INITIATIVE 4:Build a Brand

Supermarkets have long been the purveyors of others' brands, but some now see the opportunity to become more like brands themselves. The success of chains like Whole Foods, which had a strong brand image in the minds of consumers as a purveyor of high-quality, healthful foods, and Wal-Mart, which also has brand-like attributes associated with its banner based on its low prices, have left traditional

Supermarkets have long been the purveyors of others' brands, but some now see the opportunity to become more like brands themselves.

The success of chains like Whole Foods, which had a strong brand image in the minds of consumers as a purveyor of high-quality, healthful foods, and Wal-Mart, which also has brand-like attributes associated with its banner based on its low prices, have left traditional food retailers trying to stake out some space for themselves somewhere in between.

Successful branding generally requires focusing on some core attribute and leveraging it to build an emotional connection with customers, branding experts said. The challenge, one supermarket executive told SN, is that supermarkets have to define themselves in a way that does not alienate more than a small percentage of the consumers in its marketing area.

“A brand has to stand for something,” said Laura Ries, president of Atlanta-based brand consulting firm Ries & Ries. “Supermarkets have tried to be a little bit of everything — but to be a brand, you have to sacrifice something.”

She said supermarkets have been “late to the game” in retail branding.

Some supermarkets are seeking to evolve into something more akin to a CPG brand, however, by leveraging not only their own store brands but their convenience and neighborhood presence as a stepping-stone to creating a stronger bond with consumers.

Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion, for example, has been on a mission to define its various retail banners around specific brand attributes.

“Historically, CPGs have had tremendous emotional relationships through their brands with consumers, and I think we are seeing retailers creating brands — that is, creating deep emotional relationships with consumers,” Mike Haaf, senior vice president of sales, marketing and business strategy at Food Lion, told SN earlier this year. “We are very focused on creating brands — Bloom, Bottom Dollar, Food Lion, Harvey's — each of these business models was designed around particular brand attributes.

“What's happening here is a fundamental shift, in that we are beginning to think first of the consumer, and then see what the impact should be, whether it be products, whether it be store formats, whether it be services, whether it be training,” he said.