Shortbread stooshie takes the biscuit

When is a Scottish product no longer a Scottish product? Apparently, according to some, when it is packaged in tin with a Union Jack design.

A storm in a shortbread tin has erupted online after Scottish food manufacturer Walkers decided to sell some of its famous delicacies in containers bedecked in the flag of the United Kingdom. A picture snapped by a Scot of shortbread on sale in a German airport has sparked claims that the Moray firm is ‘destroying our Scottish brand’, while others have labelled them ‘traitors to Scotland’.

Is it really a case that the 120-year-old company has ditched its Scottish roots, or simply that it is aiming to appeal to as wide a market as possible?

Reading some of the comments that have been posted online you’d be forgiven for thinking that the firm had discarded its traditional tartan packaging. Far from it. Heading to Walkers’ online shop you are presented with all manner of products which are still proudly bedecked in the famous red tartan everyone has become familiar with.

Nestled alongside such packaging on the virtual shelves are tins depicting other bastions of Britishness, the Routemaster bus, the black cab and even a red pillar box. Yet these don’t seem to have caused upset. And far from ditching packaging boasting the saltire in favour of one with a Union Jack, as has been suggested, the blue and white tin is still available online.

On closer inspection of the photograph that has got some people bumping their gums you can clearly see that sitting on shelves above, and even alongside, the offending tin at the airport are Walkers products in their familiar red tartan cartons. When you look at the bigger picture it illustrates how the loud assertions being made by some about the firm seem to lack any real bite.

Perhaps those individuals have other more political motivations as one newspaper has suggested, or it is that they don’t want to be consumers who are offered choice.

Offering customers a selection of products to choose from makes clear business sense. Walkers has grown from simply baking plain shortbread in an Aberdeenshire village into a global brand, respected by consumers around the world for its quality range of biscuits, oatcakes, cakes and tarts. Alongside its plain shortbread are chocolate covered, chocolate

chip, fruit, nuts and ginger varieties. Would it have achieved such success if it hadn’t diversified its product range?

With shortbread being one of the classic products associated with Scotland, the tourist market is clearly an important one for Walkers throughout Britain and around the world. Different nationalities will hold different images of Scotland in higher esteem than others, whether that is a Scottie dog, Nessie, Edinburgh Castle, a piper or a Highland Cow. Being able to appeal to as wide an audience as possible is crucial and if that means using different images on packaging as a marketing tool, then so be it.

Walkers has gained a reputation for offering a quality product. So much so that its shortbread can be bought online from Harrods. What appeals to that high-end retailer’s customers in London, and in other businesses in the capital, will not necessarily be the same as what might catch the eye of a tourist visiting Loch Ness or Edinburgh. Therefore, having packaging to suit different markets makes commercial sense.

The Walkers name and tartan logo is emblazoned on all of its packaging, no matter its shape or principal design, meaning customers are not going to be confused about the product’s authenticity or heritage. When it comes to marketing and promotion, brand consistency is crucial.

Such has been the stooshie that this picture has created, Walkers felt compelled to issue a statement to underline its commitment to its Scottish roots. For a firm to be forced into such a statement in response to half-baked claims by a vocal group of individuals with political leanings takes the biscuit.

Rather than berating an important Scottish firm – one that employs 1,400 people and generates millions of pounds for the economy – because it is offering diversity, we should instead celebrate its achievements, its global appeal, its tenacity to innovate and, above all, its ability to look beyond the borders to one country in order to succeed. After all, a successful economy is in all our biscuit eating interests.