Life after Marmite: leaving nostalgia behind to reflect changing tastes

Abigail’s will be seeking more customer feedback as it focuses on the nationwide delivery of foreign food favourites

A survey carried out earlier this month by online retailer (BCS) found that from its selection of over 9,000 items, tea accounted for more than 20 percent of its orders. Other items that featured in the top-ten were Marmite, Bisto gravy granules, Heinz baked beans and Oxo cubes. Waitrose has recently launched its first store in Abu Dhabi, and Marks & Spencer’s Champs Elysees store sells more chicken tikka masala than any branch in the UK.

It seems that even the most mundane British products take on an almost tropical allure for expat communities worldwide. However, given the food revolution that has taken place within the UK over the past two decades – one that has led to a remarkable level of variety available for British consumers – why is it that the British food that appeals most to expats is so outdated?

There’s no taste like home
“People love reminiscing about the products they enjoyed in the UK or as a child, so we make an effort to offer the more classic British products that immediately remind people of home,” contended Hannah Ward, the marketing director of BCS.

Ward also believes that nostalgic food helps expats to adapt: “Adjusting to a new country and culture can be extremely difficult, so having some home comforts such as your favourite brand of tea can make all the difference to how quickly you settle in.”

Roddy Gray from Abigail’s, a small Copenhagen-based business that recently closed its city centre shop to focus on home deliveries, agrees to an extent.“Up until now we have run with the good old-fashioned, traditional things that we grew up with,” he conceded. “We sell nostalgia – very much so.” But Gray would also like to stock new products, although knowing what to sell, without extensive research, is difficult.

Tastes are a-changing
“I have been away [from the UK] almost 30 years and I can see there is a lot of new food on the market: eating habits change,” he said. “We do want to cater to what people want now; it is a case of finding out. Whether customers  buy steak and kidney pies because of what we thought or if they want them is a question of which one comes first – there is no way to tell without feedback.”

A recent attempt to diversify bore out the problem and how it is probably wiser to play it safe with tried and tested products. “Chicken Tonight came on the market and was one of Britain’s best-selling products, and then we got it and sold almost nothing,” Gray admitted. The minimum order for such a product is three pallets.  
The state hates Marmite
Abigail’s has also struggled with Danish legislation on ingredients. Prior to marketing, any product with additives must be assessed for potential dangers, even if it meets the minimum standards imposed by the EU. The testing procedure can take up to six months and costs between 7,000 and 9,000 kroner per application. Nor is there any guarantee of success, as the maximum dosages permitted by the authorities are so low.

The most well-known example is Marmite. In order for its levels of Vitamin B to be ‘harmful’ by EU standards, a normal adult would have to consume at least 23 four-gram servings per day to exceed the established maximum.  

“We have around 50 mainstream products that we are no longer allowed to sell,” complained Gray. Other products affected include Horrlicks, Ovaltine and Farley’s Rusks.

The Superbest supermarket chain, which has a British and American section in many of its stores, has also been adversely affected. “It takes a lot of work and cost to take on new products,” Rasmus Vejbæk-Zerr, the owner of the Superbest store in Hellerup, revealed.

Watch this space
Nevertheless, Abigail’s is not giving up any day soon. It is launching a new website in the next two weeks to deliver its products nationally, and this time it will be actively pursuing customer feedback thanks to a new ‘suggest product’ tab. Similarly, online business supplier also offers delivery of expat products nationwide.

So next time you’re complaining about how you can’t find caramel slices in Denmark, remember that you’ve only got yourself to blame.