Tuesday, 20 November 2012

As good today as it's always been

Driving through Bradford-on-Avon today, I passed an enormous truck, heading in the opposite direction. 'Hovis', said the words on the side facing me, 'As good today as it's always been.' The advertising genius who came up with this slogan is destined to go far. The claim is impossible to challenge. Competitors or consumers who say that Hovis makes tasteless, chewy, steamed dough can hardly complain, unless they are prepared to admit that Hovis, once-upon-a-time, made bread. Fans (are there any over the age of ten?) can congratulate themsleves on their judgement and a small percentage of the mindless majority might possibly be persuaded to defect from Allinson.

The only reason I am writing about this is that I have a good Hovis story, told to me by a bloke who was, at the time, very senior in Rank Hovis McDougall. One evening, after a few glasses of wine, he told me that RHM had participated voluntarily in serious discussions with the government of the day about reducing the amount of salt that British people consume in their ordinary diet. It turns out that, for most people, bread contributes more salt in absolute terms than any other dietary component. According to my source, RHM offered to reduce the amount of salt it used in bread manufacture by a certain, quite large, percentage and the government negotiator went away very happy.

What Hovis did then was very clever. The 'master bakers' - I swear that is what they are called - were instructed to reduce the amount of salt per loaf in all the 'own label' bread they produced on behalf of supermarket chains (how could the customers complain?) and increase, by a smaller amount, the salt per loaf in Hovis. Salt is what makes bread taste good. Result? Government ecstatic and consumers defect in droves from own-label bread and start buying Hovis, which now tastes better and generates much higher margins for RHM. The subversive/anarchist in me warms to any tale of authority being shown the finger in this way and I have had a soft spot for RHM (but not Hovis) ever since.

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