Who didn’t eat all the pies?

How does the traditional pie industry turn itself around?

When it’s a poor one, reputation can be a killer. And that’s the problem with pies (well some of them anyway). The Grocer reports that sales are down by around 5%. To me, that’s not the shock – the shock is that they haven’t fallen further. But I confidently predict that they will, because over the years the reputation of the pie, particularly at the cheaper end of the market, has been eroded and consumer trust would appear to be, at best, limited.

Those that are bucking the trend are positioning themselves as quality products, made with quality ingredients – provenance that proves it deserves a place on the plate. There are some cracking brands selling quality pies and well done to them, their success will no doubt continue.

But for those other brands and products that haven’t been successful – what now for the piemen? Whoever said you’re only as strong as your weakest link isn’t far wrong and could easily have been talking about the pie industry. If this is an industry that wants to turn sales around then it isn’t a case of glossing over the cracks or developing a positive facade – a serious turnaround strategy is required, we’ve seen industries do it – we helped the egg industry take a market in seemingly terminal decline to one in rude health (and their sales were falling 8% year on year). But the industry needs to be serious about fundamental change and if the weakest link doesn’t change, then all hope is lost. So, invest in delivering quality products, in quality packaging and with a quality positioning.

In many cases the industry is its own worst enemy – a quick trip around the supermarket will tell you that. Have a glance at the ingredients list and you’ll need a science degree to work out what’s in it.

Even then, you’ve got to be realistic about what you can achieve. Scandals such as horsemeat may have hit other products harder, but pies fall into the ‘what do expect’ consumer bracket. But it can be done – how? We listen to the consumer, we hear what they are telling us – robust research which goes beyond opinion, we need to listen to the conversation. Then, we need to identify that central platform that the entire industry can agree on. Easy? No, but it’s doable – the British Lion mark on eggs shows us what’s possible if the will is there.

Is it death for the cheap pie? Probably not, as they’ll always be a market for cheapest on display product, but terminal decline is not the best position to be in. Can it grow again? Categorically maybe, but only with a fundamental change of heart from manufacturers and quite a lot of good PR and time, the greatest healer.

Let’s be honest, pies aren’t the next health food (though that would be a fantastic concept…), but there is a market and pies can be great again. Are we up for the pie challenge? Sure, but the industry needs to be too.