Hugh Broom: Get behind the Red Tractor

Driving into work the other morning at stupid o’clock I nearly crashed the car when I thought I saw an advert on a bus stop heralding the greatness of British produce. I passed the same ad at several bus stops along the way and in the end, to avoid hitting the car in front, I actually stopped to read the fourth one. Sure enough there it was: “Carling made with 100% British Barley.”

Dumfounded I got back in the car and continued on my way to work. Now call me naïve, but when was the last time you saw a food and drink giant promoting the greatness of British farm produce on such a scale? Admittedly, it will probably be a shock to most lager drinkers that lager is indeed made of barley.

I’d assumed that if you waltzed into a London bar at 10 o’clock on a Friday night and asked the question to those drinking it you might be met with a somewhat puzzled “Dunno, mate” response. But perhaps not now thanks to the posters. After all, London bus shelters are plastered with the message.

The brewer’s website also features a map of the counties that grow their barley. In my opinion the promotion goes a bit off the rails when you then view the TV sponsor part of the campaign. This shows great British barley being grown and harvested by a team of somewhat inbred looking simpletons stuck in a bizarre pseudo olde worlde countryside where they park threshing machines in the middle of corn fields and have gangs of strapping lads heading out to harvest the barley.

I suppose the ad agency that devised the campaign probably thought the 2008 consumer would (and they are probably right) find this a more appealing pitch than one of a stressed out individual driving a combine wondering when it was about to rain. The alternative would be a stressed out character heading out at the crack of dawn with the self-propelled crop sprayer. But it is, despite the grotesque portrayal of farming, great that the British arable farmer is being sold to the consumer.

It has got me thinking about a recent FW online poll which asked the question should farmers invest more in the red tractor scheme. Sixty-seven per cent said no. The red tractor scheme has, given the small budget it has survived on for years, been a remarkable success. The logo is now, I believe, recognised by consumers and is a valuable tool in the armoury of convincing shoppers that we do care about what we grow.

It would be daft not to invest further and effectively take more control over the brand that is UK farming and produce. Quite clearly the brewers of Carling think it is a marketable commodity given their latest campaign. And if this is the case, then surely we should be pushing forward to exploit this more ourselves and not allowing others to do it for us.

While it may be hard to justify the extra expenditure given the pressures on farm businesses, you can’t stop promoting what you do just when the market is down. Some might say this is the very time you need to shout about the greatness of what you produce to drive demand. With shoppers also facing tough economic choices at the tills it is more important than ever to get our messages across.

If we do not act together as one and make sure we own and drive the brand that is British Produce we risk others hijacking it from us. And the next time you sign a malting barley contract you may be also asked to wear a smock and deliver your grain to the mill in hessian sacks.

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