About a year ago whilst I was working at one of London’s larger ad agencies, it was decided that we should have a team lunch-out. Naively, I threw Nandos into the ring as an option. There was some enthusiasm for this and my deciding vote steered our inital course towards spicy chicken and peri chips. By the time we had reached the bottom of the escalator towards our downstairs reception however it had been decided that we should instead go to the restaurant at the top of Harvey Nichols where I was to enjoy some boring and expensive white fish as the least objectionable option. What had happened was that our Business Director, who’s income she had once accidentally disclosed as being in the top tax bracket and who had lived outside of the United Kingdom for most of her life in various centres of commerce across Asia, couldn’t fathom why on Earth we would want to eat relatively simple chicken in a busy restaurant where you have to ‘go up’ and order your food, fix your own soft drinks and grab your plate and cutlery yourself. That’s not to say that great food doesn’t exist in informal setting in Asia, it certainly does, but that our uniquely British fixation with Nandos is difficult to comprehend for those that haven’t spent a significant amount of time in these isles.
Nandos is a unique and interesting success story in the United Kingdom. It is essentially cheap chicken smothered in seasoning and sold at a large markup but it has massive cultural cache with a diverse yet definable demographic. If you walk into a Nandos restaurant in any urban centre (for that is where you will find most of them), you will see an eclectic mix of diners from headscarf young muslim women, young men and teens clad in outfits reflecting the recent sportswear resurgence- neat Nike tracksuits, Adidas trainers, Ellesse t-shirts, Reebok Classics etc, young professional couples and a strong BAME presence- including groups of students, teens and families. This is a diverse group indeed but what they all have in common is having grown up or come of age under New Labour and the following Lib-Con Coalition Government. Their experiences will have been defined by the earlier hopeful years of the Blair government- many will have been the first in their family to have gone to university after passing through a struggling yet decent school system. Multiculturalism will have been the norm during their lifetimes and they will usually be more accustomed to and positive towards immigration. The flip-side is that many will have been directly affected by 2008’s crash and the subsequent era of austerity and dwindling economic growth which has manifested itself in poor wage growth, struggling public services and astronomical house prices. Their economic outlook is poor and unstable with many of the hopes and dreams that their parents optimistically held for them in the early noughties seeming completely out of reach. This is an aspirational sub-group includes a large proportion of college and university-educated people however many are under-employed and almost all will be underpaid compared with previous generations at the same age. Home ownership will be out of the reach until their parents die and those who do make the foolish decision to live away will be burdened with extortionate rent which renders any attempts at monthly saving futile. With Brexit now in front of them as this age’s defining economic obstacle, it is difficult for many to be optimistic.
To understand how Nandos profits from the business of this demographic, it’s important dive into what the brand represents to them, not the brand that the marketing team and their agency partners work so hard to craft and present but the brand as perceived by regular customers. Firstly there is the positioning. Nandos is above your high-street fast-food mainstays, i.e. MacDonald’s, KFC, Burger King etc. yet far more casual than Pizza Express or Prezzo. The fact that the humous and halloumi brigade are likely to swing by occasionally whilst out-and-about in town rather than picking up a bargain bucket or sitting down for a Big Mac lends a certain prestige to the chain. The chain’s popularity with younger Black Britons and Halal-Friendly menu (in a fifth of their locations) tell us that this is an inclusive space. It’s an easy option for a muslim group of friends in, say the Trafford Centre in Manchester which spares them having to route out a quality and fairly-priced independent establishment. Another consideration is its economic accessibility. Diners can come to Nandos with a range of budgets and find a suitable food and drink combo. Nandos essentially exists in the sweet-spot where economic accessibility, prestige and inclusiveness overlap. It’s aspirational without being pretentious, affordable whilst enjoyable and serves a diverse customer base.
The reason why it relates to Labour so strongly is that it is a manifestation of the goals of Tony Blair and New Labour. Blair wanted working class individuals to become upwardly mobile- a continuation of the social purpose that Labour has pursued since the dynamics of class and the labour market changed radically in the era of international capital and mass production. This goes some way towards explaining how the restaurant came to be the favoured spot of the Britain’s lower-middle class. It’s product proposition of affordable exotic(-ish) chicken dishes served in an informal yet visually interesting and somewhat sophisticated setting matches perfectly with the social and economic aspirations of a generation that were finally getting a real stab at economic and social prestige. Now that those who grew up in this generation is facing unprecedented economic challenges- it’s time for Labour to step up to the mark and communicate how they can make a real positive change to these people’s lives.
Unsurprisingly there hasn’t been any research into the political views of young people who eat at Nandos. Urban BAME individuals are more likely to vote for Labour, we know this, but turnout is still low compared to other demographics. Young people are also underrepresented as voters- something we saw play out during the EU referendum. The strategy of appealing to non-voters, as noted by Stephen Bush in the New Statesman, is not a winning one in itself. This is however a long terms strategy for attracting support for the party.
There really is no saving the Labour party in June’s upcoming election. I don’t envy the party, I don’t envy their comms and strategy teams and I certainly don’t envy the agency Krow who were picked specifically for this task. Corbyn, whilst undoubtably a hardworking and diligent constituency MP, is an ineffectual leader and stands before the public as someone with a past steeped in placard holding, fringe causes and association with unsavoury and subversive groups whilst having no previous experience or interest in governing. Labour needs a vision for how to galvanise those who have been let down and cheated out of a future that was meant to be exciting and prosperous yet stable and it needs solid policy positions that demonstrate how this vision can be actioned in ways that have a measurable impact in people’s lives. The Nandos Generation are only one of many groups that Labour need to win over but they will certainly play a decisive role as an electoral group in the fortunes of a centre-left party aiming to govern.