Reading the Age newspaper’s Melbourne Magazine this weekend reminded me of the potency of combining an artisan and a brand with a premium position in the market place. The magazine has a section celebrating the 2009 food hall of fame. It’s purpose is to honour those Melburnians (and Victorians) who have who have worked passionately and single-mindedly to create a food offering of distinction. When you read the stories of the diverse range of individuals included you are immediately touched by the tireless and obsessive devotion they bring to the table.
Take David Blackmore, a cattleman from Alexandra. In the area where he farms there is a lot of black cattle, but none like his black cattle. Every other farmer, and there are some excellent farmers, all pursue the same approach, black Angus cattle. David has taken a different path, black yes, but Japanese black, Wagyu cattle. The magic of Wagyu meat is in the fine white marbling which results in a never-before-experienced succulence that sends the taste buds reeling in such tenderness and flavour.
There are all kinds of stories about these imperial cattle from Japan that are massaged, fed on beer and then sold at astronomical prices in Tokyo’s top restaurants. These are not just folkloric (but certainly very rich story telling). The Japanese have devoted extraordinary care and attention to the rearing of this unusual breed of cattle, focusing on the quality rather than the quantity of their beef. The result is the ‘caviar of beef’. And what about the premium prices these creatures achieve! In Australia go to Rockpool Bar and Grill and you will have the privilege of paying $110 for a 200 gram Wagyu from David Blackmore’s farm. Go to the butcher (and not many have it) and pay $220 per kilogram for a porterhouse cut. Google Wagyu and you will find that a record paid for a carcass in the US was $250,000 (now I know why there are a lot vegetarians around, that is serious dollars). There is something at play here that is relevant to a lot of other food brands.
Firstly, there is a brand playing out.
Generic food types do not get you a premium. When you eat Wagyu beef you know, you are eating Wagyu beef. The eating experience is always branded. Restaurants inform you that it is Wagyu beef on the menu. If you bought some to cook at home for friends, you would bother to tell them that it is Wagyu, because it is different and it is exclusive (and you paid a lot for it). When did you last sit down to tuck into a steak and be told to get excited because it was Hereford or Angus cut?
Secondly, there is an artisan of sorts behind the product.
Artisan typically implies a sense of hand-making of food products – there is a passion and devotion that often extends beyond the call of duty. The same applies to Wagyu in Australia. Farmer David Blackmore has 2,000 full-blood Wagyu on his properties, and all of that has been derived from the sourcing of frozen embryos and semen, on a journey that started back in 1993. It has never been a case of simply rocking up to the sale yards for the regular cattle sales. It has been painstakingly built one embryo at a time. The Age Melbourne magazine quote of David says something of the artisan in him, ‘….my family get sick of me. I am a bit passionate about what we do.’ Passion and obsession is a great starting point for the building of any brand.
Thirdly, there is an important degree of exclusivity.
Price is such a wonderful proxy for exclusivity. As a consumer we are not always aware of the quantities of a product available, but we are very good at working out how expensive a product is versus another. And when it comes to exclusivity the higher the price the better. In fact it reminds me of some work I was doing for BMW about 10 years ago, when we were studying the impact of hugely depreciating value in the 7 series. At the time you had a situation where you would pay top dollar for a new 7 series BMW, drive it out the show room and immediately experience the crunch of owning a car worth tens of thousands less. Rapid depreciation when you were really just looking for rapid acceleration at the lights!
At the time I happened to be away on holidays and we caught up with an old friend who had re-married. Her new husband who we were meeting for the first time, happened to be a specialist in the medical profession. As we arrived at their place for lunch I too noticed (frankly you couldn’t miss it) his new 7 series in the drive way. So in the interests of a little market research (and small talk, as it was not exactly flowing) I asked him if he had any concern with the depreciation rate of his new car. He simply turned and looked at me with a touch of disdain and said ‘…if you are concerned with the level of depreciation you cannot afford the car!’. In one very arrogant bold statement he had reminded me that exclusivity has its price and you can either afford it or you cannot, and the way he studied me I knew he was thinking…..’and I don’t think you can afford it’ (and he was right).
When it comes to food (as with any other category) there is value in remembering that exclusivity has
it rewards in terms of being able to demand a premium. But you need to be able to wrap it up in considered branding strategy and a huge doze of artisan passion capable of creating a quality offering. We have had the pleasure of being on such a journey with Lester Marshall from Coffin Bay Oyster Farm. But that is a story for another day, otherwise this blog will start to have that surf and turf feel
Wednesday 7th October is Wagyu bbq night here at the studio, so if you would like to share in some succulent beef eating just let us know – and we will show you how to build a brand one bite at a time.
Peter Singline, Brand Scientist
P.S The other alternative is to try the Wagyu burger, in NYC, you only need $42 for the experience!