Brand Health Check: OXO

Lack of innovation and a failure to embrace evolving consumer tastes have left the stock cube floundering.

If the children of the OXO family are still around today, the chances are they have ditched Sunday roasts for convenience food and eating out.

Less than one in five consumers sit down regularly to a traditional Sunday lunch, so it is no surprise the OXO brand is in decline. Most young consumers wouldn't know what to do with an OXO cube, while their elders have also moved away from traditional British eating habits, adopting foreign cuisines and ready meals.

According to Mintel, convenience is key to the market, and gravy granules accounted for 88% of value sales in 2004, an increase of 6% on 2002. OXO is facing the rising popularity of brands such as Bisto from Centura Foods, which has invested heavily in advertising and promotion.

OXO has been slow with product development, while its rivals have branched out with a range of flavours, sauces and licensing agreements. In September last year OXO launched an additive-free, ready-to-use premium stock - the brand's first significant expansion in more than 10 years.

Arguably OXO has failed to embrace the opportunity to license brands into new areas, to tap into the trend toward convenience. For example, time-strapped consumers can now purchase Bisto potato products and chilled Yorkshire Puddings. Mintel also points to the opportunity for brands to become the branded gravy component of the growing array of ready-meals.

OXO has tried to break out of its traditional Sunday lunch associations and to modernise its brand. In 2003 a £3.5m campaign, created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, aimed to revamp its image, showcasing its use in everyday meals. A series of four ads featured family members cooking various meals using OXO cubes. But by 2004 sales were still down by more than 4% on 2002.

Yet the brand may benefit from the growing nostalgia for British food and the popularity of cooking shows. The same research that charts the rise of TV dinners and convenience food shows consumers increasingly view preparing food and eating together as important.

We asked Emma Laney, an associate at Circus who has worked with leading food companies Premier Foods and Cereal Partners, and Euan Webster, creative director of Stocks Taylor Benson, which has worked with Marks & Spencer and Golden Wonder, how OXO can return to growth.

VITAL SIGNS Gravy brands by sales 2002 2004 (est) 2002-04 pounds m % pounds m % % change Bisto 56.8 58.5 62.2 61.3 9.5 OXO 9.3 9.6 8.9 8.8 -4.3 Schwartz 1.5 1.5 2.0 2 33.3 Joubere 0.2 n/a 0.2 n/a n/a Others 9.2 9.5 9.4 9.3 2.2 Own-label 20.1 20.7 18.7 18.4 -7.0 Total 97.1 100 101.5 100 4.5 Source: Mintel

DIAGNOSIS 1 - EMMA LANEY ASSOCIATE, CIRCUS

In the days when we all sat down to traditional home-cooked meals, OXO was a much-loved British brand. But the world has moved on and OXO has not kept pace.

Growth in chilled convenience food and out-of-home consumption is squeezing all ambient in-home brands. OXO is swimming against a tide of consumer behaviour in a category struggling to maintain relevance. It neither sits in real convenience, such as ready meals, nor does it harness high-end food authenticity.

Consumers are looking outside the ambient aisle for ingredients, and OXO's positioning and limited innovation make it hard to bring in new consumers. Attempts to update the brand's positioning and present a modern view of families have failed to resonate with consumers.

Any efforts to bring in real food values or develop more convenient formats are lost as the core brand feels out of date and consumers are looking to fresh and chilled aisles for inspiration. The brand needs to carve out some relevant space in this new landscape if it is to reverse its steady decline.

REMEDY

- Get fresh insight into modern British cuisine and consumers' eating habits.

- Think beyond existing occasions when OXO could be used.

- Develop a big idea for brand positioning, building on its British heritage, making it contemporary, relevant and different.

- Use this to move the business on, inspire communication and drive NPD.

- Get out of the dead aisle and into more exciting in-store locations.

DIAGNOSIS 2 - EUAN WEBSTER CREATIVE DIRECTOR, STOCKS TAYLOR BENSON

Does the humble OXO cube appeal to the new generation of consumer chefs? Back when Lynda Bellingham and the OXO family entertained the nation during the ad breaks, the OXO box sat proudly in many UK pantries, at a time when families aspired to the cosy domestic life of eating together at every mealtime.

But now, in a decade when Jamie Oliver and the like are inspiring us to experiment with interesting and exotic new flavours, our visits to the supermarket are more likely to see us searching for the jalapeno peppers and ground cumin rather than stock cubes.

OXO has an iconic brand image, but it is failing to tell the consumer what its actual purpose is. The packaging gives very little indication as to what is in the box and there is little marketing material about the product's benefits. This could go some way to explaining its loss of custom to competitors. OXO has become a faceless brand lacking in personality and having to rely on recognition built up in the minds of previous generations.

This recognition is undoubtedly fading fast.

REMEDY

- OXO needs to move with the times, embracing Britain's cooking trends and making connections with today's consumer lifestyles.

- Create a continuous education programme that introduces the brand to new generations of consumers.

- On-shelf presence and marketing support must be made to work harder, so that brand and product values are communicated effectively.

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber

GET YOUR CAMPAIGN DAILY FIX

Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free