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The RSPB has taken the astonishing decision to ban manufacturers and suppliers of bird food from advertising in its ‘BIRDS’ magazine. In a letter sent to all such companies, the RSPB states ‘One of the changes we’ve decided to implement is to stop accepting advertising from suppliers of bird food and related product. We sell our own Birdcare products and wish to expand this part of our business.’

If the RSPB’s aim of increasing sales of their own bird food and feeders is to be met, then there’ll certainly have to be very successful: It’s estimated that more than £200,000 is spent annually by companies on advertising in the RSPB’s magazine for such products – the RSPB would have to hugely increase its sales to generate enough profit to outweigh this immediate loss in revenue and probably by something in the region of £2m!

But it isn’t just about money and here is the other reason that the RSPB seems to have shot itself in the foot. Given its stated aims as an organisation combating global warming for the sake of us all – and of course birds – it would seem reasonable to expect that their commercial operations would carry the lowest possible carbon footprint. The problem is that, for bird food, they actually carry a relatively high carbon footprint compared to some other businesses in the industry. This is because they contract out the manufacturing, packing and delivery process and all are carried out in separate premises. Compared to some others in the industry, this means considerable inefficiencies, more transport, and therefore more carbon being released into the atmosphere.

A company with arguably now the lowest carbon footprint in the bird care market relative to output, is Haith’s. Based in Grimsby, Haith’s have been in the bird food market for over 70 years and are still family owned and run, now by David Haith, the grandson of the original founder. David has recently made a multi-million pound investment to move to new state-of-the-art premises and in part to ensure his company’s carbon footprint is minimised going forward. Even ahead of that though, Haith’s has always operated in a relatively environmentally friendly way by bringing in the raw ingredients, cleaning, mixing and packing them all in the same factory.

David comments on both the investment and the RSPB’s decision: “Like others in the industry, we’d suspected for some time that the RSPB would ban advertising as it increasingly became clear that its commercial arm had a different agenda to the highly commendable aims of the wider organisation. Given the level of investment I’ve made to reduce our carbon footprint to a minimum going forward, it’s ironic that the RSPB should penalise us for this. What’s more, my company has advertised in the BIRDS magazine since it was launched in the 1960s and we’ve spent close to one million pounds with them since then. Ultimately the RSPB is a charity and whilst of course they’re more that entitled to have a commercial arm – in fact I very much welcome the competition – it’s entirely unfair that they should abuse their position as a high profile charity.”

As part of its own marketing campaign to sell more bird food, the RSPB claim that all the profits generated go to its important work. However, many in the industry believe this is very misleading as Roger Hughes, a marketing consultant specialising in the industry, comments: “Given that the RSPB contract out their bird food operation, it’s misleading for them to suggest that all the profits are theirs. Quite clearly the businesses that import, clean, mix, package, transport and distribute their goods have to take their cut. Whilst it’s impossible to say how much profit this actually leaves the RSPB, it’s entirely obvious that a huge chunk has to firstly come out to pay the other parties involved. It’s therefore also obvious that the RSPB’s naïve decision to ban advertising will, if nothing else, increase profits for the businesses it contracts out the work to. In addition, the increased production this will involve will, and ironically, further increase the RSPB’s carbon footprint and at a time when they should be encouraging their members to buy from companies that can demonstrate theirs is lower.”

It also remains to be seen what the response will be to the advertising ban by RSPB members. As an RSPB member himself, Roger Hughes again comments: “I’ve been an RSPB member for over 30 years and I’m simply appalled by what they’ve done here. Even putting aside the commercial – and possibly legal – naivety of the ban, how can it possibly be in the interests of their members and, more importantly, the birds! As far as members are concerned it discourages choice – the RSPB’s range is not as extensive as many in the industry – and makes competitive pricing less visible. Worse still, hindering the successful growth of other companies in the bird care market can only lead to less people feeding their garden birds – surely not what the RSPB wants.”

The RSPB’s decision could also be unlawful under EU competition laws and it remains to be seen if they will be challenged on this by any of the other manufactures and suppliers of bird food who have also been hit by the ban.


Ends

Further information and for appropriate images

Contact Roger Hughes on 01327 830956 or email roger@consult1.fsnet.co.uk

Editor’s notes:

The wild birdcare market is estimated to be worth around £250m in the UK annually.

The popularity of feeding garden birds has been boosted by the BBC’s Springwatch and Autumnwatch programmes hosted by Bill Oddie, plus also social changes which have encouraged people to become closer to nature.






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