Brands are vital to Scotland's food and drink sector

Brand loyalty is a curious and complex social phenomenon.

Scottish beef, lamb and pork are brands worth protecting, argues Brian Henderson. Picture: Contributed
Scottish beef, lamb and pork are brands worth protecting, argues Brian Henderson. Picture: Contributed

It requires belief and faith in something beyond what is scientifically verifiable, it can be used to help identify your values and it can instil a feeling of belonging to a wider group of like-minded individuals.

It is also a hugely powerful marketing tool. It’s used to great effect in several major industries where the use of a simple name – such as the car someone drives – can tell a good deal about the person. And the advertisers and marketing people often make huge use of this to dramatically increase the value of items which they sell.

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While a cheap quartz watch is just as good at telling the time and will be just as robust and accurate, stick a name like Rolex or Omega on the front and people will be willing to pay ten, a hundred or even a thousand times the price purely for kudos of the brand.

This sort logic-defying loyalty appears in other walks of life as well – and those who follow their local or national teams – be it football, rugby or whatever else – will not change their convictions that their own team is the best even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The farming world is not devoid of these characteristics either – and while similar beliefs might see an arable farmer put his faith in tractors of one colour to the exclusion of all others, his cousin in the livestock sector will show a similar devotion to a breed of cattle with a particular coat colour or a type of sheep with a specific shape of head.

But, as an industry, farmers in Scotland are also in the enviable position of being able to benefit from this sort of brand loyalty. And while the whisky industry might have led the way in selling Scotland, Scotch beef and lamb also have a huge following not only at home but internationally as well.

Built around an enviable reputation for stocksmanship around the globe – and backed up not only by the romantic views of our scenery but also by the country’s history and mythology – we have one of the best back stories in the world which gives us a huge head start on marketing front.

And in recent decades the industry has taken big steps to make sure that this reputation can be shown to be justified – through the quality assurance schemes which help verify some of the traditional claims of an environmentally sympathetic product reared in a sustainable manner to high welfare standards.

For, despite the apparent lack of logic in many areas of brand loyalty, there is an underlying need to show that there is integrity at the heart of that brand.

It’s not always been easy – and living up to our name has involved a lot of hassle and extra work for the industry. But that’s all part of the job of building a recognisable brand.

So the revelation that some unscrupulous meat plants and processors within our own borders are being investigated by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) for allegedly repackaging meat from other countries and branding it as premium quality Scottish beef must come as a bitter blow to the industry.

And while some farmers might be wondering why it took them – or indeed the other bodies supposed to be protecting our interests – so long, such fraudulent practices do considerable harm to the industry.

Just as there would be no danger to life or limb in paying a huge amount of money for a Rolex watch only to find that it’s a fake, the customer is still being duped – and not only does such fraud run the risk of putting people off because of a poor eating experience, it can also cast doubt on the veracity of the brand.

If the allegations turn out to be true then every time a farmer has remained awake all night at lambing, dragged himself up at 3am to calf a cow or ventured out in the rain, sleet and snow to feed his animals, these fraudsters have effectively been standing behind him picking his pockets.

So anyone who knows anything should answer the FSS’s call for information to help stamp out this criminal practice.