Masterbrand Strategy Gains Momentum in the UK

Several packaged food companies have opted to shake up tired brand images by giving a new lease of life to a dynamic marketing strategy which has been dormant in the UK for over a decade, namely that of the masterbrand.

Driven by an urge to inject impetus into mature product ranges, the adoption of the masterbrand strategy has the intention of invigorating sales in both the short and long term. The fundamental concept entails cultivating an overarching brand name for an array of products, which then assumes a prominent position on the packaging. Typically, sub-brand names also remain present on the packaging so that the various products can be differentiated readily, although they may also be abandoned in favour of a plainer, more descriptive name.

Although the masterbrand concept has in fact been implemented with success in the past – for instance, by Cadbury from the 1990s – United Biscuits initiated the current trend for this strategy in the British packaged food landscape by bringing its sweet biscuits range under the McVitie’s masterbrand, as well as its savoury biscuits under the Jacob’s range, in 2014. This has taken the form of altering, with regard to the Jacob’s masterbrand for instance, the famous black diamond logo into a simplified format with a starker colour contrast and then applying this stamp more prominently to a diverse array of products, such as Flatbreads, Cracker Crisps, Mini Cheddars and Cream Crackers. Likewise, the McVitie’s range masterbrand revamp saw the redesign of the logo into a sleeker shape, appearing distinctly on new packaging for a host of very well-known products, such as Original and Chocolate Digestives, BN biscuits, Jaffa Cakes and Penguin bars.


Source: 3 Monkeys Communications

United Biscuits’ decision to undertake this initiative was vindicated by value sales growth of 4%, as well as a 9% rise specifically for its Digestive range, in 2015. The success was premised on the correct identification of a series of potential positive outcomes which resonate with consumers. Chief among these is enhanced brand visibility: Under the masterbrand strategy, a good degree of packaging design homogenisation necessarily occurs, making the product range more conspicuous on the shelves of retailers.

Moreover, brand recognition is valued by companies as many consumers will automatically assume the quality of a known product will be replicated in that of an unknown one so long as they are familiar with the masterbrand. This mitigates the risks inherent in new product launches as they benefit from having a preordained profile. For this very reason, the masterbrand also confers additional leverage when a company seeks to enter into a new category of packaged food. Finally, a masterbrand allows for range rationalisation and more focussed advertising spend, thereby enabling companies to maximise their marketing efforts in terms of conversion into sales.

All of these aspects have been evidenced also in the adoption of the masterbrand strategy by Arla Foods, which has spearheaded the masterbrand charge in 2015 as it embarks on an ambitious five year plan to make Arla one of the UK’s top ten brands. Arla Foods already operates two major brands, Lurpak and Anchor, independently in the UK but has released a raft of new products under the Arla masterbrand, such as protein drinks, flavoured milk and a yoghurt, with more launches to come.

The implementation of the masterbrand strategy by major players in the UK is timely as it responds to a retail environment that is more disorienting than ever for the consumer, who is overwhelmed by a melee of competing products, and also conveys the impression of innovation. This latter aspect is a hallmark idiosyncrasy of the masterbrand strategy: the end-consumer is immediately attracted by the novelty of a visual redesign, although the product itself may well remain unchanged in terms of composition. Young’s Seafood, which has in fact long operated a masterbrand, has taken the momentum of this current trend as an opportunity to update its branding. It did so by refreshing the visual element of its packaging in early 2015 to display the seascape of its home town of Grimsby in Northern England, traditionally associated with the British fishing industry.

Nonetheless, there are certain potential pitfalls. If, for instance, a company operates several brands in the same category that artificially compete against each other, it would be unwise to subsume these products under one masterbrand, as very often consumers are not aware that they are purchasing from the same manufacturer when making different selection choices. This would be the case for Unilever within ice cream, which manufactures the top three brands: Magnum, Ben & Jerry’s and Carte d’Or. It is also the case that companies with diverse product portfolios would struggle with this strategy as British consumers commonly associate quality with specialisation, rendering cross-category affiliation counterproductive. Beyond this, this strategy is not applicable to brands manufactured under licence as the executive decision-making rights are absent and also where a brand is already firmly entrenched in the consumer consciousness, such as the gravy powder Bisto from Premier Foods, doing anything which may serve to diminish this is sure to have an undesired effect.

The conclusion to be drawn from this development is that innovative companies have taken a proactive approach to the perpetual challenge of sustaining growth. This has been achieved by simplifying the choice of consumers at the point of sale on the basis of unified visual language and streamlined marketing. In terms of future prospects, gradual emulation can be anticipated as success is inevitability replicated. In this process, it is expected that solutions will be engineered for the subtle difficulties to which the masterbrand strategy is prone to give rise. For example, to preclude the possibility that semi-implementation – that is the partial inclusion of brands under a masterbrand – serves to lessen the impact of the masterbrand through dilution, intelligent grouping of like-for-like products may be seen. In any case, trends within the packaged food industry tend to be cyclical and should the masterbrand strategy become overwhelmingly prevalent, then it is logical that renewed diversification of brands would occur so as to attract attention through contrast once more.