At the heart of the current Tesco/horsemeat crisis is the concept that consumers have not been given the produce they were lead to believe - the opposite of Ronseal's famous motif 'it does exactly what it says on the tin'. Coincidently, referring to the events of the last couple of weeks as a 'crisis' overlooks several factors that suggests the 'crisis', just like Tesco's beef lasagne, is not exactly what it seems.
Undeniably, the discovery of horsemeat in Tesco's products has had some negative effects on their brand. But it has also afforded them several opportunities:
Fighting Back With 'British'
In order to try and quell future consumer doubts over the quality of their products, and by way of increasing public confidence, Tesco has pledged to purchase their beef from sources 'closer to home'. Apart from the increased vigilance of production, this potentially portrays Tesco in a positive light on several levels:
• Post-2012, 'Brand Britain' is stronger than ever. British-born products are being positioned as premium more frequently than ever before
• Being a British product is the ultimate communicative reassurance for home consumers
• In times of economic thrift, this move by Tesco shows them to be putting back into the UK economy by supporting the UK farming industry, beloved by consumers
• When placed in the context of Tesco being the first supermarket retailer to assume this position, all of the above provide them with a favourable USP
Among the majority of consumers, Tesco is perceived to be an all-consuming corporate machine - destroying local retailers and looking to break into every product and service sector possible. Last week, in response to the horsemeat discovery, they issued a letter in national newspapers across the UK. For the first time, Tesco publicly showed some emotion - apologising for their errors, offering refunds and pledging to right their wrongs. Such behaviour is a turn away from the usual bland, corporate entity consumers typically associate with Tesco - and may help capture some positive consumer sentiment.
Competitors Share the Load
At the start of the horsemeat contamination story breaking, all eyes were on Tesco. As the story has developed, the majority of rival supermarket chains have been forced to withdraw products due to potential horsemeat contamination. This has benefited Tesco in two key ways:
• It has alleviated the strain of negative press on Tesco and made the problem appear widespread, not focussed on a single retailer
• Tesco, thus far, have been the only retailer to make their apologies and solutions so publicly known - showing them in a favourable light vs. other embroiled retailers - not to mention providing somewhat of a master class in crisis communications
Potentially No Real NET Effect
Despite the initial wave of negative publicity, the true metric of the damage to Tesco caused by the recent weeks will be: are people going to stop visiting their stores? Whilst frozen burger sales will likely decline - at a total level - this will be due to 'processed beef' as an entity suffering negatively. Tesco's footfall will likely not suffer the same fate. Similar to the discovery of benzene in Perrier in 1990, any decline in Tesco's market share will likely be short-term, partly due to the way they have handled the negativity, but also due to the fact Tesco offer the majority of consumers' convenience and value - two facets at the core of food retail.
In short we can ask the question: have Tesco turned what initially appeared to be a PR disaster into a wave of potential opportunities? That's certainly food for thought...
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