16th January 2017
Working within the ethnic food and health & beauty category for nearly 20 years has allowed me to see how both areas have achieved two different levels of success concerning their impact and reach on the British consumer market.
The ethnic food category has grown from a small distribution base, sold in independent retailers in specific areas in urban towns and cities, to becoming an integral part of the British shopping basket, available in supermarkets and being integrated fully into British consumer culture, whilst the African and Caribbean health & beauty industry and their brands, in particular hair care, is still far behind with only a few success stories to speak of.
So what can one learn from the other?
When I began my career in media sales in the early 2000’s, I worked in advertising for a Black women’s lifestyle magazine, covering health & beauty as well as food content. At the time the battle was getting large blue chip FMCG businesses to place advertising in a magazine such as ours and the argument we presented was the spending power of African and Caribbean women in the UK and how targeting them specifically in media they chose to consume could create incremental value to these businesses.
Fast forward to 2017 and there is now an understanding of the value of targeting the ethnic consumer however, the food side of the category has had the most success.
In 2014, Neilsen produced a report stating that world foods was one of the fastest growing categories, worth over £520m, with a year on year growth of 11.6%. Although this is across all world food categories with Asian and Eastern European sectors leading the charge, African and Caribbean food businesses have benefitted too. This has been reflected in the increased presence of the category, with world food aisles being placed in the top 4 supermarkets alongside their own buyers and category teams managing them (hats off to Noor Ali for pioneering this) and even world foods brands pushing out of the area to the mainstream aisles of the supermarket. Own label world food ingredients have even begun to spring up with brands such as Bart’s spices and Jamie Oliver now producing Jamaican Jerk seasoning rubs.
As people travel and the country continues to integrate, the demand for authentic and interesting new flavours and foods grows. Events such as carnivals and world festivals have introduced consumers to a world of flavours that have fast become a part of the UK palate.
The food industry has strategically capitalised on this demand by successfully expanding their brand distribution from the independent convenience store to the supermarket. They have built on the traditional method of having a rep with samples knocking on the door of the independents, to expanding and employing Account Managers and category experts who speak the language of the supermarkets (ie ROI, SKUs and category data) and their buyers, thus not only being able to get a foot in the door, but a product on the shelf. This is something that the health & beauty industry could take on.
The ethnic health & beauty industry has huge potential. Channel 4 news revealed that Black women spend as much as 6 times more on hair products alone than their White counterparts and in the US it is predicted that the category will be worth $829m this year. Not to mention the incremental value of the UK curly girl and non white consumer market who also use these hair and beauty products. Many of these brands have begun looking to the UK shores to obtain a slice of the pie, but as many health & beauty brands targeting African and Caribbean consumers are not based in the UK, they rely on cost effective mass distributors to expand their presence in this country, something that many ethnic food brands have done historically. As a result many of them are at the stage that ethnic food brands were at 10 years ago, being solely active in the independents, whilst struggling to gain distribution in the supermarkets and larger health & beauty stores.
Failing to employ people with backgrounds in FMCG consumer sales and marketing with experience of working with the supermarkets as well as the likes of Boots and Superdrug, not only hinders the distribution of the brands, it hurts the perception of the category as a whole, leading to frustrated consumers who are forced to go online or drive to specific areas to pick up their every day products.
If these brands want to increase their success, they need to take stock and really look at their activity in the UK. They need to ask why they are not having the level of success over here as they have in the USA.
There are a few brands that have done this and are gaining success. In 2015 Shea Moisture an American based hair brand, employed UK based health & beauty PR specialist, Sparkle PR to help increase their distribution in the UK to the level of the US. Currently Shea Moisture is distributed in both Boots and Superdrug, whilst still keeping a strong presence in the traditional independent/wholesale stores. Another example is Sleek cosmetics, once a staple of the Saturday market stall and inner city high street health & beauty wholesaler, Sleek employed experienced classically FMCG trained consumer specialists to move them into the success story they are today.
The good news is that the retailers are listening. In the summer last year, Superdrug embarked on their “Shades of Beauty” campaign with June Sarpong, highlighting the importance of retailers featuring a wider range of health & beauty products to include Black and Asian consumers. If the buyers are listening, brands need to provide them with the right people to talk to. Recruit Account Managers and commercial talent that speak the language of the distributors and their buyers.