How Is Brexit Changing Views Of UK Brands?
It’s now 12 months since a majority of voters in the UK chose to begin the process of leaving the European Union. Brexit, as it’s commonly known, has dominated politics here since then and it’s a subject the food and drink industry have been very vocal on. Whether it’s concerns over seasonal labour for agriculture, the loss of export markets or rising cost of raw material imports there are very few people working in the food or drink who won’t be affected by Brexit in one way or another. As such there’s been a lot of column inches and airtime filled by the great and the good of our industry, some of it very interesting and pertinent too.
We were interested in how Brexit was shaping the views of some of our European neighbours 12 months on. The vote for Brexit came as a surprise to those outside the UK and a year later the decision still puzzles many people in other EU nations. Through our membership of Taan Worldwide we approached three of our sister agencies to get insights into how the rest of Europe views the UK and specifically food and drink brands now.
We spoke with Dr. Ana Iorga, a founder and partner at Buyer Brain and one of the leading practitioners of Neuroscience in Europe. Ana brings science to analysing what consumers really think and is at the cutting edge of product and packaging testing. Based in Bucharest, Buyer Brain work across Europe. Interestingly Ana felt that consumer views of UK products hadn’t altered much in the last 12 months, “British products are usually positioned as premium products in Romania and across Eastern Europe, so far Brexit hasn’t affected this positioning.” We wondered if the fall in value of Sterling had made any difference but Ana felt it hadn’t “premium products tend not to be as volatile price wise and so currency changes have less effect.” One thing she did notice was a realisation that the UK was suddenly a good place to go shopping in “as the exchange rate was favourable.”
Grant Adams has a unique perspective on Europe. He’s a Texan living and working in Sweden for the Duffy Agency specialising in digital communications for international brands. Having spent 15 years in Europe working on a variety of brands Grant knows how important ‘place and origin’ can be for products. Like Ana, Grant doesn’t feel Brexit has had much effect on UK products in Scandinavia yet, “I don’t think there’s been an impact, there’s still so much uncertainty that I don’t think people have really gotten their heads around the impact, so until it happens for real, it will probably remain status quo.” Grant feels that Brexit itself is unlikely to directly influence Swedish consumers, but that changes to prices though currency changes might, “I’d say price and value are more important than country of origin. Seems to me that Brexit is likely to have a bigger impact on businesses rather than on brands as consumers attach more emotions to brands. The cost of importing may go up, that may in turn affect consumer prices, but it is likely that people will react more to price increases, rather than to Brexit as an issue.”
The view from the Netherlands is slightly different. Bram Gubbels heads the online division at brand strategy agency X-Ingredient in Eindhoven. X-Ingredient work on national and international campaigns with some of the biggest brands in Europe. Bram explained a year on from the Brexit vote that the Dutch consumer doesn’t “think any differently about the UK. We don’t consciously consume that many British products.” But he did add that “from a business perspective, the UK is viewed differently. The image of the British has been downgraded. People in Holland make fun of Brexit, without realising that it is probably going to cost us all a lot of money.” Bram doesn’t feel that most Dutch consumers will notice a change in the price of UK brands “retailers will absorb or pass on, but consumers are unlikely to be aware”.
Lastly we were curious to know how they, as European marketing professionals, viewed Brexit. Grant Adams was unequivocal “Brexit is likely to be a bigger issue for the UK than it is for Sweden”, likewise Ana Iorga explained that “people are concerned about their family members & friends that currently work and live in the UK” but equally “the UK economy clearly needed people from Romania to function, I think that the UK still needs them, how will your economy function without them?” The view from Holland was similar “Brexit is a serious problem for both The Netherlands and the UK, but it’s a bigger one for the UK. Neither country will benefit from it. The UK will suffer more than the EU. The UK government doesn’t have the tools in place to facilitate a Brexit, but the EU does. In fact, the EU has too much bureaucracy.” Bram ended by asking something a number of people in the UK and Irish food industry have asked “…with such a close call in the elections, can the UK still opt out of the Brexit? Or is that considered political suicide?”
It was clear that whilst Brexit dominates the media and politics here, it doesn’t elsewhere in Europe. Indeed outside of those tasked with dealing with it I’m not sure people in Europe give it much thought at all. In truth not much has really changed in 12 months, but it’s clear that the rest of the EU see Brexit as the ‘UK’s problem’. Whether you see Brexit as a ‘problem’ or a ‘solution’, its impact has still to be really felt beyond these shores.