Canadian Grocery Retailers confusing customers while fracturing & fragmenting their own brands

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OK, Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys: it’s time to drop all your silly sub-brands & go with one name. It works very well for Kroger, Publix and Albertsons.

As I leafed through the weekly poundage (kilogramage?) of grocery store flyers today — with not many “sales,” mind you — I found myself missing the simplicity of Kroger, Publix and Albertsons. If I wanted to go get all Loblaws sale items, I’d be forced to go to the Real Canadian Superstore, Fortino’s and NoFrills. Ditto with Metro and Food Basics. Oh, and then there’s Sobeys with their FreshCo and Price Chopper.  I’d also have to get there very early the first day of the sale, as I’ve discovered hungry-for-bargains Canadians clear out all the deals by 2:00 PM.  In most instances south of the border, I could safely pick up the deals most days of the week.

My Kroger key tag (yes, a convenient tag, not an inconvenient wallet card that Canadian retailers seem to be in love with — my wallet is about to explode due to all the cards!) saved me immediate big time dollars every time I shopped almost anywhere in the eastern US (and did not give me almost worthless points that I will likely never use). That single thing, accompanied with a “You saved 38% with your Kroger Plus Card” shown at the bottom of the receipt, made me a loyal Kroger customer.  Oh, and double coupons.  The company also added niche products and store sections where there was demand.  One Kroger, or Publix, looked like another, and every item was usually in the same place, whether I was in Atlanta, Louisville, Cincinnati or Nashville.  There was consistency, even in the store design.  I see things all over the road with Canadian chains.

Rant Warning! Whoever approved the Fortinos store design should be fired: parking out front, but all the customers have to walk to the end of the huge building and around the corner.  Then, when you grab a cart, it rattles and bangs along a raised tile cobblestone-like foyer that goes on forever.  It’s a wonder the carts last more than a week.  Oh, and the frozen hamburger meat is at the other end of the huge store from the other frozen food.  If there’s ever a coffee table book about poorly designed stores, Fortinos will be on the cover.

Loblaws, Sobeys and Metro seem to be intentionally fragmenting their own business. Gee, why not just one brand, one floor layout, immediate gratification and real savings all in one store? Or is that too much of a stretch, or is it too simple and logical? By far, the worst offender is Loblaws.  I count 17 — yes, SEVENTEEN — store brands on the Loblaws website. Each chain’s marketing and advertising expenses just might decrease by half or two-thirds — or more — just in my neighbourhood if they needed to market just one brand.  Granted, Kroger owns a few other branded grocery stores, but none of them compete with their Kroger brand, and none are in the same geographic regions.

I’ve read that some stores’ names were not changed following acquisitions for “customer loyalty.”  That is likely folly, and expensive.  Other brands are being created to add even more expense, and perhaps take business away from the same company’s different-bannered store down the street.  Here’s an idea: if there is a problem or a niche you’re not filling, fix your current stores, add niche product where marketing intelligence says you should and provide good value and service.  People will come.

Loblaws is supporting 17 disparate brands and, in my neighbourhood, 3 separate weekly advertising efforts.  Weighing that ongoing extra expense against a one-time well-run rebranding effort is a no-brainer.  I’m wondering what the company could do with all those saved resources, such as higher margins across the board, more national and regional media ads to drive traffic, fewer price errors, lower prices for customers and being able to better use five-P marketing science with something as simple as a shopper key tag to target consumers with specific offers.

Oh, and they’d likely save a lot of trees.

If I’m way out in left field on this, please enlighten me…

Jonathan Blaine

I've always called myself a "Marketing Guy." If I had a brand and logo, perhaps that would be my slogan. Measuring ROI is huge. Just because you're now using "new media" does not mean marketing fundamentals should be discarded. Customers' desires do not change. I'm a "right-brained creative analytical" guy (if you can fathom such a thing) who looks at a project several different ways. My first instinct is usually the correct one. I'm a "doer," and often a "diplomatic fixer;" someone who gets things done and still gets a thrill out of customers actually buying something because of something I mailed to them, or an ad I placed. Most of my success has come from strategy, writing, how ideas are presented to the potential customer and the actual thoughts that somehow originate within the ether between my ears. As a fan of DM guru Denny Hatch, I believe that the brand should never outweigh the message, and that art should never win over copy. The mix has to be “just right.” And continually tested. I have solid ryttan, err, written and verbal communication skills, and a reputation for consistently producing cost-effective quality work.

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