Northern names are big business at the moment. The much anticipated takeover of Morrisons moved forward last week, and just a few days later, cherished bakery chain Cooplands also found a buyer. That’s alongside the fact that Geordies around the world are currently reacting to the purchase of Newcastle United by the Saudi Arabian state-backed Public Investment Fund.
Each is complicated in its own way but, with the possible exception of Newcastle United, they’re indicative of a trend toward investment in new regions. And it’s more than a flash in the pan. As we learn the detail of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, it’s clear that the north is at the front of the queue for investment.
That should be celebrated, but it has to be done the right way. There are rightfully concerns that deals like this could compromise the northern soul which made these businesses successful in the first place. Outside investors have to understand the value in their brands and identities. A recent report by Kantar shows how important brand value is. Companies with strong brand equity are easily outpacing their competitors.
But what makes a good northern brand? It isn’t twee to say that it’s community spirit, it’s responsible operating, and it’s good value. For many northern businesses, their geography is the beating heart of who they are, and it mustn’t be left behind. People are loyal to businesses which remember their roots and stick to their long-established values. They don’t like corporate carbon copies of things already on the market.
The Cooplands example is a good one. Its new owners also operate Leon, a food-to-go rival in many ways but one which offers something entirely different. Leon is focused on health, it’s Instagram-friendly and it’s targeted at urban centres. Cooplands meanwhile is proud of its humble beginnings, it’s steeped in tradition, and it serves smaller, less metropolitan communities. And so it should be. It is a good old-fashioned baker which does good traditional baking – as a corporate strategy it’s simple but hugely effective. Its new owners will do well to stick with it.
The Hollywood view of what happens when large corporates take over is often scary, but this is not always the case. These businesses are hardly doe-eyed innocents, and their buyers aren’t cackling super villains either. These deals are good business, and beyond that they are opportunities for northern businesses to grow and do more for the communities they serve.
But it has to be done properly. Whether it’s at the checkout, in the kitchen, or on the pitch, investors should highlight the proud commercial values of northern businesses, not lose sight of them.
Neil Stanwix is a senior account manager at Camargue