What’s in a brand?

Knowing what brand of wine we are drinking influences most of us in how we taste and enjoy it.

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This is hardly surprising: even supposedly objective wine judges admit that seeing the label has an influence on their rating of a wine. Although I appreciate wine, I’m certainly no connoisseur, so don’t ask me whether a label can make a low quality wine taste better or vice versa.

Neethlingshof’s wine maker, De Wet Viljoen, once gave me the advice that if a wine tastes good to me, then it’s a good wine.
But the fact is that most of us rely on labels and brands to be reassured of quality and, importantly, consistency of quality. And it is here that a problem arises: too often, our perception of a product is influenced by clever advertising campaigns.

Take red meat, for example. I can’t help but wonder how realistic the expectations are that our current grading system creates amongst consumers. Should reality not match expectation, the reputation of the entire grading system could be harmed. The current system is based on fat covering and age; it does not take factors such as taste, nutritional value or tenderness into consideration.

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If one were able to find a standard way of scoring these attributes, would this not provide the industry with a huge marketing opportunity? Or is judging these characteristics as subjective as judging a glass of wine?

For now, farmers who believe that their product is worth paying a premium for are registering their own brands. Karoo meat of origin is one such product. And recently, Llewellyn Maclean and Dr Pieter Prinsloo and his son Koot of Queenstown registered the Daybreaker Beef Off Grass brand, believing that consumers, once they know the value of the brand, will prefer their product.

Based on consumer trends in the USA and EU, they might have a valid argument. People are increasingly concerned about the nutritional value and health benefits of their food. If one could throw in an added benefit to the environment or to farm workers such as Fair Trade is doing, then you have what marketers call a unique selling point.

With profit margins under pressure, farmers need every advantage they can lay their hands on to increase demand for their product. The reality is that the days are long gone when farmers could afford to be primary producers only, while a middleman added value through packaging, processing and marketing and made the real money.

Today’s primary producers need a cut of the profit derived through value-adding if they want to stay in business. Fruit, vegetable and wine producers have been doing so for years, and stud breeders are already in the business of branding their products. It’s high time more commercial meat producers look further down the value chain for opportunities to diversify their income.