What should the edible oils industry do?

Firstly, recognise that the industry still has a long way to go in terms of building a brand. After all, there is no corporation in the oils and fats industry that ranks up there with Apple or Sony for public awareness, and there is no bottle of cooking oil that ranks with an iPhone or iPad for public enthusiasm.

Admittedly, part of this that oils and fats are not very interesting products. I’d have said the same about a cup of coffee, but look at Starbucks. And, at the end of the day, what is Coke or Pepsi but a fizzy drink with sugar in it?

Secondly, know what your ‘don’t change’ and ‘maybe change’ zones are. JFK never altered in his position that he was the right guy to be president, but he did do a U-turn in another area.

For oils and fats, I would suggest:

Don’t change on

  • Land use and yield for palm oil
  • Corporate social responsibility, particularly providing an income for the rural poor

Maybe change on

  • Posture of being defensive or aggressive (when to be pushy, when to back off, or even when to say ‘we’re sorry’)
  • Media (change the mix of use of TV, radio, press, blogs and social media)

The evidence is that U-turns aren’t all bad. For sure you don’t want to do them too often, but get them right and they can invigorate a brand quite dramatically. A good example of this is Sergio Zyman, who was one of the senior marketers at Coca Cola on the New Coke fiasco. He used the admission of failure to take his personal brand as a marketing consultant to a new high.

A lovely historical insight into the failings of a mindlessly repetitive, macho ‘push, push, push’ approach came from one of Europe’s biggest winners of military campaigns – the Duke of Wellington.

In a newspaper interview during the Duke’s retirement, the reporter asked: “What makes a great general?” The Duke replied: “To know when to retreat … and to dare to do it.”

Dr Ian L Halsall Researcher & Author

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