From the BrandHistorian’s Timeline: 1982
The power of place in the art of branding cannot be overestimated. The Brand Historian’s favourite white wine – at least when someone else is paying – is Meursault. This mouth-watering greeny-gold burgundy with the eyewatering price is produced with Chardonnay grapes by just a handful of vineyards on the Jurassic marls and limestones of the Côte de Beaune. If my host really wants to push the boat out, I might choose one of the Premier crus, perhaps Les Perrières or Les Genevrières which are the buttery big mommas of the Burgundy slopes, where terroir really does add some value.
Provenance has long been a powerful means of differentiating and adding value to commodities. From Italy, we relish Amalfi lemons or Parma hams; from France, we seek out Crème Fraiche D’Isigny and Roquefort. And whilst the UK has been a little slower compared with the Italians and French to get into the Appellation game, protected status has been increasingly sought by British specialities like Scotch beef, Welsh lamb, Cumberland sausage and Melton Mowbray pies. In the cheese market, the world beyond cheddar has long been represented by an array of Territorials which proudly boast their geographic origins: for example, Wensleydale, Single Gloucester and Shropshire Blue. But branding based on a provenance is not without its dangers, as shown by the 1982 launch of a new cheese called Lymeswold.
The Milk Marketing Board was a UK state-run organization of dairy farmers set up to manage the milk supply chain. In the 1980s, there was a surplus of milk, so the Board set up a commercial arm called Dairy Crest, tasked with finding profitable new markets.
One of Dairy Crest’s first actions was to set up an innovation skunkworks team ominously called the SPG. One of several opportunities the SPG identified was the market for soft cheese, exemplified by French cheeses like Brie and Camembert. While the market was much smaller than classic British hard cheeses, it was upscale, aspirational, and becoming increasingly popular. The team soon identified a promising candidate product – a soft (slightly) blue cheese with an edible white rind which tasted good. Using a classic 1980s product development programme, which included the obligatory mini-van test, the product was set for a full-scale launch. The brand name selected and endorsed by the consumer was to be Wymeswold which it was thought connoted the traditional, bucolic values of rural England.
But just before the national campaign broke, it was discovered there actually was a town called Wymeswold, located in Leicestershire, hundreds of miles from Somerset where the new cheese was being produced. With a launch date looming, the decision was made to call the product Lymeswold.
Lymeswold was launched nationally in 1982 with a high-profile ad campaign (French dudes in 2CV failing to discover the delicious cheese cunningly hidden by the Brits) and PR (government minister and grateful pet dog.) Initially, the product sold well. Indeed, so well, there were supply problems.
But the first English new cheese for 200 years, as the PR described it, turned out to be a classic shooting star. A combination of significant problems in scaling-up production, product reliability issues and a trade relationship disaster resulted in the brand’s investment programme being first curtailed and eventually cancelled. Lymeswold past its sell by and was eventually removed from the market in 1992: the pleasant tasting soft cheese with a made-up name dreamt up at the last minute by the marketing men had become a bit of a joke and a Private Eye running gag.
A sad, personal postscript to this story came later when the Brand Historian visited a Dairy Crest creamery and saw a mountain of now redundant Lymeswold cheese moulds.
The sudden rise and fall of Lymeswold shows how the power of place can help make or break a product. Lymeswold’s subsequent (and brief) re-appearance as Westminster Blue shows how in the age of political satire, we were still taking chances with brand naming.
The Land of Make-Believe Bucks Fizz.