The Spring Gully Foods fight back

The Spring Gully Foods stall at the Magill Rotary Club markets at close of trading. Behind the team is a pile of empty product boxes awaiting recycling.

Despite the fact that many of us tell researchers we proudly buy (South) Australian while in practice we buy whatever is best value, the rallying calls around Spring Gully Foods over the past few days give us great insight into what mobilises local consumers to put their money where their mouths are.

Most people reading this would not envy the stress and turmoil that families and workers at Spring Gully Foods must have been going through recently in the lead up to administrators being appointed.

However, what they might envy is that out of all the iconic food brands that Australians and South Australians have held dear through the years, something different is sparking actual action to give the company a solid shot at trading back into surplus and soundness.

I think there are four elements that have combined on this occasion to spark action:

  • Household name status
  • Truly local company in the South Australian market
  • Low cost of products
  • Social media

I have not singled out ‘quality’ because there are many good quality brands that have bitten the dust over the years. So, while quality is important, I do not believe it is sufficient for explaining this active, agitated army of consumers.

Peeling the layers of the Spring Gully brand

Like pickled onions bobbing in a Spring Gully jar, most of the brands in the Spring Gully Foods portfolio are likely to return to the surface of retailer planning and discussions.

If the unprecedented demand continues like we’ve seen in the last few days, staff at the food producer will be back to being busy bees for a long time to come.

Comments shared online and discussions overheard at the Magill Rotary Club market yesterday, where Spring Gully had a stall, suggest that many South Australians have grown attached to seeing Spring Gully labels and products in their fridges and pantries and felt panic at the thought of losing this connection with their past and childhood.

So much so that Eric Webb, chairman (pictured), was overwhelmed at the market stall yesterday, saying he’s never felt such a strong outpouring of support for the brand before.

The stall was almost barren at closing time, as were shelves in many Foodland and IGA supermarkets as consumers ‘did their bit’ to save a piece of ‘their’ heritage.

From a branding perspective, there is no doubt that the longer a brand is observed and used, the stronger the bond can be with consumers and the greater their sense of ownership of (and entitlement to access) the brand becomes.

In this case, longevity is definitely a key factor that has primed many South Australians to react emotionally to the sense of loss.

We have seen similar outpourings before, when Golden North went through its turmoil resulting in a management buy out. Likewise, an illuminating article on the history of Shell in Marketing Magazine in the recent past, revealed that the primary reason for the company to have drinks and icecreams available in service stations was to create an emotional link to the brand with us when we are children accompanying our parents to get petrol. These bonds can be powerful.

The mighty South Aussie team

Intriguingly, Spring Gully has not been the first and nor it will be the last South Australian food producer to hit a rough patch.

How much help have retailers offered other local brands in distress?

And how many times can you remember buying a locally produced product specifically to ‘save’ the company from disappearing?

I will argue this is not common and therefore suggest that simply being South Australian is not quite enough to explain the South Aussie rallying we’ve seen.

It is still an important factor though, and I believe that having the specific number of staff put out in communication by managing director, Kevin Webb, helped personalise the issue and make it seem possible to be addressed.

Contrast the news that Holden, with its head quarters in the USA, wants to cut 400 South Australian jobs, with the news that Spring Gully Foods employs 44 South Aussies and has gone into voluntary administration in a move to regroup and stay afloat; the former scenario seems overwhelming, the latter seems achievable.

Furthermore, to hear that Foodland and IGA supermarkets have gone on the record as saying they will actively support Spring Gully Foods, further makes this cause one with good prospects of victory.

Gold coin donations

The third factor that I think acts as the catalyst to consumer action on behalf of Spring Gully Foods is that supporting the company only requires a ‘gold coin’ donation.

It is easy to put your money where your mouth is when a struggling company’s products only cost less than five dollars and typically last weeks or months.

I believe the everyday purchase level price point of most Spring Gully Foods products helped get its fight back to a tipping point; not everyone can go out and buy a Holden on a whim!

Spring Gully Foods goes social

The last factor that has helped this massive action by local consumers is social media.

Although the company has finally created an account in my beloved Twitter (@SpringGullyFood), its Facebook Page has gone crazy.

Since I ‘liked’ the page I’ve noticed 12,000 other people have followed suit.

What this does for a company during this situation is create communication channels that exist long after the media extracts the juice of hyped up emotion and playing hero.

From now on, as the company reaches new milestones, has new announcements or needs to seek the opinions of its ‘ambassadors’, it can ‘reach out’ through Facebook to its thousands of followers.

This is where social media thrives, especially Facebook.

Every story shared by a fan, every response they make to an announcement, not only notifies that person’s contacts within Facebook, it actually offers what is called Social Proof that a cause is worth following, an action worth taking.

This fanning out of your circles of influence is exactly why many of us believe Facebook can play an important role in marketing.

But there still needs to be something that drives interest, that is worth sharing.

Here, we have an emotional story of fighting to save a ‘family member’, and likers have gone through the roof.

But what next?

It is true that specials can be attractive on a Facebook Page, and new product announcements along with stories of reaching new goals on the road to recovery, but perhaps the most potent use of the page in the immediate future will be as a conduit for ‘social proof’.

If Spring Gully Foods can continue interacting with and encouraging its ‘fans’ to share Spring Gully stories and statements of support, the impact of ‘people talking about this’ will continue to influence others to ‘do their bit’ and pick up a product or two.

It will also be wise to shine some social light on wholesalers, retailers and others who are vital to the company’s future so that pledges of allegiance declared in a moment of passion, stay warm and active during the wintery road ahead.

There is still a long way for this ad hoc, patriotic army to march, as it defends a company that adds colour, zest and sweetness to dishes and daily life in South Australia.

Pass the sauce, please.

DISCLAIMER: Russell Webb, current Brand Contract Coordinator at Spring Gully Foods, is a former colleague here at Baker Marketing.

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