Path to Disruption
Rebellion. Independence. A voice to be heard... Sounds like the defining characteristics of the punk rock era? Think again. This is how niche, independent food brands are making seismic shifts in the landscape of traditional food.
Inflation in Britain in the ‘70s was characterised by the highest records of unemployment the country had ever seen. If you were a young person, life was bleak and bland. Punk exploded onto the scene against this desolate landscape and it allowed you to say, do and play whatever you wanted – it was defined by an attitude. Punk flipped the bird at the music industry, at the big record labels who signed ‘super groups’ like Pink Floyd. It rebelled against big bucks, big productions, big concerts. Punk wasn’t just another type of music. It was a movement.
2019: we live in an age of trust deficiency. Consumers have lost faith in a myriad of industries from banks, to the media, to politicians; the food industry is no exception. In an era lacking transparency, unpronounceable ingredients, the war on plastics, beef laced with horse DNA, and a world where the people producing the food can no longer feed their own children, the question begs to be asked – who are the brands that dare to challenge the status quo? How are they challenging the establishment and how do their behaviours make people want to be part of their movement?
At the 21st Annual FAB Forum I interviewed a panel of disruptor brands who are making waves within the industry. Graze snacks, Fix8, a new to the scene Kombucha drink and HISBE, the supermarket rebels from Brighton. Bursting with energy and passionate to drive their point of view across; the key punk stars were:
#1 Traditional brands do positioning, disruptors do purpose
Disruptor brands absorb the passion of their founders as if by symbiosis.
In the era of ‘woke-washing’, with brands fabricating their purpose, it’s electrifying when you hear a founder talk about the origins of their brand promise and how they deliver on it. Ruth Anslow, founder of HISBE (How it Should Be) believes that to transform the food industry, you must challenge how big supermarkets do business. HISBE is a regular supermarket, but rather than offer a plethora of choices manufactured by a tight-knit group of large corporates, HISBE offers everyday groceries that are thoughtfully sourced from small, local producers and brands that trade responsibly, ethically and sustainably. Anslow is positive about their plans for the future and is keen for others to franchise HISBE’s philosophy and their business model, thereby supporting brands and producers at a local grassroots level.
#2 Traditional brands define convention, disruptors break the rules
Fix8’s Freya Twigden experimented for hours with different techniques and ingredients, often travelling to far flung places and exotic tap rooms in search of the perfect fermentation process before she arrived at a Kombucha blend that she was happy to share with the world. The nascent Kombucha category is abound with visual codes that deliver a modern interpretation of apothecary bottles, often using scientific language to describe the complex process of fermentation while borrowing from the expected visual codes of the beverage category. Fix8’s graphics and tone of voice are vibrant and bold, breaking the rules of the category and making it stand out in comparison to its competitors.
#3 Traditional brands reposition, disruptors reinvent
Snacking is a well established category and one that is notoriously hard to disrupt or reinvent. When Graze entered the market its direct to consumer model was revolutionary. A tech enabled digital first brand experience that immediately recruited a huge fan following, but as far as disruptors go, Graze is not a new and niche brand but rather a well established one that’s now achieved maturity (through its sale to Unilever). Rather than resting on its laurels, the brand recently rebranded to deliver a disruptive identity. Reinventing a category of healthy snacking that had drawn its authenticity from visual codes such as hessian, natural textures, naïve hand drawn illustrations and farm shop brown paper bags - Graze reinvented itself to be bright, optimistic and inspiring, bursting with taste and playfulness, forcing consumers to reevaluate the entire category. In their move from DTC to retail, the need to reappraise the brand experience was more important than ever.
So in conclusion punk as a philosophy is still alive and kicking. Food today, by being rebellious, by breaking the rules and reinventing itself shows the punk mentality is still in rude health. So don’t try and imitate a style, find the source of your passion and purpose. Don’t follow convention, make your own way and lastly go where the fight is, don’t reposition but reinvent yourself to stay modern and relevant.