerships between all stakeholders are needed, including licensees, growers and retailers.

“Success is seen when you can deliver the consumer all of their expectations; you need both the consistent quality supply and the availability, as well as the marketing support, and you must be agile in ever-changing landscapes,” Kyla Flynn, PR and Social Manager at Coregeo, tells PBUK.

“Pink Lady as a brand was unique in the UK when it was launched almost 30 years ago at Marks & Spencer, so we have really carved a path for brands in fresh produce,” Flynn continues. “Fresh produce definitely is the last bastion within the retailer aisles for brands but that doesn’t mean there isn’t the space or the consumer appetite.”

Coregeo certainly knows what it is talking about. The firm is the Master Licensor for Tenderstem broccoli in the UK and Ireland (the brand is called Bimi in Europe) and the Master Licensor for Asparashoots – a premium British asparagus brand that launched for the foodservice market at beginning of this year. Coregeo also works in partnership with Greencell to support their marketing efforts with the gourmet GEM avocado brand.

The strategy for those brands follows the same ethos as Pink Lady. “It’s about delivering a product that’s fit for what the consumer desires and needs, which is why it’s important to have consistent quality and year-round availability,” Flynn points out. “But it’s still fresh produce, which can be tricky sometimes. You also have to build a relationship with the consumer so that they understand that as much as possible.”

Have A Clear Vision

A clear vision for the brand is also vital – one that separates the brand from the commodity.

“You really need to understand the needs and wants of the consumer when it comes to branding, rather than just marketing an apple variety or a commodity,” Flynn explains. “We have worked hard to understand our different consumer types and what drives them to deliver a strategic marketing campaign, and that has produced the results.”

In the last year, Pink Lady has recorded a strong growth in sales; achieving higher sales than the apple category overall. Retail sales were up 23.6 per cent to £211.7m for the 12 months to 16 May 2021 versus the year-earlier period, according to Kantar statistics.

Annual penetration is now at 38.5 per cent, which is an increase of 8.9 per cent year-on-year. Pink Lady’s share of the total apple market by value was 20.9 per cent for the same 12-month period, which represented a growth of 23.6 per cent. Pink Lady apples now rank second in terms of their share of the overall apple market, just below Gala/Royal Gala at 27.8 per cent, and well ahead of other varieties including: Braeburn, Cox, Jazz, Golden Delicious, Bramley, and other red apples.

Work With Retailers

When it comes to growing retail sales, an integrated approach is important for any brand, and the lines of communication should flow both ways.

In August, Morrisons will launch an eight-pack of Pink Lady apples in branded packaging after initiating discussions with Coregeo.

“This is a new product line, and there will be additional branding in stores and online banner advertising at morrisons.com ,” reveals Lynn Shaw, the Brand Marketing Manager for Pink Lady. “This is just one example of how Morrisons is looking to increase its Pink Lady sales and how we’re working closely to support that. That’s our desire across all of the retailers.”

Asda has added a second Pink Lady apple SKU this year too. “Other retailers already had more than one SKU, so Asda identified that as an opportunity,” says Shaw.

Look For Opportunities

Another strategy is to push the marketing boundaries to places where people may not necessarily think they are going to see or engage with a brand.

Last year, Pink Lady used the opportunity of the pandemic to launch its first television advert. At a time when advertisers pulled their TV advertising spend because the Olympics and the Euros were cancelled, Pink Lady released a ‘Taste the Wow’ advert to attract new consumers by illustrating the “multi-sensory” experience of eating the variety.

“We intended to launch the ‘Taste the Wow’ campaign in June last year, and when the opportunity arose for lower TV advertising costs we quickly turned our assets into a TV advert,” reveals Shaw. “With retailer support, we achieved a first in promoting a fresh produce brand on TV.”

After reaching 23 million UK adults, the TV campaign saw Pink Lady’s brand awareness rise to 86 per cent post campaign. Further Kantar data reveals that brand penetration increased to 38.5 per cent by May 2021.

It was also important to ensure a consistent delivery of that message by integrating the marketing across all channels; from advertising, trade and digital through to PR and social media.

“When Pink Lady was first advertised on TV we produced on-pack stickers [for the retailers] with the same creative that ran on the TV,” Shaw comments. “This was a very simple mechanic to extend the momentum of the campaign from the TV into retail stores, as well as our efforts across PR and social.”

Tapping into other avenues is essential to grow and protect a brand too. For instance, Nim’s Fruit Crisps launched Pink Lady crisps in April , and last year Belvoir Fruit Farms released a Pink Lady Sparkling Apple Juice.

“As part of our five-year plan we want to see other brand extensions so it’s not just whole apples,” Shaw reveals. “There are more plans but it’s still too early to talk about them!”

Another indirect approach to raise the brand’s profile is the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition, of which Pink Lady has been the headline sponsor since its inception. Last year was the tenth anniversary of the now global campaign, and it continues to grow from its humble beginnings in the UK. Over 10,000 entries were recorded in 2021 , which marked an increase of 23 per cent compared with the previous year.

Go Beyond Price and Tailor Promotions

As for engaging new consumers with a produce brand, slashing prices is not the answer, especially for a premium brand. Offer exciting, added-value promotions and adapt them to your different consumer profiles to drive growth and penetration.

Pink Lady’s focus for 2021/22 is to reward its loyal consumers, while exciting new people to buy the fruit. Crucially, its promotions are tailored by retailer.

Lately, Pink Lady has rolled out a variety of trade marketing activities across numerous retailers, including: new season and on-pack stickers across packaging in store, in-pack giveaways and competitions, in-store shelf advertising and displays, retailer online banner advertising, and social media support.

To reward its loyal Co-op Food customers, Pink Lady ran an on-pack Valentine’s Day competition to win a luxury weekend away; in Aldi stores there was an Adopt A Tree promotion to win a trip to France; while plastic-free Pink Lady packaging was rolled out at Iceland. Going forward, Pink Lady is eager to increase its trade promotional activity with the retailers’ support.

Next, Pink Lady will launch a gardening campaign and some LGBT+ activity for Pride. During the autumn, the focus will shift to crafting on the back of Pink Lady’s successful promotions with knitted apple cosies.

“Consumers really are at the heart of everything we do at Pink Lady,” points out Flynn. “If we’re being true to that promise, we need to understand our consumers’ needs within each of the different retailers, and that means individual promotions. The retailers understand their shoppers better than we do, so we work together. When the retailers run promotions we try to align our activity with theirs too.”

Mirror Consumer Values

In today’s consumer-conscious market, it is equally imperative to strike a chord with your shoppers.

“It’s key that our consumers understand we are a brand that has values, and that we mirror their own values,” Flynn explains. “Again, it comes down to ensuring that the consumer is at the heart of what you do. We’re very conscious that Pink Lady is a premium brand so we want to make sure that we are doing our part within the local community.”

Last year, Pink Lady started working with FareShare, and recently renewed its partnership to help vulnerable communities to eat healthily. This summer Pink Lady is giving FareShare 100,000 apples to distribute to community groups and charities across the UK.

For the winter period, Pink Lady has made a financial donation to provide the equivalent of 80,000 meals.

Just last month, Pink Lady announced that it had renovated and redesigned a basketball court in partnership with community sports project, Project in the Paint. In June, meanwhile, Pink Lady became a sponsor of The British Bee Charity to celebrate the importance of bees in food production. An on-pack competition called Bee Pink was promoted exclusively with Morrisons.

Pink Lady also supports the United Nations’ World Food Programme Story Tellers Project, and is involved with the LGBT+ community every year.

The goal is to communicate that Pink Lady cares. “These projects are really important, and I think they are key for our consumers, especially our core consumers,” Flynn comments.

Be Agile

Being agile is another requirement for any successful brand.

“Last year taught us that more than anything,” says Flynn. “We had to completely switch up our marketing campaign during the pandemic.”

In 2021, Pink Lady increased its digital and social media spend considerably; taking to its social channels to ask consumers directly what they wanted from the brand.

“We wanted to listen to our consumers directly,” explains Flynn. “We tried to really deliver some distracting content that everyone needed last year.”

Be Patient

Finally, remember to continually invest in your marketing because growing brand awareness is a steady process.

“It takes time to establish the kind of brand loyalty that Pink Lady has achieved,” notes Flynn. “We have a really loyal customer base now, and we know that when people buy Pink Lady apples they really do love the brand and the product. That comes down to the fact that we keep investing in the marketing, that our product is consistently high quality, and that we try continually to reach new consumers.”



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