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Womersley Foods produces and sells traditional British fruit and herb vinegars originally made from home-grown ingredients and sold in upmarket retail outlets throughout the UK. The company was launched in 1979 by Martin and Aline Parsons from their Yorkshire home, Womersley Hall.
When the Parsons’ son, Rupert, took over the business in 2009 he inherited a business with strong brand heritage and high-quality products made with passion. However, with a portfolio of 108 different products, the company lacked focus and turned over less than £100k a year. Rupert Parsons set out to introduce a more strategic business approach. Eager for advice, he turned to the Design Leadership Programme for help, and Design Associate Lesley Gulliver was assigned to work with the company.
What we did
Gulliver undertook a detailed analysis of the business and its marketplace to identify ways in which design might be used to help Parsons achieve his goals. The process raised a number of issues, including the need for product rationalisation and better presentation. It also highlighted opportunities, such as the value that lay in the brand’s heritage due to the Parsons family’s historic links with some of Britain’s finest gardens and their horticultural expertise.
With Gulliver’s help, Parsons identified a number of projects to address different parts of the business. These included a review of product pricing and an investment of £50k into a design project to review and refine the brand. The company was then known as Womersley Fine Foods. The product packaging featured white writing on a black label without pictures and little indication of how to use each product. Parsons hoped a refined design would make the products look more accessible and appealing. Gulliver helped Parsons write a detailed design brief before introducing him to a number of design agencies.
After a competitive tender process, Mayday Living Brands were appointed to take up the project. A decision was taken to drop ‘Fine’ from the name to bring greater clarity and focus. A new brand design was developed, featuring bold colours and garden imagery that better reflected the brand’s colourful heritage.
Since introducing our new brand identity we’ve found people buy our products without even tasting them, and our position in shops is far better than it was before because our products now look so good.Rupert Parsons
Womersley Foods’ new branding was launched across a reduced range of eight vinegars and four herb jellies in spring 2010. The new strategy was well-received and generated a fourfold rise in sales within its first six months. This resulted in the necessity to outsource production in 2011 to a more scalable producer in Yorkshire. Of particular note was the increase in sales to buyers who simply liked the designs. Only after tasting the contents did they realise how well the fine designs were reflected in the taste of the fruit vinegars. The tone of voice was also addressed to allow more guidance for the consumer on suggested uses - an important aspect of being able to sell a niche food which is so versatile.
Since then, the company has secured new listings in prestigious outlets including Harrods, Whole Foods, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges. It was a London 2012 official supplier and in autumn 2012 was working with UK Trade & Industry to develop distribution in Scandinavia.
The unexpected and sudden closure of their outsourced production partner in Autumn 2013 seemed an insurmountable problem at first but Parsons soon secured the services of a significantly more accomplished food producer within a matter of weeks: Somerset Cuisine, the food branch of Crabtree & Evelyn.
“Since introducing our new brand identity we’ve found people buy our products without even tasting them, and our position in shops is far better than it was before because our products now look so good,” said Parsons. “Previously, Womersley Foods was loss-making. The key to changing this was to retain its reputation, maintain its existing clients and find new markets.”
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