Abstract: Bringing Home the Bacon? State Promotion of the Branding and Marketing of Danish Bacon in Britain during the Interwar Years

David Higgins and Mads Mordhorst


A substantial literature documents the importance of effective branding to business success. However, much of this work focuses on private companies operating in a limited range of industries, or on internal national relationships between manufacturers and politicians. We develop these themes by emphasizing the importance of external relations and external markets. This paper focuses on state promotion of national branding schemes in agriculture during the interwar years. We employ a case study that examines the success of Danish bacon exports to Britain during the interwar years to advance several arguments. First, an asymmetric relationship existed between these countries: as the biggest export market for Danish bacon, Britain was crucial to the fortunes of the Danish industry, but the converse did not hold, because Britain could increase its supplies from Ireland, Canada, Holland, and the United States. Second, although Britain sought to increase its domestic supply of bacon via state promotion of national branding and marketing schemes, these were abject failures. Throughout the interwar period British consumers overwhelmingly preferred Danish to British bacon. How can this continued preference for Danish bacon be explained? We argue that that the Danish industry benefitted from a high degree of state regulation, which guaranteed high minimum levels of quality throughout the supply chain; a high level of co-operation between producers and the state, and, most important, accurate information about British tastes and preferences for bacon. Taken together, these factors gave Danish producers an invaluable and insurmountable lead enshrined in their state-promoted brands. In contrast, we show that British efforts were uncoordinated and de-regulated, with the consequence that British farmers had little, if any, financial incentive to produce "bacon pigs" of the desired quality. Consequently, state efforts to promote national branding and marketing schemes for bacon—and related products—were ineffectual. The paper utilizes a diverse range of official archival data in Britain and Denmark, supplemented by trade journal reports and newspaper commentary. Additionally, we construct a new price series to establish changes in the relative competitiveness of Danish and UK bacon.