Disclaimer: All characters in this article are fictional. Any resemblance to real people is entirely coincidental.
So, you’re in Tesco doing your weekly shop, and you’ve got your carrots and your potatoes and your tinned peas and you’re now looking for your orange juice. You go over to the juice aisle and as usual there are two options: Just Tesco Orange Juice, and Tesco Finest Orange Juice. And for the first time you start to wonder: why is it that the Tesco Finest Orange Juice label makes you feel like you’re newly awoken from a siesta to drink the fresh juices of Espana’s (sic) finest oranges, and the Just Tesco Orange Juice label looks like you’ve walked into Tesco Express, Magdalen Street and asked for the cheapest bottle of OJ that their fine establishment has to offer?
And once you notice this, you realise it is not just the orange juice but the spaghetti, the tinned tomatoes, the bars of chocolate, the loaves of bread, and everything else produced by Tesco Finest and Just Tesco. The Tesco Finest labels make you aspire to live in their fantasy world and the Just Tesco labels look, frankly, a bit crap.
It can’t be that Tesco Finest has better graphic designers, can it? They’re both under the same company at the end of the day, surely they share knowledge and skills. And the idea that Tesco is using its orange juice labelling to express a distasteful belief that bargain hunters aren’t deserving of nice packaging is a bit too conspiracy theory, even for me.
Perhaps I am taking a far too dogmatic approach to the aesthetics of food labels. After all, the under-designed, minimalist look seems to be on trend at the moment. The Ordinary Skincare Brand is doing it, Triple Point Brewing is doing it. It’s all very Scandinavian actually (it’s like what Ikea does). But Tesco Orange Juice is no Local Craft Beer / Skincare Revolution Product. It just can’t carry under-designed minimalism in the same way.
There is another explanation, and it’s all about price differentiation. Say Lovely Lucy and Bargain Bill are both looking in Tesco to buy a bottle of OJ. Now, Lovely Lucy can afford to love the finer things in life and is willing to pay up to £2.20 for her litre of OJ. Bargain Bill, on the other hand, would hyperbolically rather drink his own urine than drink orange juice at 11p a gulp. He’ll pay £1.35 for a litre max, or he’ll stick to the tap water he has at home.
Mr Tesco is reyt (sic: can be read ‘superlatively’) greedy and there is only one thing that he wants: more money. He has three options: sell two bottles of OJ for £1.35; sell one bottle of OJ for £2.20; or sell OJ at both price points, getting the most money he can out of Lucy and Bill.
I know what you are thinking, surely even Lovely Lucy isn’t going to pay £2.20 for OJ when exactly the same bottle is available for £1.35. She’s not silly. And Mr Tesco realises this, so he starts making two different OJs, one slightly worse quality than the other. And he tells his designers he wants two labels, one a little uglier than the other. And he puts the uglier one on the slightly worse OJ and sells OJ at two prices. Bargain Bill will purchase the cheaper, uglier OJ and Lovely Lucy will go for the more expensive and aesthetic OJ. In this way, Mr Tesco makes the greatest amount he can from Bill and Lucy’s OJ purchases at £3.55.
It is important that one OJ label is uglier than the other because, if both bottles looked the same, Lucy won’t feel like she is getting anything better for her extra money, and the people in the queue won’t know that she buys the most expensive OJ, and nor will all her friends when she hosts her bi-weekly brunch party next Tuesday.
Now maybe Mr Tesco isn’t so greedy after all. Maybe he just needs to make enough money to keep his staff’s wages reasonable and his shop lights on and his Tescolators running. Maybe if we didn’t have two types of Tesco OJ then neither Bill nor Lucy could get what they wanted. Maybe we can accept the OJ situation.
The real problem is that Cadbury have started putting milk in their Bournville Dark Chocolate Buttons. Their Bournville Dark Chocolate Buttons that were a key staple in the accidentally vegan range and a firm favourite of mine, and I ate half a bag before I realised, and other dark chocolate makers seem to be doing the same, despite levels of veganism being consistently on the rise.
I believe that the vegan community, who only ever wanted to help the animals, are the unknowing victims of the same sort of foul market play already seen from Mr Tesco. This is the real problem, I tell you. I think Mr Cadbury knows he could charge his vegan customers more for their dark chocolate than the average Bournville consumer. And as a great lover of having more money, I think he wants to do so. So, he puts milk in his Bournville and gets to work designing The All New Dark Chocolate designed with exactly The Vegans in mind to get them all Excited™. Why else has he put milk in his Bournville Buttons despite the vegan community being still in growth?
The orange juice case and Bournville-gate are not exact parallels, it is important to realise. Vegans, despite being caricatured to the contrary, are no Lovely Lucys. In fact, in Britain there are a greater proportion of vegans among lower income groups than higher. Some vegans cannot easily and happily afford their chocolate at the higher price point, and a lot of them love the bargain of an accidentally vegan product. This is not to say that the accusations of vegan elitism are unreasonable. What we eat exists at the epicentre of all the key status symbols on trend in our society: wealth, education, time, moral principles, and capricious asceticism. And veganism epitomises this. But the claim that vegans are all rich is simply not true.
So, why is it that Mr Cadbury thinks vegans will pay more for their chocolate? That, if he puts the Vegan label on one chocolate and milk in the other, vegans will pay a price that the cow milk drinker would be unwilling to pay, had he put the price up for everyone.
The trouble is vegans have far fewer alternatives. They are suffering from inelastic demand due to lack of substitutes. If Mr Cadbury put his dark chocolate prices up for everyone, his cow’s milk drinkers have a whole aisle of chocolate that they can switch to. For the vegans, Cadbury may be selling the only chocolate that they can afford that fits their principles. So, when Cadbury brings out The New Vegan Dark Chocolate at twice the price of their (recently milk infested) Bournville Buttons, and the vegans want chocolate, they will have to pay the higher price. And Mr Cadbury can keep making money off of the non-vegans who wouldn’t pay the higher price.
This market mechanism is no veganic idiosyncrasy. Whenever a consumer limits their consumption choices due to ethical principles to the extent that they have few substitutes for the goods they are purchasing, they are similarly vulnerable to hiked prices. Not because ethical goods are always more costly to produce, nor because consumer moralising is some luxury passtime reserved for the rich. It is because the firm owners aren’t playing ball.
And now the vegans aren’t happy because their ethical choices have a higher cost. And non-vegans aren’t happy because their chocolate has steroids in it that are potentially carcinogenic and hormones that are designed by mother nature to meet exactly the needs of a baby cow. And the cows aren’t happy because calves are getting killed at birth and female cows are getting forcefully inseminated in The Dairy Industry. And Mr Cadbury certainly isn’t happy because the want for more money is a desire that will remain perpetually unfulfilled. We are all worse off.