The pack, which features the face of 100 customers, is on sale in Morrisons and some regional Tesco stores in the UK and will appear on shelves at the Co Op supermarket and Asda stores this week.
Gluten free pork
Wilfried Emmanuel, founder, The Black Farmer, established the brand in 2004 and has a farm on the Devon/Cornwall border.
His products are made from gluten-free meat and Emmanuel invited fans on Facebook to put themselves forward to appear on his packaging.
“The success of the brand is due in no small part to the support we get from our fans,” he said.
“The Black Farmer is a gluten free brand and has a massive and loyal following - and is a particular favourite of those with Coeliac Disease and wheat intolerance as well as the mainstream.”
It is best known for its gluten free premium pork sausages using Freedom Food outdoor bred pork. Other flavours include Pork Onion & Chive, Pork & Leek and shortly to be launched in Co Op stores, Pork & Mango, and in Asda, Pork Sage & Onion.
Other products include pork chipolatas; hickory smoked back bacon; pork and beef meatballs; pork and apple burgers; beef burgers; organic chicken; freerange eggs and sweet mature cheddar cheese.
Some of the chosen fans who appear on the packaging include Elizabeth Coldwell, from Hoyland, Barnsley, Janet Rodgerson, from Darton, Barnsley and Lynn Evans, from Bentley, Doncaster.
BBC celebrity chefs
Emmanuel is a former producer/director for the BBC known for getting celebrity chefs on television, including Gordon Ramsay, Antony Worrall-Thompson, Brian Turner and James Martin, before founding a food and drink marketing company in London.
“It took me 40 years, but I eventually fulfilled my childhood dream to own a small farm. It was here that I was inspired to launch The Black Farmer brand,” he said.
“After years of travelling the world making TV films about food and drink I learned to appreciate well-made simple food that tasted great. Whenever I returned to the UK after a journey abroad I longed for a Full English breakfast - sausages, bacon and eggs.
“The downside was I became aware of the very poor quality of the majority of sausages available in British supermarkets. Some had huge amounts of filler and very poor quality meat. What's more, as an ardent supporter of British farmers, I was appalled that there was no commitment to using British meat.”
He went on to create a sausage that uses 100% British pork from soya flour so that it would be wheat and gluten free.
“It wasn’t until we went on the road visiting food fairs and county shows to sample our products that I realized just how important the decision to be gluten free was,” said Emmanuel.
“More and more people visiting our stand told me stories about how their wheat and gluten intolerance has meant giving up sausages altogether, as the only ones available were bland and generally only available by mail order from specialist suppliers.”
He said the special edition product is a way of saying thank you to its fans, followers for their support.
The 100 fans featured on pack were chosen on a first-come-first-served basis from many hundreds of responses from the company's call on its social media sites.
“We were the first brand in the category to invite consumers to join us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Not only do our fans follow us but they actively recommend us and lobby the retailers when they can’t find us in store. Now we are the first to make our fans the focus of our pack,” he added.
The Black Farmer is the latest in a line of companies that has used social media to personalise its packaging.
Tic Tac recently created a microsite for people to create customized virtual packs online and Coca-Cola capitalized on this trend with its ‘Share a Coke’ campaign last year, swapping its logo on its bottles with 250 of the most popular names in Great Britain.
Heinz soup also launched a Facebook initiative two years’ ago allowing users to personalise ‘Get Well’ tins of tomato and chicken soup, to send to an ill friend or family member.
Sam Sheppard Fidler, of Smithers Pira's European Distribution Testing operations and Smithers' European Product Testing operations in the UK and Paul Jenkins, founder of ThePackHub, a UK packaging innovation consultancy, said as brands use the internet and social media to broaden reach and drive campaigns, consumers feel packaging is 'made for them'.
“As digital printing becomes more affordable and wide-spread, there has been an increase in short print runs, and personalisation is being used more often as a tool to differentiate a brand and attract customers,” said Sheppard Fidler.
“This was arguably pioneered by Coca Cola and their Share a Coke campaign, which featured popular first names printed on labels. However, Coca Cola was just the beginning, and we now have a number of other designs which capitalise on this 'made for me' approach.
“As the technology enabling such innovations improves and costs come down, the industry will become even more creative with personalised packaging.”