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More cross-industry collaboration needed to help people through the cost of living crisis

Utilita’s chief marketing officer Jem Maidment reflects on the challenges behind the energy retailers recent partnership with Iceland, and explores the role of cross-industry collaboration in helping consumers weather the cost of living crisis.

Launched in early September, energy retailer Utilita and supermarket Iceland’s ‘Shop Smart, Cook Savvy’ campaign made a high profile pledge to both help families better understand the cost of cooking and identify the most economical methods to make budgets stretch further.

As part of this, the pair will facilitate thousands of free workshops outlining 15 ways to cut energy bills – including five ways to save up to £604 a year when cooking. Both brands have also committed to a number of consumer and planet friendly pledges and shared research outlining ways of cutting the cost of cooking by between 60% and 90% and naming the most energy hungry kitchen appliances.

“The rising cost of energy is going to create seismic shifts in consumer behaviour associated with energy consumption through a new awareness of the cost to consume,” Archie Lasseter, Utilita’s sustainability lead, said at the campaign’s launch.

“It’s vital that consumers are given the facts they need in order to use less energy in the interest of the pocket and the planet,” he added.

As the campaign gets underway, Jem Maidment – Utilita’s chief marketing officer and the innovator behind the Utilita-Iceland brand partnership – discusses where the partnership goes next, the rise of cross-industry collaboration and the challenges of communicating with vulnerable consumers during the cost of living crisis.

  • Resilience, reliability and collaborative transformation to adopt technology and innovation are among the key themes at the Utility Week Forum, which will take place in London on 8-9 November. Find out more here.

Does Utilita’s partnership with Iceland set something of a blueprint for utilities looking to work with consumer-facing brands or organisations in other sectors?

This is just the start of a major shift in brand and consumer behaviour towards more cross-industry collaboration to help people through the cost-of-living crisis.

Utilita and Iceland have co-signed a joint manifesto which outlines 11 pledges that will make the ‘Shop Smart, Cook Savvy’ campaign continue to gain momentum in the interest of pocket and planet.

One of Utilita’s pledges is to encourage more supermarkets, brands and organisations to reflect the campaign’s research and the true cost to cook across their products, services and messaging. Iceland was the first brand to put the research into action, and we are already having conversations with other major household brands about how they can get involved.

Where does this partnership go from here? 

Utilita and Iceland will be promoting an energy saving checklist of 15 ways to save at home – five of which, the Cooking High 5, are associated with food. Utilita and Iceland staff will be fully trained to deliver these savings and supporting information at every customer touchpoint.

Utilita and Iceland will be hosting drop-in sessions outside Iceland’s Food Warehouse stores, enabling and encouraging customers to spend 15 minutes learning about the Cooking High 5 and the other ten ways to save.

How do you feel Utilita could innovate further to influence customer behaviour? Where else could they seek to make a difference?

Watch this space. Hot water behaviour is our next stop. We’ve been working behind the scenes on this for the last year.

How did this partnership come about? What common goals brought Utilita and Iceland together?

Since launching our award-winning Energy High 5 campaign back in 2019, when we projected a 60ft call to action onto the Houses of Parliament, our energy-saving advice has reached millions of households.

We decided to look at how we could help people think about their energy consumption while making every day purchasing decisions – for example, when purchasing shampoo, could we promote four-minute showers.

We’re doing all we can to help customers through this difficult period so it seemed a natural next step to approach Iceland to discuss introducing energy efficiency messages in-store to inform consumers’ purchases. The conversation moved quickly onto the cost to cook, and the research we had been working on for 12 months.

What made Iceland such an appealing partner for Utilita?

Iceland, like Utilita, exists to help a household’s money go further, while reducing waste, so our brand values align perfectly. Both teams are committed to doing it right and exploring new ways to leave more pounds in people’s pockets.

Utilita’s ‘cheapest and greenest energy is the energy we don’t use’ mantra and Iceland’s ‘power of frozen’ approach are aligned on so many levels.

What were the biggest challenges in launching this partnership and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge with any sort of efficiency awareness campaign is to ensure that it’s helpful without being condescending, and that it’s accessible to everyone no matter their budget.

Until now, Utilita’s Energy High 5 has always been about free and simple ways to save. For the first time we are advising households to make an investment in order to save more – in this case £35 for an air fryer.

For millions of households, finding £35 for an air fryer will be a challenge. For this reason, we made sure to focus on the return-on-investment figure. We revealed that by spending £35, a formerly oven-default household could save enough money through avoiding the oven to cover the cost of the air fryer in just 45 days.

As with all challenges, approach and mindset are key. Just as both brands are aligned in their approach to their customer offering, so are the people responsible for their brand success to date. The campaign was created within 30 minutes of our first call with Iceland and within two months we delivered a successful launch.

What do you feel are the most important lessons that utility companies can take away from this partnership?

Utility companies – energy especially – are at the start of a new era. The unsustainable price comparison, flip-here-switch-there era is well and truly over, and 30 suppliers have gone under as a result. Their demise has added billions onto household energy bills, confirming the false economy of underpricing a finite resource.

Our 2022 Annual Household Energy Behaviour Index told us that, in the absence of price as a differentiator, consumers are now trying to better understand the value proposition on offer from their utility provider. Unfortunately, the price comparison platforms are not yet built to provide consumers with this information.

Shop Smart, Cook Savvy is a perfect example of how an energy supplier can add value to households at a time when reducing the price of energy isn’t a sustainable option. Utility providers must ask themselves: “What can we do to make the energy (or water) we sell to our customers go further?”

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