Walkers keeps it real

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Related tags: Lay's, Walkers

For once the British weather had got it right. As the people from Walkers crisps announced their latest campaign in the unlikely venue of a potato...

For once the British weather had got it right. As the people from Walkers crisps announced their latest campaign in the unlikely venue of a potato shed on Lodge Farm in Hampshire, heavy showers lashed the fields outside, driving home the key message of a new £7.5m advertising offensive - it's the 154 days of rain we have a year that makes great spuds.

Walkers' new marketing angle - that its crisps are now made from 100 per cent British potatoes - is more than just skin-deep patriotism. For one thing there's the reduction in food miles that comes from local sourcing - previously, 10 per cent of the potatoes that became Walkers crisps were shipped from the continent.

But perhaps cutting even deeper is the way it aims to bring home the fact that, yes, potato crisps are made from potatoes. Seventy-three per cent of the population will probably think this is pretty obvious. But, according to a recent Walkers' survey, it will come as news to the staggering 27 per cent of people who declined to agree with the statement: "Potato crisps are made from real potatoes."

That's why the UK's best selling crisp is going back on the farm and getting to grips with its roots - or should that be tubers? For Walkers marketing chief Jon Goldstone it's the next step on from the brand's 2006 relaunch, which cut salt content and, with the use of Sunseed oil, reduced saturated fats.

"That was about changing perceptions of the product and getting people to see it as more healthy, a permissable treat," he says. "It has been a massive investment for us but it's been incredibly successful."Figures show the UK crisp market back in growth, after declining in 2005 for the first time in a decade as health-conscious consumers turned away from the snack. Sales volumes are 1.9 per cent up, and Walkers volumes are four per cent up.

To maintain the momentum, Walkers is taking the message on from 'healthy' to 'natural'. Research suggests 67 per cent of consumers now want their food to be 'natural', up from 54 per cent in 2004. "We have taken the bad things out, now we are starting to make a hero of the good stuff that goes in," explains Jon.

"We have got to make people realise what a natural snack a bag of crisps is. "Somehow, through six decades of potato crisps, people have lost touch! There is a lost connection between potatoes and crisps. It's mind-boggling that 27 per cent don't know crisps are made from real potatoes - and worrying when you realise they are increasingly seeing natural things as healthy. But we have a fantastic story to tell.

"We don't ship potatoes all around the world and we're loving towards our farmers - we have relationships with them decades old."Jon believes that emphasising the British source of Walkers crisps will reinforce the sense of them being a natural product. "It's a big move for us," he says, and when you calculate that the 10 per cent of business transferred to UK farmers amounts to 42,000 tons of spuds you can see why.

Good-looking crisps

Those of us who have eaten goodness knows how many potato crisps over the past few decades will have noticed a slow but perceptible change in the humble pub snack - they look nicer than they used to.What happened to the green ones, the black ones, the holey ones, the ugly misshapen ones?

That they no longer get into the bag is the result of conscious efforts on the part of both manufacturers such as Walkers, and the potato farmers.

The Janaway family, which runs Lodge Farm, has supplied potatoes to Walkers and its forerunners for 37 years. They are trusted to provide the kind of raw material that makes good crisps. Too much water content and they won't crisp. Too much sugar and you get black bits.

The potatoes are tested at the farm in a miniature crisp factory where they are lifted at just the right time, washed, sliced and fried in exactly the same way as they are at Walkers, before being tasted and checked for goldenness against a colour chart.

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