There is a story in the Times under the headline “Lidl fools the foodies with fake farmers’ market test” showing that the “average person could not tell the difference between artisanal fare sold at markets and the products available on its shelves”.
The company set up a farmers’ market in the east end of London and filmed shoppers who bought the products and then were surprised to be told that they were sourced from Lidl.
For example, they bought mangoes at 75p and aubergines at 45p. The Times goes on to compare this with the prices at “the fashionable Borough Market” where they cost £1.99 and 70p each.
The results will be provided to us all to see in a £20 million advertising campaign next month.
This “news item” from the Times is of course not really news. It is part of the media story that portrays Lidl and Aldi as plucky little underdogs rescuing the UK consumer so that, in the words of its UK managing director Ronny Gottschlich, “there doesn’t need to be a compromise between offering excellent quality and excellent value.”
In the advertisement, which I have not seen, I expect the story will be set up as follows. Open with picture of a great looking farmers market with great looking products and great customer service. Reveal when man with microphone talks to happy purchaser and says would you be surprised to find that what you just bought came from Lidl. Cut to picture of happy consumer now happy to shop in environment of Lidl rather than farmers market.
The first thing to be said is that most people cannot tell the difference between product A and product B because they do not spend a lot of time thinking about what they are tasting. If you present a product as artisanal then people who want to buy it will pay more partly because of the stories they are telling themselves about what a farmers market stands for. Most people will not be able to explain what the difference between an artisanal product and a regular product might be.
The second thing is that it is generally well known that the product quality in the discounter stores is good. This is because they focus on a narrow range and sell lots of product. Most shoppers would expect a product in Lidl to be as good as a product in a farmers market, especially if it is mango or aubergine. Why not?
The most important lesson for independent retailers is that they should take lessons from the Lidl playbook. Focus on your core range. Focus on selling quality product. And present the product in a way that supports the narrative going on in your shoppers’ mind.
Remember that a hard pressed mother with a limited budget is never likely to be a farmers market shopper anyway. She will be in another part of the east end at the traditional markets which will be selling the fruit and vegetables even cheaper with the quality guaranteed for 24 hours.