One & Only

Unico retools, launches new brandSince April, Italian food lovers will have noticed that, after 20 years with the same packaging graphics, Unico brand products have begun sporting redesigned labels.But what they probably do not know is that, since undergoing an ownership...

Unico retools, launches new brand

Since April, Italian food lovers will have noticed that, after 20 years with the same packaging graphics, Unico brand products have begun sporting redesigned labels.

But what they probably do not know is that, since undergoing an ownership change 15 months ago, Woodbridge, Ont.-based Unico has experienced a dramatic management retooling and is in the midst of launching a major new brand.

Unico produces 160 products across 20 categories, including pasta, pasta sauces, cooking oils, canned tomatoes and canned beans.

Owned since 1985 by Montreal-based Culinar, Unico was bought in 1992 by Ron Habijanac, with financial backing from private investors.

A 20-year veteran of the marketing industry, Habijanac, who serves as Unico’s president and chief executive officer, spent eight years with Procter & Gamble in Canada and 12 years with Jacob Suchard, variously in Canada, Europe and the u.s.

Under Habijanac’s entrepreneurial stewardship, the company has pared down its marketing department to a single executive, Keith Chapin, vice-president of marketing, and established relationships with key suppliers that carry out most of the marketing tasks Unico once handled in-house.

According to Chapin, who has headed Unico’s marketing for the past five years, Unico now runs a kind of ‘virtual marketing department.’

Chapin says that when it was a Culinar division, the company operated as a typical packaged goods firm with a well-staffed marketing department and a slow reaction time to opportunities in the market.

But he says the attitude is much different now.

‘We’ve gone to agencies and supplier groups that give us senior-level service,’ says Chapin, adding ‘we don’t need the problems of a large agency and we don’t need to deal with intermediary brokers.’

Among the company’s primary suppliers are Checkmate Marketing of Toronto, which handles product advertising and mca of Woodbridge, which handles in-store merchandising.

Savage Sloan Design is responsible for all label and packaging design.

Perhaps, the best evidence of Unico’s new style of doing business is label redesign of its Unico brand products.

Chapin says he, and others before him, tried to convince Culinar the brand’s graphics were tired and out of date, but upper management, while in agreement, could not seem to find the budget to proceed.

In contrast, Habijanac not only quickly gave the green light to the redesign, he also agreed to the ambitious launch of a new premium-quality brand extension, Unico One & Only.

The genesis of One & Only was a product segmentation study conducted by Savage Sloan in 1992 on the Unico brand.

The study recommended that Unico, which is positioned as a commodity-level brand of Italian food products, launch a premium brand so it could compete in market segments dominated by value-added brands.

In April, the company rolled out its first One & Only products, a line of salad dressing, followed a few months later by two flavors of pasta sauce and two flavors of salsas.

Chapin says his business plan calls for the launch of another 10 to 15 One & Only products over the next 18 months, adding the One & Only products generate ‘nearly double the margins’ of standard Unico brands.