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AHDB: We cannot blatantly push 'British', but we can use it as a secondary message

4th Nov 2022 / By Alistair Driver

AHDB has explained why global rules prevent it from directly promoting ‘British’ products and how it is focused on promoting the benefits of British products as a secondary message in its marketing campaigns. 

Feed the family for lessThere has been plenty of comment recently surrounding AHDB’s latest campaign urging consumers to ‘feed the family for less with pork’. Many within the sector have questioned whether, in the absence of the direct 'British' message, the campaign could backfire by steering consumers towards cheaper cuts of imported pork.

One poster on the NPA forum said AHDB was wasting levy payers’ money in the absence of any reference to ‘British’ in the adverts, while another said it was ‘ridiculous that our own levy money cannot be used to promote BRITSH pork’.

Former AHDB pork sector chair Meryl Ward said she could not imagine that anyone who voted to continue the domestic marketing campaign in the recent AHDB Shape the Future survey expected that it was still held to the ‘parafiscal tax’ rules of not being allowed to promote British. “Until that is sorted, I suggest the levy money is spent with the retailers that do support British,” she said.

Secondary message

AHDB’s corporate affairs director, Guy Attenborough, said while AHDB can and does use ‘British’ as a ‘secondary’ message around quality in its promotional work, it is restricted by various rules, including WTO measures, in how it uses the levy.

“Under the subsidy/state aid rules for promotional work funded by public money, it is unlawful to mention origin except as a subordinate message to an evidenced quality message,” he said. “The issue here is that AHDB levies are classed as ‘public money’. This is because the levies are compulsory and are therefore a form of taxation, albeit collected by AHDB rather than HMRC. So AHDB are caught by the rules.”

He said the various rules – World Trade Organisation Subsidy and Countervailing Measures, EU State Aid rules and the UK subsidy Control Act – exist to help ensure there is a ‘level playing field’ for international and domestic trade.

“In principle, they prevent state funds being used in a way that could distort the market or give economic advantage to one commercial organisation over another,” he added. “So, AHDB cannot use levy funds to blatantly push a buy message British because it would distort the market.”

However, he said AHDB has always ‘pushed the boundaries on what is permissible’ in this area and links up with quality assurance schemes such as Red Tractor to point shoppers to ‘Look for the Mark’.

“We work closely with retailers to ensure campaigns can be run to coincide with increased availability of British produce on shelf,” he said.

Return on spend 

AHDB’s current autumn pork campaign aims to raise consumer awareness of pork’s positive role in healthy meal choices during the current cost-of-living crisis.

AHDB’s head of marketing, Carrie McDermid, said the campaign focused on British cuts such as pork shoulder, sausages and mince to support British farmers. With 95% of pork shoulder volumes sold in retailers being British, nearly all pork shoulder sales resulting from the autumn campaign will benefit a British pig producer, she said.

Writing on the NPA forum, Hugh Crabtree, the NPA’s vice-chairman and an AHDB pork sector council member, said it was ‘incredible’ that, ‘despite Brexit’, we still can’t use levy funds to directly promote British.

But he said the market research data does not support the view that AHDB’s advertising spend is wasted. “The evidence is we get a return in sales volume for our advertising buck,” he said.

In a separate post, he added: “The current campaign is primarily directed at cuts that are almost exclusively supplied by British producers. Despite still being constrained by State Aid rules, we’d expect to see similar evidence with respect to sales and value to levy payers.

“I agree we must make loud and clear representations to government about the nonsense of not being able to promote home produce post Brexit.”

AHDB said its campaigns over the years have been ‘highly successful at shifting consumer perceptions of pork to a tasty, lean, and easy-to-cook meat’.

Evaluation of last year’s pork campaign showed that 92% of consumers agreed the TV advert communicated pork medallions as a healthy mealtime choice, and 75% said they felt differently about pork medallions after seeing the campaign.