Why the trend for supermarket value range overhauls?

This week Marks & Spencer relaunched its Simply M&S value range , a line of everyday food and groceries, designed initially with Landor and taken in-house by the Marks & Spencer design team.

Simply M and S
Simply M&S

This is the latest in a number of recent value-line overhauls from retailers, including Tesco and Morrisons, and at a time of recession and austerity, it’s no surprise that retailers are keen to capitalise on their economic credentials.

However, a Mintel report from March this year highlights the battle supermarkets still face to persuade consumers to opt for their value ranges. The report states that ‘Value own-label products remain the least widely used among adults…although growth looks likely in the segment in 2012 with nearly one in three expecting to either increase their usage of such products or consider buying them for the first time’.

Thus, the competition between supermarkets to persuade customers to choose their value lines over their competitors’ is fierce.

However, JKR chief executive Andy Knowles sees the recent surge in value-range rebrands as not simply a reaction to the households feeling the pinch of the recession – or just a drive for supermarkets to compete in a lucrative market that looks set to boom, if statistics are to be believed.

Instead, he sees it more as a ‘domino effect’ following Waitrose Essentials launch in 2008, for which JKR worked on initial strategy before the designs were taken in-house by the supermarket’s design team.

Knowles says, ‘The problem with supermarkets is that they’re terrible for following each other. They’re a bit like farmers – the grass is always greener on the other side.’

According to Knowles, the Waitrose Essentials range was borne from the retailer’s desire to quash perceptions that it only catered for affluent consumers, and was no place for families to buy their entire weekly shop.

As with the recent Morrisons and Tesco redesigns, the line used individual illustrations and carefully created packs for individual items.

Waitrose Essentials
Waitrose Essentials

Ruth Gavin, manager graphic design, packaging, Waitrose, said at the time , ‘The design attention given to each pack and product area was a crucial factor in defining the brand image and maintaining consistency without being tied into a rigid approach.’

What’s interesting about all of these packaging overhauls is the marked departure from ranges that ‘look like values ranges’ – sparse rather uninviting designs – towards creating something that while still simple, is engaging and enticing.

Last year Coley Porter Bell redesigned the M Savers Morrisons value range, as part of its overhaul of the entire Morrisons own-brand product range.

M Savers jam
M Savers jam

The new bright designs feature bold, colourful icons on each of the products, with hand-crafted naivist-style illustrations against a white background. Coley Porter Bell also created a bespoke typeface for the product descriptions shown within each of the illustrations.

While the new designs have undoubtedly received a largely positive reception, Knowles believes that by highlighting their value range, the supermarket may in fact be negating its core values as a retailer that inherently offers low prices.

He says, ‘Why do Morrisons need to offer a value tier? Either they’ve lost sight of their core proposition or that’s changed. They’re trying to be great value and great quality, which is a difficult line to tread, but they seem to be getting away with it.’

M Savers tuna
M Savers tuna

Perhaps one of the most noticeable shifts from bland ‘economy’ design to a carefully constructed new packaging focus is the new Tesco value range, which launched in April. Now renamed Everyday Value this subtle addition to its title underscores the focus on products being ‘everyday’ and ‘normal’ rather than simply a cost-cutting measure to be hidden discreetly at the bottom of the trolley.

Tesco Everyday Value range
Tesco Everyday Value range

Consultancy Rocket designed the new packaging, which ditched the former blue and white striped branding, also created by Rocket in 1993, in favour of a more colourful look. The new designs aim to add warmth with a cream background and new series of icons to add individuality to each of the products.

Rocket creative director Marc Seviour says, ‘The original blue-and-white stripes took their influence from the Tesco carrier bags, but recently there had been a lot of customer feedback that it looked cold and unemotional. It’s a basic range but there’s no need for it to look basic.’

Knowles feels that the redesign is partly a response to the recent drop in Tesco market share and profitability, as well as following the lead of Waitrose. ‘When times are tough the tough get going. When you’re losing market share and profit you need to do something to fix it may bring them shoppers back’, he says.

‘The new range certainly looks more attractive than the old one. There’s a humanity with the hand crafting and quality cues. If it feels like someone’s considered the quality better but at the same value price, and people will migrate down to it.’

So while the recession and the constant talk of austerity are an obvious driver for supermarkets to highlight their value ranges and make them as appealing as possible, it seems this isn’t the only driver behind the recent glut of value line redesigns. According to Knowles, it’s a copycat reaction – and one that the lower price supermarkets are taking a risk in prioritising over their quality ranges.

In times of austerity, he feels, people are keener than every to indulge in smaller pleasures as a tiny form of escapism. ‘People are bored of austerity Britain’, he says. ‘Small indulgences with food are affordable in tough times – people are looking for a relief from the tedium and drudgery.

‘People are concerned with price but that’s not their only concern – the question we’ve got to ask is if simply replicating Waitrose Essentials is the way forward.’

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  • Nick Verebelyi November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Its a bit tedious for Andy Knowles to be repeatedly quoted paying homage to his own agency’s work on Waitrose Essentials.

  • Stephen Bell November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Interesting thoughts. As for the design and launch of Morrisons’ Savers range, it is one part of the whole rebranding of Morrisons’ own label offer that Coley Porter Bell are working on and is part of a strategy to fundamentally shift peoples perceptions of the Morrisons brand overall and to more clearly communicate the companies vertical integration and fantastic food credentials. Clearly a great place to start that is with their value range but it doesn’t end there.

    Since M Savers was launched in January, sales have increased by 48% and that is without cannibalising sales of other ranges. Anecdotally, it is helping to shift perceptions and creating reappraisal of the Morrisons brand, so I would call that a design success.

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