Thursday 1 August 2013

True like-for-like comparison - the impossible dream?

In yesterday's Telegraph, Mike Coupe made an elegant, if rod-for-own-back, case encouraging the consumer to aim for true like-with-like comparison when considering an on-shelf purchase. 

Specifically, a shopper should factor in provenance or origin of the goods as part of the total offer, especially in the case of fresh produce. He also correctly  points out that the quality standards should apply all through the category, and not just the high end. In other words, shoppers deserve to have their needs met, all the way to the stomach, and beyond, whatever the price-point.

The problem is that we as consumers have become lazy. 

Having been aggressively aroused from a 30 year credit-fueled dream, where we outsourced our thinking in terms of unrealistic reliance on politicians, and bankers in the expectation that they could be taken at their word, allowing us to get on with consuming....confident that if a product or service failed to deliver, legal machinery existed to punish those who mislead us.  Clearly, the last few years have demonstrated that we are all on our own, so to speak...

The issue is expectation management. 

As we all know, branding was invented to assure purchasers that the contents would live up to the expectation created by the description on the tin. However, even this 'guarantee' can be jeopardised by one disaffected night-shift worker popping behind a packing case and 'interfering' with an unsealed tin, before putting it back on the line...  As consumers, we still need to check the contents before eating.

Even more so in the case of fresh produce. In practice ethical sourcing is an aspiration, not a guarantee of quality. It is impossible for a retailer to give a 100% guarantee without sampling 100%, and we are unrealistic to expect otherwise.

When the product comes from 'out foreign' our traditional  upbringing taught us that we need to be doubly cautious  of origin and treatment of the animal concerned in evaluating sources, again totally confounded by the fact that the horse meat crisis demonstrated that even closer to home even vigilant  sourcing can allow faulty content to slip through...

Think about it, if a horse carcass can be purchased for £15, and sold for £700 as beef, then someone in the chain will be tempted to take a short-cut.

At best we can take a reasonable guess - our call - based upon a reliable retailer's best efforts, in deciding that one product is a better deal than another.
And if a brand or retailer appears to short-change our expectation, at least most if us still have the ability to vote with our feet, and perhaps tell a friend....

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