Meeting High Expectations

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Because I'm worth it!

These days we expect more from our food and drink choices.  Food that is simply 'better' than the competition is not good enough.  Restaurants which deliver a decent meal but in a bland environment will not survive.  Our drinks need to be more than thirst-quenching or pleasant tasting, they need to be authentic, adventurous and preferably limited to the restaurant sector only.  There is no greater disappointment than realising that the lovely yet extortionate bottle of Chablis you enjoyed at Brasserie Blanc last Friday can be also purchased at Waitrose at £5.99!

Above all our expectations are to feel special and for that we need a sophisticated product or service at a price we can (just) afford. These examples of subtle premiumisation lead to superior product experience and therefore show where brands are getting it right in tapping into a trend that won't go away.

Give me my favourite, but with a twist

Sometimes only a burger will do.  But it is not just any old burger we want, there has to be something to make it a little special.  Gourmet Burger Kitchen (the clue is in the name) offers a Persian lamb burger, a Buffalo meat patty and a South American inspired Salvador burger alongside their usual beef, chicken or cheese classics.  Byron, another fast growing burger chain, opts for a smaller choice but with some tempting options, at a premium price. Their Portabello Mushroom burger comes with goats cheese and roasted red pepper and like GBK there is the option of sweet potato chips as a side.   So not straying too far from the tried and tested, but enough of a tweak to add that bit of zing.

Make my eating out occasion unique so that I can feel special

Pricing will always be used to differentiate because high prices not only suggest quality but in paying them we feel that we have achieved a certain status.  This was recognised at its most basic level in 1998 when Tesco launched its 'Finest' range.  Now there was the chance for every shopper to enjoy premium quality at a slightly premium price.   But this was only the start and retailers have used a number of tricks to give the warm, fuzzy glow of superior judgement to the consumer.  Who hasn't bought a more expensive 'Limited Edition' of a food or drink which has involved a minor change to the ingredients or even more simply, just the packaging?  

Luxury brands know this only too well and use limited supply to increase prestige.   For restaurants this may mean restricting the number of covers so that consumers feel lucky to have a seat at a table even before walking through the door.  Or it means blatantly using exorbitant prices because in fact you are paying for the complete experience.  Do you really mind paying almost £50 for steak when dining at the Shard with the tableau of London beneath you?  The chef is counting on the fact that you don't.

Give me something new

Young people are increasingly inclined to try new tastes and flavours.  While I'm yet to be convinced that the 'fermented' trend touted by the uber chefs will take off, it is clear that there are certain ingredients that are appearing on restaurant menus to tempt jaded palates.  Samphire is a sea vegetable that grows freely in the muddy estuaries around Britain, but you are more likely to see on a London restaurant menus because it goes brilliantly with fish.  It is true you are unlikely to spend your weekend foraging for it, although it would save you money because along with seaweed, seabuckthorn and wild garlic they command premium prices.

Chocolate is another area where new flavours are appearing daily.  By now you have probably experienced chocolate with ginger, or even with salt but have you tried orange and geranium or with a raspberry and blueberry combination?  They are not mainstream flavours yet, but that is the other side to premiumisation, niche products for those 'in the know'.

Tell me a story

Everyone loves a story and having an authentic one means premium prices can be justified.  Consumers are now flocking to artisanal coffees and craft beers because they have compelling, authentic stories.  The 'third wave' of coffee culture based on a greater understanding of the origins of coffee , how it is processed and how it is served is an exciting development for growers, businesses and consumers.  I'll definitely be heading along to the London Coffee festival next year to get the lowdown.  (http://www.londoncoffeefestival.com/WhatsOn/TrueArtisanCafe)

Craft beers are also enjoying a boom time with new breweries opening in the UK at a rate of 3 a week.  Their skill and 'craft' is obviously the major selling point but so is their authentic story.  BrewDog set up almost 10 yrs ago by 2 friends and a dog now has 540 employees (and the dog), 32,000 equity shareholders and 44 bars.  As craft beers become more and more popular the question as to whether drinkers will still be prepared to pay a premium is a pertinent one.  According to a recent Mintel report43% of 25-34yr olds are prepared to do so, but as some of the micro-brewers such as Meantime get bought out by the big guys, they may lose some of their cachet.

So in an uncertain economic climate will the trend towards premiumisation continue?  The answer is surely yes, because the desire for treating ourselves and others will not disappear.   We will continue to crave novelty and to show ourselves as discerning consumers.   If the goods or service merit it, we will pay a premium price.  But it is reciprocal.  Companies need to stay on their toes to ensure that the value that the customer gets does indeed deserve its price;  if not, we will walk.