Peckish: a brand bound to fail

March 2011

If you’re outside of the garden industry, you could be forgiven for not having heard of a brand which launched last autumn – Peckish. And even if you are in the garden industry, you could also be forgiven for not having heard of the Peckish brand. Why? Because it’s been an almighty flop and always was going to be so.

So what is Peckish? It’s a wild bird-care brand (or was at the time of writing – not sure if it will still be sitting on the few shelves it made it onto by April) owned by Westlands – best known for bags of compost but also own other brands including Unwins seeds. And if a product category like bird food doesn’t interest you, please read on anyway – this story of failure and the lessons learned could apply to almost any market sector and product category.

Some background:

The UK wild bird-care market – so bird food and feeders etc. – is probably worth about £300m+. There are no accurate industry figures, and one estimate I saw (and, as it happens, the same one as the people at Peckish were banding around…) was for £365m, however, it was clear from how this figure was arrived at that it had been naively calculated. That said, it’s still a big market and one which continues to grow (even in the recession).

Westlands wanted to get into this growing market because they already have a strong presence in garden centres – a key retailer type for the category – and clearly, and understandably, wanted some of the action.

So what went wrong? I think five things:

Lack of market understanding

The people at Westlands clearly thought that there was essentially one customer group buying wild bird food. Not so – there are three distinct market segments. In reality this meant, and partly because of the way the brand was positioned, that their offering was aimed at just one of the three segments. Smarter brands in the market aim at all three, or at the very least, two.

Lack of product expertise

Feeding the birds in your garden might seem simple enough and indeed it is if someone is giving you the right advice. Of course the people to be giving that advice should be the brand you buy from, and that’s certainly what Peckish tried to do. Problem is they know less than the girl who scans my product at the Tesco checkout. So how does that affect sales? Because if you don’t understand your product in every respect, you can’t get your product offering right in the first place – and Peckish most certainly didn’t. What’s more, any ignorant customer who did initially trust the brand and made a purchase would be unlikely to make another (some of the product is ineffective, and advice on the packaging misguided).

Naff brand name

It’s silly, and although it might slightly appeal to one of the three market segments, the other two – both of which hold higher spending consumers – will scoff at it.

Appalling packaging

Peckish packaging

Peckish packaging

This image gives you a sense of how bad the packaging is, but I can assure you that the actual thing is worse still. I don’t know who the design agency responsible was and perhaps it wasn’t their fault if the brief was lousy, but either way it is shockingly bad.

David trying to compete with Goliath

In garden centres you’ll find a very dominant supplier across a host of product categories – Gardman. Fortunately for Westlands, the categories Gardman aren’t involved with – e.g. compost and seeds – are Westlands’ strengths. But bird food and associated product is a different matter, and Gardman dominate. What’s more, any threat to their market dominance in garden centres is taken very seriously and they know all the tricks to trip any new competitor up at the very first hurdle (not that they had to put a very big foot out in this case).

So what are the lessons?

1. Do your market homework – understanding a new market is essential, and the key thing here is that Westlands saw their strength in garden centres and less the product categories they were already in. In other words they no doubt thought of this simply as another product range in a retail type they had a good presence in. So in the first instance don’t confuse your route to market with what that market actually is.

2. Get expertise in the category – this is related to the above, but there is a difference. Would Nestlé launch a new brand, in a category new to them, without bringing in technical expertise which understood every aspect from consumer to product use on a scientific level? I don’t think so.

3. Deliver your brand effectively – which means a host of things from relevant differentiation to great packaging, and to do that you also need a raft of expertise – both internal and external. Clearly Westlands didn’t have that.

4. Don’t underestimate the completion (no qualifier needed).

There’s also a bigger, and potentially more damaging lesson which is this. Westlands is a brand on two levels: firstly it is a consumer brand with a range of composts and other related products. Secondly it is a B2B brand supplying garden centres (predominantly) with a suite of other brands – e.g. Unwins seeds. What will garden centre owners be thinking of Westlands after this nonsense? That they don’t know what they’re doing. And that sort of reputation is clearly something which any business, of any size, is rather best avoiding.

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