For followers of fashion Biba is still held in great esteem as a pioneer of stylish clothing and its name is well known by most people over a certain age. But what is little known about the business is that it also had a (ultimately fateful) foray into retailing everything from baked beans to dog food.
For this it moved into a massive unit on Kensington High street and handed the design of all the packaging for its own label goods (that included 1,500 food lines) as well as the store fit-out to a tiny design outfit run by Steven Thomas who had been introduced to the Biba owners by his girlfriend.
This is such an unlikely thing to happen today because the food packaging for one thing would be farmed out to specialists in this area. Biba was daring and naive in equal measure and unfortunately there seems to be little room for this sort of entrepreneurial thing today – especially when it comes to food retailing.
One reason for this is because so much value is now placed on the visual appeal of packaging that nothing can be left to chance. At the recent BRC Symposium 2012 this point was highlighted by Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks.
He suggested that consumers don’t buy advertising, nor IT systems, nor logistics capabilities. Nope, what they buy is nothing more than the product and its packaging.
His strong views on this stem from the company’s move into orange juice. After much persuasion Innocent had launched into juice as it seemed a perfectly complimentary product to its smoothies range. Many people had expressed a preference for Innocent over other brands that were selling orange juice by the ocean-full and so it was an obvious extension.
But in year two they sold a mere £4 million of the stuff. A shift from the old carton packaging to a new distinctive plastic carafe made all the difference and in year two with this new housing it hit sales of £74 million.
Judging by these numbers it is hardly surprising that Reed now says the company has an enormous respect for packaging. They might be Innocent but they are certainly not naive. And any company that underestimates the power of packaging shouldn’t be in the retail or FMCG industry, or probably any other industry for that matter.