Britain shows how celebration helps food

by Morton Sosland
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The United Kingdom this past summer provided a testing ground for measuring how national celebration may affect business for food manufacturers. In this unique summer for the U.K., two events provided striking examples of the way a nation’s mood may be changed to the good. One was the Jubilee celebration for Queen Elizabeth II, marking her 60th anniversary on the throne. The other was the 2012 Olympics. Both occasions far exceeded expectations as measured by numbers watching, retail spending and personal satisfaction. Indeed, the joy expressed by the British people and their visitors for the excellence of both occasions reversed, at least in a wake that continues into this autumn, the gloom that had prevailed before these two occasions. The elation about the Queen as a person and as sovereign and the success of the Olympics not just overran but totally superseded what had ruled before.

For the companies that paid millions to the Olympic organization to be sponsors, the results prompted nothing but satisfaction. For the two sponsors with food and beverage interests, The Coca-Cola Company and McDonald’s Corporation, no questions have been heard about the value of their sponsorships. Their presence was not only a centerpiece at the London sites, but the companies were among the prime sponsors of broadcasting the Olympics in the United States. The London games drew 219.4 million U.S. viewers, according to the NBC Universal division of Comcast Corp. Ratings were better than expected, and advertising sales exceeded projections by 15% to 20%.

So far as food sales benefiting from the Olympics are concerned, the most memorable moment came when First Lady Michelle Obama interviewed Gabrielle Douglas, the 16-year-old American double Gold Medal winner in gymnastics, about how she celebrated her victory. Ms. Douglas told Mrs. Obama that she marked the occasion by eating a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich. Mrs. Obama, an advocate of what she calls healthy eating, hardly knew how to respond. For millions of young people admiring Ms. Douglas the response is likely to last.

Even the British food companies that were not directly involved, the positive attitudes that enveloped all of Britain prompted a marked improvement in business. Premier Foods, the largest U.K. food business, benefited from sales gains as it launched Jubilee-related products, especially of its Mr Kipling snacks and mini-classics. Sales of the latter were described as “increasing strongly” in the wake of the Jubilee. Similarly, Premier said the enthusiasm across the country due to the Olympics was stimulating business in products like its Hovis bread. It voiced satisfaction that Hovis maintained its 25% bread market share, even though overall national bread sales slipped.

Much of the food gains from these two events reflected efforts to have the Jubilee and Olympics observed throughout the country, not solely at places where the Queen appeared or where the athletic events were held. Parties were given at hundreds of locations to join in the celebration of the Queen’s long reign, and hardly a town of size missed the observance. Similarly, for the Olympics, the torch to mark the start of the games was carried for days through small and large cities, stirring excitement ahead of the formal opening. Many towns held their own versions of athletic competitions that fired local interest and helped to stir a celebratory environment.

While a strong current of cynicism ruled ahead of the Olympics, the food and beverage sponsors and all of the national and regional companies that participated realized that success was within reach. Many of the initial benefits were intangible with food gains one of the few positives from the start. Typical British reserve precludes forecasts that the legacy of London 2012 will endure. Regardless of how that turns out, the positive energy, the belief that all was a national triumph, have shown that a business, even one as set as food, benefits from occasions marking victories of planning, operation and intelligence.
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