This article was first published in Marketing Week. Read it here.

Warburtons is celebrating its 140th anniversary this year, but faces challenges keeping momentum going as people become more health-conscious and reduce their consumption of bread.


Bakery brand Warburtons loves tradition. It is a family business, run today by cousins Jonathan, Brett and Ross Warburton. The brand has used its family identity in advertising on and off throughout its history, using taglines such as ‘We care more because our name’s on it’ and recently ‘From our family to yours’.

“All our advertising at the moment also features our chairman Jonathan [Warburton], which helps us move away from being a faceless corporation and shows consumers the real people behind the business,” head of marketing Sally Stanton told Marketing Week.

“Consumer distrust in big brands is a key market trend, so in that environment a family business really does have a platform to play from. It comes down to trust and authenticity. Having Jonathan at the forefront of our campaign really helps with that messaging. It helps with our credibility and believability as a brand.”

And this tactic has proven successful for the brand. Warburtons is currently the market leader in the UK bread category, owning a 17.8% share according to figures supplied by Euromonitor International. That said, its market share is slowly declining down 1.2 points from 19% in 2010. According to Nielsen data provided by the brand, however, the brand currently has a 25% market share.

Creating talkable campaigns

Warburtons is also incorporating its family history in its most recent campaign to celebrate its 140th anniversary. The ‘#140Years’ social media activity looks to leverage Twitter’s 140 character feature in order to celebrate the history of the brand.

The social media campaign, created by WCRS in partnership with Twitter, tells the brand’s story in a linear narrative, featuring emojis of key Warburtons stakeholders, including Jonathan Warburton. It also offers consumers the opportunity to win a £140 prize.

Discussing the campaign, Stanton said: “It’s a really interesting view on our brand history. We have a rich heritage dating back to the war, so we wanted to find an opportunity to really bring the story to life and make it relevant for people today. It is the right balance of fun, light heartedness, and the prize makes people want to interact.”

When it comes to its campaigns, talkability is important to the brand. Last year, it starred Jonathan Warburton alongside Hollywood actor Sylvester Stallone in ‘The Deliverers’ (LINK), an action movie-themed ad that aims to convey how far the brand will go to deliver bread.

For its Christmas campaign, the brand partnered with the Muppets to launch its new ‘Giant Crumpets’ product. According to research by Millward Brown, viewers found the ad, which sees the likes of Kermit and Miss Piggy, the most engaging over the festive period.

In particular, it scored highly in terms of involvement (whether the ad made the viewer feel a part of it), with a score of 7.16 out of 10, well above the average of 4.53. It also scored the best on branding (4.5 out of 5) and on persuasion (3.5/5) – the ability to persuade consumers to buy.

And Warburtons claims the campaign helped to grow the overall bread category, as well as helping it sell more than 14 million Giant Crumpets since launch.

“With our last few marketing campaigns, we have really shifted our focus. We are driving mass-scale campaigns that bring the brand to life and share our qualities.”

– Sally Stanton, head of marketing, Warburtons

“Sylvester Stallone, for example, really drove our story. Or by using family favourites like the Muppets, we can dramatise the launch of a new product and get families to opt into the category,” Stanton explained.

Oncoming troubles

However, there are some challenges ahead. British households are steadily buying less bread due to health concerns. Euromonitor figures show sales of packaged bread declined by 5% between 2014 and 2015 and predicts the overall market will decline by 1.14% from £4.8bn in 2016 to £4.7bn in 2018.

“Packaged bread is no longer the ultimate staple of British consumers,” says Pinar Hosafci, senior food analyst at Euromonitor International.

“The shift towards higher protein products and lower carbohydrates, along with revival of fresh artisan variants, poses a growing problem for packaged bread manufacturers, which are battling out for retailer space and consumer expenditure.”

As a result, bread manufacturers are increasingly looking to new innovations. Besides launching Giant Crumpets, Warburtons has also partnered with kitchen equipment manufacturer Breville to create a custom toaster to fit its ‘Toastie’ bread.

But Euromonitor’s Hosafci remains cynical. She explains: “While sandwich thins and wholemeal are both in fashion and may help increase frequency among existing buyers and re-attract new shoppers to the category, bread consumers are not particularly attentive to new product launches and innovation in the industry.”

So far, the brand’s choice to incorporate its family members seems to have proven successful, providing Warburtons with a credibility that other bakery brands might not have.

“The brand is very keen to incorporate its family members in the ads. It can be a powerful story, and a differentiating factor in a FMCG market where everything is dominated by big holding groups,” says Mark Diamond, strategy director at brand consultancy agency Brand Union.

“Take its Muppets campaign for example – it showed the business has a sense of humour. If it would have been produced by a company that wasn’t a family business, it would have been harder to believe the message.”

– Mark Diamond, Strategy Director, Brand Union

But its family image could also potentially work against the brand – as a business it should be looking forward and not backwards, adds Diamond.

“Warburtons naturally leads you to tradition, which makes it more difficult for them to embrace change. It will have to find another way of linking its family history to the idea of doing new things,” he concludes.

Nevertheless, Stanton remains optimistic about Warburtons’ future and believes a combination of innovation and mass-scale campaigns will be key to its success.

“While our campaigns will be focused around fame and talkability to drive sales, consumers expect much more innovation,” she said. “We’ll be looking at products outside the bread category and snacks for different occasions. They will be products that are truly different.”