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Sunflower Gains Expanded Rights to Name

Sunflower Gains Expanded Rights to Name

The lexicon of health and wellness is deeply descriptive, but pretty limited. I can’t describe the number of times I’ve referred to the thesaurus, looking for synonyms for words like natural, green, health, wellness, sustainable, and so on. Words are the building blocks of any story, so repetition makes for dull reading.

sun_logo.jpgThe food industry faces the same challenges. Operating within the silo of whole health terminology requires creativity and imagery, but also accuracy and integrity. There’s keen competition for key words, phrases and slogans that are universally understood by conventional consumers. Companies vie for them across all channels and segments, from product names to store names.

So, the folks at Mike Gilliland’s Sunflower Farmers Markets were ecstatic when they announced this week that they were able to acquire greatly expanded rights to the Sunflower name from Supervalu. Until now, a previous agreement between the two retailers confined Sunflower’s use of the name to only five states.

Why was that? Well, you may recall that Supervalu operated five Sunflower Markets between 2006 and 2008, before deciding the concept didn’t work as a stand-alone format. The stores in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana closed in Feb. 2008 — though Supervalu retained rights to the name. In starting up his new concept, Gilliland got Supervalu to grant him partial rights to the moniker.

Sunflower. Now there’s a word evocative of clean summer days, bucolic fields and sunny outlooks. As a marquee name, it conveys a powerful image of health, wellness and nature… and therefore is an extremely valuable statement.

“It’s pretty big — there were a lot of restrictions when we were leasing the Sunflower name from Supervalu,” Chris Sherrell, Sunflower’s president and chief, told my SN colleague, Mark Hamstra. “There really were a ton of branding things that we could not do because of the lease agreement.”

Watch for some changes. The URL on the company’s website,, will become the full (and much more intuitive) Three stores in Texas — which had to be called Newflower Farmers Markets under the old agreement — will become Sunflower Farmers Markets. Private label will also be updated to reflect the expanded rights. Gone will be odd-looking, nameless packages with the sunflower image and only the retailer’s slogan, “Serious food, silly prices.”

“We are going to start using the name in whatever ways possible,” Sherrell said.

The timing couldn’t be better for Sunflower, which has steadily been opening stores throughout the Mid- and Southwest, as well as the West Coast. There are currently 32 stores in six states, and expansion plans call for a big push into California, with the company’s first store in that state scheduled to open in March in Roseville, north of Sacramento.

So, what’s in a name? For Sunflower, a lot. Sherrill told Hamstra that “early on we didn’t think about the big picture quite enough.”

Supervalu isn't giving up the name entirely. According to a spokesman, the retailer will retain rights to the Sunflower name in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, "to enable our independent grocers who we service to continue to operate under the SUNFLOWER name in these states."

[Logo courtesy of Sunflower Farmers Markets]