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Trouble Brewing: Frankie's vs Woolies

How a small softdrinks manufacturer beat the mighty Woolworths at their own game...unless it was the other way round?

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  1. Frankie's, based at Newstead Farm in the heart of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, are a small softdrinks business - a "micro" business, to use their term - with a special line in olde-timey brews that invoke and replicate "The Taste of Yesteryear".There is Frankie's Ginger Beer, Frankie's Fiery Ginger Beer, Frankie's Cloudy Lemonade, Frankie's Root Beer, Frankie's Cinnamon Cola, and Frankie's Dandelion & Burdock. Yes, Frankie's even brew weeds. That's how olde-timey they are. Actually, they're not really all that olde, dating back only to 2006, and nor are they all that micro, producing more than 25,000 litres a week at their farm factory, for distribution on the Midlands Meander and in a growing number of retail outlets, including Spar, Pick n Pay, Dischem, and Sasol garages.
  2. But you won't find Frankie's in Woolworths. What you will find in Woolies, according to Frankie's founder Mike Schmidt, is a pale imitation of their classic range, labelled and bottled in the same nostalgic 50s style.And by strange synchronicity, this new Woolworths range began appearing on the shelves very soon after the company chose not to use Frankie's as their supplier of choice for old-timey softdrinks.And so, on the evening of Monday, December 19, Mike Schmidt took to the airwaves on 702 to declare himself "very annoyed" at what he saw as an appropriation of the Frankie's range by the South African retail giant. 
  3. Because 702 have become very adept at using Twitter to draw and involve listeners, the story spread quickly via the social network, and a podcast of the interview was up on the station's website within minutes.
  4. Everyone loves a good micro vs macro business story, especially where allegations of blatant thievery of intellectual property by the macro are concerned. True, there's nothing terribly intellectual about Fiery Ginger Beer, but reactions on Twitter were nonetheless very fiery.
  5. Woolworths, on the other hand, approached the matter very gingerly, turning down an invitation to state their case on 702, and issuing a mild denial of any intent to infringe on "any intellectual property or trademark." And then, silence. On social networks, Twitter in particular, silence on the part of a corporate entity will be perceived as an admission of guilt, or at best, arrogant indifference to issues of legitimate concern. But big companies, in the age of social media, aren't that stupid. They're just, very often, a little slow to react. Silence merely cloaks the feverish activity behind the scenes, as marketing and PR types prepare the statement that will eventually  appear on a social network. In this case, the Woolworths Facebook page: "Retro is not a new concept. It has been a trend locally and internationally in clothing, food and packaging for some time. We have used vintage design for many years in products ranging from blouses to fudge and drinks. Flavours such as cream soda, ginger beer and cola have been widely used internationally for decades. We thank you all for your comments. All customer feedback on this issue will be taken very seriously."
  6. No business, big or small, can afford not to take feedback on social media seriously these days. Negative feedback on a social network tends to assume a momentum all of its own, and if left unchecked, can do swift damage to the reputation of a company or a brand.Not that everyone on the network necessarily feels the same way about the issue at hand. Dissent is necessary and refreshing.
  7. What will follow now, no doubt, is a stream of articles, columns, and analyses of Frankie's vs Woolies, on websites, radio, and mainstream print channels.In the meantime, one thing is for sure: Frankie's managed to get some pretty good coverage out of the whole débâcle. And being an old-timey company, they don't even have a Facebook page or a Twitter stream at the moment. No doubt that, too, will very soon change. Anyone for a Fiery Ginger Beer? I can recommend the Frankie's.
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