BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Working Lunch: Education  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Education Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Lunch Lesson Six - Brand management
selection of Bisto products
Bisto's packaging is easily recognisable
Born out of an idea from two housewives for a product that would guarantee perfect gravy every time, Bisto, the powder that 'Browns, Seasons and Thickens in One' was created in 1908.

Nearly 100 years later the Bisto brand is still the strongest in the market with a 62% market share.

The very name Bisto means gravy to a huge number of people, so how difficult is it to keep your brand everyone's favourite after such a long period of time?

Ahead of the game

"It's about understanding consumer trends and making sure that the brand remains relevant to the meals people are eating today," says Ian Greengrass, head of marketing at Bisto.

Ian Greengrass, Brand Manager, Bisto
Ian: listens to customers
There is a great deal of heritage with the Bisto brand, the result of much investment over the years in advertising and marketing.

But there's little chance of the Bisto team resting on their laurels.

They have to keep ahead of the game, benchmarking themselves against the competition, developing the product and creating new ones.

The nearest branded competitor to Bisto is Oxo with a 7% market share.

The major threat though comes from the supermarkets with their own label products. They hold a quarter of the gravy market.

Product Development

It's not just rival products that Bisto has to beat, the brand also has to remain healthy and contemporary.

Over the last century there have been enormous changes to how and what we eat, most notably in the last 25 years.

The family is far less likely to sit down to a traditional roast dinner every evening and far more likely to eat separately - wanting something convenient and quick.

Bisto history
1908 - Powder launched
1919 - Bisto Kids born
1979 - Granules launched
1984 - Relaunched granules and new onion granules
1991 - 'Best' is launched
2000 - "Aah Bisto" slogan re-introduced after 13 years

Bisto has had to adapt.

New product development over the years has included Bisto granules, which came on the market in 1979 with the advent of the kettle.

The granules that dissolve in hot water got a make-over in the 1990's and a new product, Bisto Best, arrived on our shelves.

Best is a premium product sold in a glass jar to give it an air of quality as well as convenience. The majority of product is now sold in granule form.


Luckily for Bisto there's been a revival of the great British dinner over the last few years. Dishes like sausages and mash and cottage pie are becoming fashionable again.

But Bisto is also working on the development of sauces, including one to put on chips.

All of the products have different demographics: from the powder which appeals to 'start-from-scratch' cooks, to the instant pour on products for people in a hurry.

So as the way people eat changes, so do the products.

"We have to ensure we have the best tasting products on the market, and we have to keep communicating to our customers," says Ian.

"We're constantly evolving the product and our communication."

Bisto's target market has been defined as busy mums who are experienced and interested in food taste and quality, and that is who the advertising is aimed at.


Advertising has been key to Bisto's brand awareness since way back in 1919 when 'The Bisto Kids' were introduced.

Created by the famous cartoonist Wilf Owen, their cast-off, cut down clothes and endearing mischievousness were an instant hit. By the 1920's and 1930's the kids were almost cult figures.

Bisto Kids
The Bisto Kids have had their day
They have now been dropped and the family is at the heart of the advertising.

Ian says Bisto has tried to contemporise the brand though the famous 'Aah Bisto' remains.

"We've taken one of the best things about the product - the smell, and are using that in a more relevant way."

Jane Cantellow from advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi believes a balance between familiarity and forward thinking is important:

"The marvellous thing about the Bisto brand is that it has something that goes very deep. People feel very warmly about it.

"The trick is to keep the brand fresh and striking a chord with people today."


The advertising spend on Bisto products is fairly constant year on year, but is steadily increasing.

The advertising is at key periods like Christmas and Easter - when the roast dinner is the staple food.

This year's Christmas campaign will be launched in mid-November.

"People need to be reminded about how strongly they feel about the brand," says Jane Cantellow.

"All the evidence suggests that advertising during these periods will increase sales."


Even though market share is fairly secure for Bisto, it is also promoted through point of sale promotions.

Currently they are running a 'Roast Brittaniaah' campaign which encourages us to eat roast dinners throughout the week not just at weekends.

There are also frequent discount promotions offering money off products.

Big business

The UK gravy market is an important part of UK retail industry. Today it's worth 91 million and growing.

And if every second of every day, at least two Bisto products are bought, there's every incentive for the team at Bisto to keep that brand thriving for a long while to come.

Student guide

Have a look in your kitchen cupboards.

Chances are that there is a Bisto product on the shelf as it has over 60% market share.

It produces the gravy most of us want with our roast dinners so six out of ten people who buy gravy products buy Bisto.

How did it get its name? Well - it Browns, Seasons, Thickens in One.

Even back in 1908, when Bisto first appeared, they knew a bit about marketing!

To keep a product on people's shopping list for nearly a century means the marketing has gone on working.

Just think...

If you were marketing Bisto, what features would you use in your adverts? Why?

What do customers want?

In a hundred years, people may go on wanting a product that makes their gravy scrumptious but they may also want it to be different.

Any business has to keep up with the times.

Bisto must taste just right and work in the modern kitchen.

So how does the company find out whether Bisto meets the needs of the market place?

How do businesses find out about the market for their products?

  • Primary research means finding things out first hand by asking people questions.

    This might be by questionnaires, focus groups or interviewing individuals.

    Bisto uses tastings to test the product and compare with its competitors.

    There are lots of advantages to first hand contact with the customers - or those who don't buy the product.

    It's much more informative than people's responses on a questionnaire.

    A questionnaire can be useful but you can only ask simple questions or no-one will bother to fill it in.

  • Secondary research means using information that is already published.

    If Bisto is dependent on people eating meals that need gravy, the company will want to know the trends in eating habits.

    If everyone eats lasagne, the demand for gravy is likely to fall!

    Someone has probably done this research already.

Just think...

What sort of market research would you do to find out about the market for a product that you use?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of different sorts of market research?

Think about accuracy, cost, speed and anything else.

A long life

A hundred years is a long life for any product. Most disappear long before that. The product life cycle shows what happens:

product life cycle graph

The black line shows the normal pattern for a product life cycle.

The red line shows what businesses really want to do - which is to extend it.

At the point where the red line begins, the product has been relaunched after careful market research.

It has been updated or modified so people will go on buying it.

The lines are often shown as smooth curves but in reality they can be very bumpy.

A good product, which changes to meet the needs of the market, and clever marketing can keep a product at the top for years.

Just think...

What happens to a product after it is launched if no-one looks after it?

Can you think of anything you bought when very small that has disappeared from the shops?

Why do you think the product no longer exists?

Bisto is made by Rank Hovis McDougal - often known as RHM.

Have a look at the RHM website: to find out how Bisto's product life cycle has been extended for nearly a hundred years.

What does the clever company do before the red line on the product life cycle graph starts to dip?

Simon Gompertz reports
"Bisto has identified a threat"
View latest show
About us
Consuming Issues
Rob on the road
Lunch Lessons
Guides & factsheets
Story archive
Names, numbers & links
Contact us

Watch us on BBC Two
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 12:30pm
Wednesday 1:30pm
Friday 12pm


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Education stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |