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  Inside Out - West: Monday September 22, 2003

WI COUNTRY MARKETS' MAKEOVER

Alex Timms with the mock up of  his advertising campaign
Can a marketing man really make scones sexy?

The WI may be hitting the headlines with the release of the film Calendar Girls in which they dare to bare - but can the WI markets achieve a similar impact?

Inside Out follows one marketing man who believes he can give scones sex appeal.

The ladies of the Women's Institute markets have been described as the best kept secret in British Cookery.

But no longer content with the 'Jam and Jerusalem' image, the women are going in search of a new image - and they think they have found just the man for the job.

Inside Out joins marketing man Alex Timms as he prepares to turn modest pin money into big business.

To market to market

Producer at a WI market
The WI Country Markets are keen to attract a younger generation of producers

Before 1995 the WI and the WI Country Markets were one and the same. The split occurred as the two divisions moved in different directions, the WI being a charitable organisation and the WI Country Markets a business.

In total there are 500 WI markets run all over the country with the unique selling point being 'home-cooked' produce.

All produce sold at the markets is free from artificial preservatives, resulting in top quality food of the freshest variety.

The WI market is run as a business so all producers keep the money they make. But budding entrepreneurs beware - the profits are not huge.

Lynne Ashworth from North Somerset spends two days a week baking and takes home around £60. But there are other benefits more important than profit as Lynne explains.

"You're never going to get rich doing this," says Lynne. "But it lets me stay at home, be available for my kids and I love doing it."

Next generation

Increasing profits is only one part of Alex Timms' task. The other is to increase the market's appeal to a whole new generation of producers.

Lynne Ashworth
The WI markets allow Lynne time with her children whilst making a modest profit too

Lynne, in her 40s, is the youngest producer at Nailsea Market. The majority are nearly twice her age.

"It's a real problem," worries Lynne. "The markets will die unless we can get younger people to join us."

Alex's task is not an easy one, but his past experience will stand him in good stead having worked on famous brand names such as McDonalds and Carlsberg.

And it is the brand name of the product that holds the key to its success.

The suggestion to drop the WI brand from the title has sparked much debate and is not something Alex is convinced of.

"What they really have going for them is the quality of the WI name," explains Alex. "It's something they would have to consider very carefully before shedding."

The bare necessities

Where one leads, others will follow and this certainly seems to be the case for the WI.

Alex has come up with design for an advertising campaign that once again relies on strategically positioned flans and buns to protect the modesty of the WI market ladies!

Helen Mirren, Julie Walters and original calendar girl Angela Barker
The WI market ladies will be following in the footsteps of Calendar Girls

"What they have with the release of Calendar Girls is a wonderful opportunity for the WI Country Markets to gain some publicity for themselves," says Alex.

Alex travels to the WI Country Market headquarters in Chesterfield to reveal all - in more ways than one!

Alex's design is a spoof advert based on the 'Hello Boys' Wonderbra campaign.

'Hello boys' is replaced by 'Hello men', whilst a selection of home made cakes and pastries perform the role of the Wonderbra.

Alex is apprehensive as to how his idea will be received, but he needn't have worried.

Heather Miller, Vice-Chair of the WI Country Markets is impressed.

"This is an exceptionally good idea… we have to grasp this opportunity."

And grasp it they have. The end of September will see the launch of a regional news campaign searching for brave market volunteers willing to bare all.

So next time you're searching for high quality home made cooking, why not venture to a WI market - you may get more than you bargained for!

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
BBC: Films - Calendar Girls

On the rest of the web
WI Country Markets
The Women's Institute
Calendar Girls

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Carol Russell
I love the WIs. When I first married in 1966, there was a weekly market held in Fareham, next to the old Fire station. I can remember visiting the market during my lunch break and coming away with so many goodies - jams, cakes, chutneys, fruit and vegetables. In view of the pressure for young women to go out to work rather than stay at home, it would seem that the market for new blood is drying up. i am not sure that the skills of home making, cooking, sewing etc. are handed down like they used to be. It would be wonderful if the WI could once again come into prominence and for their membership to revive. Perhaps the film "Calendar Girls" might help?



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