CEO and Co-Founder

The Unilever/Tesco tussle is the first big post-referendum consumer battle but it won't be the last

The retail story of the last week has been Tesco’s spat with Unilever. Not only is it is it important to the brands involved, but it also marks the first consumer skirmish of the Brexit battle. With the pound showing no signs of imminent recovery and inflation increasing, it won’t be the last.

Using YouGov BrandIndex I have analysed what last week’s set-to meant to Marmite and Tesco to see what happens when one of Britain’s best known brands comes up against the might of the UK’s most-used supermarket.

Looking at the Buzz scores among for Tesco and Marmite both among the general public and their respective customers, it is clear that the retailer won the short-term PR battle. Buzz measures whether people have heard anything positive or negative about in the previous two weeks and while both brands took a hit, it had a greater impact on Marmite.

Marmite’s biggest decline following the disagreement came from its customer base, where Buzz fell by 40 points compared to 31.4 points among the public at large. In contrast, Tesco’s customers’ Buzz scores fell by less than those of the population as a whole.

Marmite also suffered a notable hit in its Impression among its current customers, falling from +20.1 to -4.5 over the course of the spat compared to Tesco which fell considerably less among its own consumers.

Disputes between suppliers and retailers are nothing new but they rarely make the headlines. However, Unilever’s dispute with Tesco is different. Not only did it involve well-known and much loved brands disappearing from the shelves, but it signals the first such price fight in the post-referendum era and this context matters.

While Tesco avoided increasing the price of its consumers’ weekly shop on this occasion, it will not be able to forever. As the Brexit battle intensifies, the pound slumps and inflation rises, it is all-but inevitable that consumers will have to pay more at the tills.

But by winning this skirmish, Tesco has successfully framed the argument that price rises are the fault of suppliers and not retailers. 

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