European consumer interest in stories behind purchase

Shopping can be quite a bland experience. There is little excitement in buying another pair of jeans or a pint of milk. That is – unless there is more to a product or a service than meets the eye. National, and particularly local pride is serving as an anchor for many in a world that is increasingly alienating.

Many consumers are strongly connected to where they come from, their neighborhood, their country. Localising products has been a strong trend that is also connected to a new green consciousness – green consumers are often local consumers. In marketing terms, this adds to the fabric of a brand.

Key trends

  • Remind us who we are;
  • Bears love honey;
  • Tell us where our food comes from;
  • Building on the lure of the local.

Commercial opportunities

  • As a cure for retail blandness, give your store a story. Give shoppers the experience that what they buy has a meaning, that the product has a very specific background;
  • Make your consumer feel good about buying your product and not someone else’s;
  • Tap into the power of locality: ‘localise’ your products and marketing.
  • A company well known for their contemporary business ideas, Springwise, would endow every outlet or store with its own unique experience and assortment, to combine consumers’ appreciation of a sense of place with “Luxyoury” elements like limited editions and exclusive access.


We talk a lot about how global everything has become. We Twitter and Facebook with faraway friends, we eat fruit that has travelled halfway across the globe and buy t-shirts made in Bangladesh.

But when you look at where most people – except for the small group of privileged jet-setters – spend their day-to-day life, where they work, where they shop, you will find them in the same place most of the year. Springwise claims that the world is 99% local for 99% of all people. In a precarious world, people find security in their roots, with their friends, in their local pub and in their workplace. This is where decisions are made and motivations for purchases are formed.

Remind us who we are

Consumers like to identify with a product, and a touch of patriotism often helps sales. Absolut Vodka, a company with a track record of innovative marketing strategies, released its latest city-inspired flavour, Absolut Boston, in August 2009, paying tribute to the rich history of Boston by donating $50,000 to the local Charles River Conservancy.

Absolut New Orleans was launched in August 2007, with 100% of the profits going toward various Gulf Coast charities. In Portugal, the A Vida Portuguesa company ( has opened a store in a former soap factory in Lisbon, dedicated to Portugal’s unique brands in their original packaging, that represent traditional Portuguese craftsmanship and hold a fragment of the nation’s collective memory. In Munich, the smart owners of traditional pub, Gasthaus Fraunhofer, have been influential in the build-up of new-wave Bavarian folk and cross-over music with their annual Vollksmusiktage, an event that has extended into a six-week party of music and dancing – and sold a lot of beer.

Buy British, a campaign dismissed as jingoistic only a few decades ago, is now the badge of a new Green movement. UK grocery chain Waitrose has announced it will only sell milk and other dairy products that come from British cows from 60 British dairy farms. Bavarian farmers sell their gene-technology-free milk in a campaign called Unser Land (our land).

Bears love honey

There’s growing awareness among consumers about the importance of bees, and their precarious status. This year’s Berlin Film Festival even awarded the coveted Golden Bear (the German Oscar) to a Turkish film called “Bal” (Honey), about a Beekeeper and his son. Urban beekeeping has been popular on a small scale among amateur beekeepers for centuries.

A report in the UK’s Guardian newspaper shows that UK beekeeping courses are regularly oversubscribed and the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) reported a 25% jump in membership in 2009. High-profile campaigns and celebrity enthusiasts like Scarlett Johansson have helped plant a once marginal issue firmly into the national consciousness.

Now, London luxury deli Fortnum & Mason is taking bee-keeping to the high end, with four hives on the roof of its 181 Piccadilly building. From there, as Fortnum’s put it, the bees are able to “visit the grounds, gardens and squares of the best addresses in London, gathering rather superior nectar.” The urban honey has been on sale since May 2009.

The American site reports another case of rooftop beekeeping at the prestigious Canadian Fairmont Royal York hotel which has installed a three-hive apiary 14 stories above the streets of Toronto and the resulting honey is used in the hotel’s restaurant kitchen. The hotel guests’ predominantly positive reaction has inspired the hotel to install three more hives at other sites this summer.

Know where your food comes from

Most consumers have an emotional connection to the place they were born in or where they live, and with concerns about sustainability an important factor, the interest in where food comes from is growing. Wikipedia reports that those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced food sometimes call themselves locavores or localvores.

The New Oxford American Dictionary chose locavore, a person who seeks out locally produced food, as its word of the year in 2007. Some locavores draw inspiration from advocates of local eating like US author Barbara Kingsolver, whose book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” chronicles her family’s attempts to eat locally.

The concept of local purchasing and local economies, the preference to buy locally produced goods and services expresses itself in the popularity of farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture programmes, community gardens and home delivery of organic vegetables.

A high-tech variant on the donation box by the roadside is a food vending machine for farm products, the regiomat. These dispense anything from fresh milk to farm-made fresh pasta to passing regional shoppers – for a payment that is likely to be lower than in the supermarket. McDonalds sells Yakatori burgers in Japan, and in Germany makes sure people know that their ingredients are sourced locally.

In the European Union, local identification has been officially supported since 1992 with the “Protected designations of origin (PDO) and geographical indications (PGI)”. This ensures that Parmesan cheese comes from the Italian region of Parma and Emmental cheese comes, indeed, from Swiss Emmental.

Building on the lure of the local

Loews Hotels, a chain with hotels and resorts in 16 cities across North America, started its popular and successful ‘Adopt-a-Farmer’ initiative in early 2009. The aim is to promote local farming while providing customers with food made from ingredients that are locally-sourced, organic and sustainable. For example, the Coronado Bay Resort in San Diego uses herbs and vegetables from its own garden, sourcing the rest of its ingredients from 12 local farming communities.

The Miami Beach Hotel adds in local, farm-raised seafood. The company’s New York headquarters connected with the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, procuring the only artesan sheep’s milk made in the Hudson River Valley. Since many ingredients are seasonal, customers will happily wait until June for that strawberry tart. In late 2009, Loews Coronado Bay Resort introduced its “Farmers, Foragers and Fishermen” scheme, a seasonal series of dinners for which the chef is paired with local suppliers who dine and share information about their products and methods with hotel guests.

While using foragers or local suppliers has a tradition in many smaller hotels in Germany, Italy and Spain, which smart new English restaurants have picked up on, it is encouraging to see an entire hospitality chain adopt local farming.

Global sales of organic food and beverages: 2004-2008
US$ million

Source: Euromonitor International from trade sources/international statistics and the Organic Trade AssociationNote: Market sizes based on retail value RSP.


In our globalised world, consumers have a growing desire to find out about the origins of a product or the local relevance of an event. In the quest for authenticity, something that is ‘made here’, in their neighbourhood, in their country, in their region, will become ever more relevant as a selling proposition.

Local connections will remain strong alongside the global buzz; in this way, a local social online network like will happily coexist with Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. The aftermath of the recession will motivate more people to holiday close to home instead of the unaffordable long-haul flight.