Allergens, Advertising and the Boston Box

This will be a fairly lengthy blog post but it addresses some important issues so stick with it.

I usually blog on issues relating to marketing strategy but I want to take this opportunity to raise an extremely important case which relates to the other side of Philmus Consulting; Trading Standards and Consumer Protection.

  1.  Allergens in Food Production and Catering

Yesterday, in a landmark case, a North Yorkshire restauranteur was jailed for six years for the manslaughter of one of his customers in a case taken by North Yorkshire Police and North Yorkshire Trading Standards.

The customer suffered from a severe peanut allergy, which was first spotted when he was a small child.  He was extremely careful to avoid nuts particularly in his work as a chef.  He had visited one of the restauranteurs premises for an Indian take away.  He stressed to the staff in the restaurant that there were to be no nuts in his food.  When he received his meal, it was in a container clearly marked “No Nuts”.

On taking the meal home, the consumer suffered a severe allergic reaction and as a result he died a few days later in hospital.

This was not a one off event.  The restauranteur had previously had an incident where a customer suffered an allergic reaction to his food.  He had been visited by undercover trading standards officers who purchased samples of his food which, when analysed, were found to contain nuts; despite the TSO pretending to be someone with a nut allergy.  The business had been advised to inform customers that the food on sale contained nuts.

The restauranteur ignored the guidance issued by trading standards.  In the words of the judge, he showed a callous disregard for the safety of his customers.  He was described as having an ‘it will never happen to me’ attitude.

On investigating the death, police and trading standards found that the business was severely in debt and had replaced expensive almond powder with cheaper nut powder to save money.

Now this case is not typical.  It is clear that the restauranteur acted with significant criminal negligence which led to the death of one of his customers BUT it send a clear warning to food businesses that they have a legal duty of care towards their customers in relation to the ingredients included in the food on sale.

Last year it became law that all food retailers and caterers clearly inform consumers, in writing that their food may contain allergens.  The minimum a restaurant must do is label menus to inform customers that; if the customer has an allergy; they can speak to staff about the food’s ingredients.

I suspect that, as a result of this case, many food premises will go further and actually mark menus and price lists with clear indications of the allergenic ingredients in their food.

Allergies are not a minor complaint.  They are very different from food intolerances. A food intolerance will make the sufferer ill.  An allergy can cause immediate anaphylactic shock.  A person with a severe allergic reaction can die in minutes.  Some allergy sufferers can have a reaction to molecules in the air, they do not need to eat the allergen, only be near to it.

Food businesses have a clear duty of care towards customers and MUST declare if they use allergenic ingredients in the food.  They have a legal duty under the Food Information regulations to do so.  Businesses should go further.  Train your staff on allergens and ensure that you have systems in place to avoid cross contamination in both the preparation of food and where ingredients are stored.

Philmus Consulting Ltd can help your food business to develop reasonable precautions and due diligence procedures which ensure that you are complying with the law in relation to allergens and other food standards issues.  Philmus Consulting has over twenty years experience in the enforcement of consumer law and trading standards.  We have advised businesses ranging from local shops to multinationals.  Let us assist you in ensuring your customers are safe and that your business is compliant.

Do not be like the restauranteur in North Yorkshire.  Ensure that you AND YOUR CUSTOMERS are safe from allergen contamination.

2.  Journalists Stop Referring to Advertising as Marketing

I was listening to BBBC Radio 4 yesterday and caught the start of You and Yours, the daily consumer programme.  The presenter announced that the main item in the programme would be an investigation into the amount charities spend on marketing and asked whether they received a significant return from such activity.

Of course, when the item was actually aired, they talked exclusively about television advertising, not marketing.

Advertising is part of an organisation’s promotional mix but it is only a very small part of the process of marketing a product or a brand.  Marketing is a much wider strategic activity in a business, charity or other organisation.

It isn’t only journalists who incorrectly define marketing as advertising and promotional activity.  Some organisations only view marketing as an offshoot of sales.  This is a very short-sighted view and taking it may mean your business is not making the most of its opportunities.

Obviously, one of the main measures used to rate the success of an advertising campaign is the return on investment.  ROI is the difference in income achieved whilst the promotional activity is taking place compared to before that activity started and it is usually calculated as a percentage of the cost of the campaign.

So if a charity pays £500,000 for a TV advertising campaign and it receives £3 million in donations as a result, the return on investment is 600%.

However, charities do not advertise simply to increase donations.  They advertise to raise awareness of their cause with the public.  They advertise so as to lobby those in power as to the importance of their cause.  Other marketing metrics can be used to judge the success of a campaign outside the level of income achieved. Metrics such as share of voice, effective frequency and reach, newspaper column inches or increase in those applying to volunteer for the charity may be appropriate.

Remember promotional activity, particularly in the charity sector, is used for more than just income generation.

3. Criticism of the Boston Box.

I was reading an article in Marketing Week which discussed what makes a bad brand consultant.  The columnist responsible for the article, using some strong language pointed to several factors which indicated a bad marketing consultant.

He stated that any consultant who referred to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs should be shown the door.  I didn’t completely agree with his view but I saw how his argument had been arrived at.

Maslow’s hierarchy is a piece of psychological theory regarding human motives.  It states that we all have base needs such as safety and nutrition but at the peak of the hierarchy we have esteem and self actualisation needs.  We look to our base needs first and when they are satisfied, we begin to examine our higher needs in the hierarchy.

I would not go as far as saying that any reference to Maslow’s hierarchy is the sign of a bad consultant.  Yes, in 95% of cases, the hierarchy has absolutely no bearing but if your business deals in high fashion, art or luxury goods, the hierarchy acts as a reminder that the motivation of your customers is often related to self image and esteem, not warmth hunger or shelter.

I agreed completely with the columnists second point, that any consultant who refers to ‘millennials’ as a market segment doesn’t know their job.  A millennial is any person born in the 1990’s and reaching adulthood post 2000.  They form about a quarter of the population.  If any consultant tries to define one quarter of the population as an appropriate market segment, they are talking nonsense.

Market segmentation is a critical skill to successful marketing strategy.  it must be carried out properly using well recognised marketing theory.  No business sells to everyone and anyone.  Even if your business has several types of customer, you may have to adapt your marketing activity to maximise success in each segment within that customer group.

Inappropriate segmentation may mean that your business is not maximising its opportunities with consumers.

Philmus Consulting offers a comprehensive marketing strategy and planning service for small businesses referring to well respected marketing models for both segmentation and the marketing mix.