I’m going to tell you a story. See how far you get into the story before you can see what’s wrong with it.
A woman walks into a butchery in an Australian suburb. (No, she’s not a vegan.)
She buys her meat here because it’s consistently better than the meat from the other four butchers near home. It’s also better than the meat from the two supermarkets near her.
She buys her meat from this butcher because he takes the time to understand what she’s cooking. He cuts the meat to order. He offers tips on how to prepare the meat she’s buying. She has learnt to trust him, his meat and his tips. His meat costs a little more, but it’s consistently of better quality.
So far, so good?
The butcher places each of the woman’s selections into small clear plastic bags and ties them closed. When she has finished ordering, he places her purchases into a dark blue plastic shopping bag.
(Is it wrong to use plastic shopping bags? If you agree, you’d be right – but read on. We’re not looking for an environmental wrong.)
She pays and leaves.
Out on the street, she passes another butcher’s shop. She doesn’t like the meat here. She finds it tough and poor value, even if it’s cheaper than her favourite shop. As she passes, a friend is walking out with her purchases, also in a blue plastic bag. They exchange pleasantries, and are on their way.
She approaches her car in the car park behind the shops. Around her, several people load their supermarket purchases into the boots of their cars. Some of these shoppers are loading plastic shopping bags, coloured grey or green. Others have brought their own generic green recyclable bags, labelled Envirobag.
OK, I’ll tell you what’s wrong. It has nothing to do with environmental conscience, nor with choosing to purchase from a national supermarket chain versus a local specialty store.
The problem is that just about every butcher in this country uses the same dark blue plastic bags – everyone from the cheapest bulk meat shop to the finest butcher.
This is a big missed opportunity. Many old-fashioned butchers are struggling. Given a choice, shoppers are choosing the convenience of supermarkets. Making that choice is easy because most meat is labelled generically – rump, fillet, T-bone. Most is sold through centralised commercial markets and distributed via massive regional warehouses.
You’d think that any butcher who cares enough to source a better product would be proud of his produce. We see it with some of the primary producers – Milly Hill lamb, Bangalow pork, Petuna ocean trout. They take extra care on their properties, create a better product and label it proudly. They sell their produce at a premium.
Restaurants proudly display the provenance of the produce used in their recipes. Diners pay a premium for better ingredients that in turn deliver a more memorable dining experience.
But specialist butchers – those who choose their suppliers with care and whose discerning clients happily pay extra – package their premium products as if they were generics.
Can you imagine Chanel or Jimmy Choo or Tiffany sending clients out into the street with the same plastic bag they use at the Dollar Saver Variety Discount store?
People who choose premium do so consciously. They feel that the meat or shoes they’re buying are better products. They are proud of their discerning tastes. When a shopper leaves Prada, passers-by don’t mistake her shopping bag for Target’s.
There’s a butcher in Milano called Osso. I haven’t bought anything from them. But I expect their meat will be above average – in flavour and tenderness. I expect the grazier will care about the health of his pastures and the health of his animals. I expect there’ll be great relationship between farmer and retailer.
Why do I expect this? Because Osso care enough to package their meat beautifully. All I have to do is see the care that has gone into the design of their logo and the bags and boxes they use to feel that the same care must go into every aspect of their business.
Are their customers paying more for their packaging? Of course. Do they care? I am certain they don’t.
If a customer walks down the street with a purchase from Osso, it won’t be mistaken for meat bought at any of their competitors, nor the local supermarket. It is boldly and proudly labelled Osso.
Closer to home, I can think of several businesses that distinguish themselves through design.
T2’s teas are packaged in bright colours with chunky sans serif type – quite different from the homey old-fashioned design traditionally associated with tea. Order online and your tea arrives in a nest of black tissue paper inside a solid matt black box.
Online retailer Country Culture invested quite a lot of money in the design of a logo and packaging. Has it been a worthwhile investment? Owner Angela Lavender says yes, with customers actually wanting to buy the Country Culture wrapping paper.
Both of these retailers make a big deal of the provenance of the products they sell – the estate where the tea is sourced, the studio in which the belts are handcrafted or the farmhouse kitchen in which the condiments are prepared.
The way for any specialist business to stand out from competitors and massive chains comes down to care. A great way to demonstrate that care to people who aren’t yet customers is through design – of store interior, logo and packaging.
Conversely, if you don’t care about the quality of your products, put it into a plain plastic bag.