Fresh face in supermarket crowd

Morrisons’ confirmation last week of its imminent identity and brand positioning overhaul indicates it has set its sights on moving into the upper realm of food retailing, competing against rivals Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s. According to chief executive Marc Bolland, Morrisons aims to establish itself as a national retailer – ‘to be a winner in a highly competitive UK grocery market’.

Bolland’s vision for Morrisons involves focusing on fresh produce, developing core product ranges, smartening up the retail store format, updating packaging and building the supermarket’s Green credentials. In addition, he plans to revitalise the brand through a re-evaluation of the supermarket’s values, identity and visual communications that he hopes will bring it in line with competitors.

However, Tim Greenhalgh, chief creative officer at Fitch, thinks that Morrisons will need to not just revitalise the brand, but to achieve a point of difference in order to compete at the top. ‘Tesco is dynamic and is constantly reviewing its offer. Sainsbury’s has strong food values, Waitrose is the upmarket, quality choice and Asda the housewives’ champion,’ says Greenhalgh. ‘The fresh produce idea Morrisons is talking about is something that consumers expect as a given.’

Jim Thompson, managing director of 20/20, one of the design groups that has been working with Morrisons on brand positioning and in-store environment over the past six months, thinks that while other supermarkets have invested heavily in branding and design, Morrisons has been static. ‘The likes of Waitrose and Sainsbury’s invest heavily in designing the customer experience, while Tesco and Asda place more emphasis on the design of their services and supply chain. Morrisons has primarily been a trading business with advertising and branding serving as a selling tool, rather than pushing positioning,’ he says.

So, where exactly will Morrisons position itself in the food retail landscape? Bolland’s proposed three-year plan is based on the brand values of ‘fresh, service and value’ and ‘fresh for you everyday’. While Tesco and Asda are looking more to non-food ranges, and Sainsbury’s places emphasis on quality of food above price, Morrisons’ proposed positioning as the ‘food specialist for everyone’ suggests that it may have found a niche. Value-led, quality food could perhaps align it with the likes of Tesco.

But is there really room for another big supermarket brand in the food retail sector? Richard Murray, partner at Williams Murray Hamm, thinks there is. ‘Consumers don’t like a lack of choice. People are fed up with the dominance of Tesco. That really only leaves Sainsbury’s and Asda,’ he says.

Increased competition among top supermarket brands also raises the issue of the tactics used to keep prices low. Thompson mentions the constant scrutiny of supermarket brands by investigation committees and consumer groups, which can affect brand image.

Last September, the ‘big four’ came under fire by the National Consumer Council for their lack of Green credentials. Among those singled out was Morrisons. At the same time, the Competition Commission launched an investigation into how supermarkets are using their power to force suppliers into selling their goods at the lowest price possible, while reports last year found evidence of animal cruelty among meat and poultry suppliers to supermarkets.

Thompson points out that Morrisons, with its vertically integrated system – its own abattoirs, bakeries and packing factories – is in control of its supply chain. It is a key point of the business – and the brand – that could ‘allow it to deliver better quality or to get past these issues’, he says.

Despite opposition to the dominance of food retailers, the sector is still dynamic. Thompson says increased competition can only be a good thing for design. Murray agrees. ‘The Morrisons rebrand will fuel competition and the result of that is better branding, product innovation and quality,’ he says.

Murray observes that while supermarket brands are some of the most powerful in the UK, they still lack consistency, originality and design innovation. ‘With the exception of Waitrose, there is no consistency of branding, especially in areas like packaging. There have been pockets of inventiveness for Tesco and Sainsbury’s – with their organic ranges – but nothing that’s ongoing. The challenge is how to be more inventive with the things that give a brand meaning like the packaging, the services and the store environment,’ he says.

Murray and Thompson agree that the more dynamism there is in the supermarket sector, the more investment there will be as design is used as a tool of change and distinction. We can only wait and see how Morrisons will take this.


SUPERMARKET DESIGN ROSTERS
• Tesco – logo designed by RPA Europe in 1994. Twelve-strong packaging roster includes Coley Porter Bell, Haines McGregor, Astound and Pemberton Whitefoord
• Asda – in-house design team with roster overseen by design manager Tim Lamper, store design by Brian Rutherford
• Sainsbury’s – current visual brand language devised by 20/20 in 1999. Design roster consists of BR&Me, Fab Design, Parker Williams, Ziggurat and Paul Cartwright Branding
• Morrisons – in the process of appointing brand design groups

UK SUPERMARKET SHARE
Tesco 31.3%
Asda 16.9%
Sainsbury’s 16.5%
Morrisons 11.1%
Co-op 4.7%
Waitrose 4.0%
Somerfield 3.6%
Aldi 2.4%
Lidl 2.1%
Iceland 1.8%

Source: TNS February 2007

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