Sobeys takes a fresh approach

Retail guru John Torella and design maven Scott Friedmann weigh in on whether Sobeys’ new retail concept is as fresh as its name would imply.

The name says it all: FreshCo illustrates Sobeys’ agenda for retooling its Price Chopper discount grocery chain.
Designed by Rethink in Vancouver with retail consultation provided by Toronto-based Durnan Jackman Saffer, Sobeys’ newest format is positioned around value rather than price, aiming to provide Ontarians with an experience that’s the antithesis of Price Chopper. It defies discount banner conventions, featuring a bright, clean, modern look – from signage to staff uniforms – plus a focus on fresh local fare, a broad ethnic offering and more choice. Pulling no punches, its tagline, “Fresher. Cheaper,” indicates it’s still a discount grocer.
“We aimed to create a discount store with no trade-off,” says Lisa Nakamura, associate CD, Rethink. “We knew we had to choose an identity that was really ownable for them.”
The colour palette includes bright green (representing freshness), black (to make it pop) and white. High-contrast black and white food photography adorns walls, gift cards and bags to convey value, but also a premium feel.
FreshCo has a minimalist interior designed to control traffic flow much like Ikea does, directing shoppers through the produce, bakery, meat and ethnic aisles before
they can reach other areas.
We asked retail guru John Torella, senior partner at Toronto’s  J.C. Williams Group, and design maven Scott Friedmann, executive VP, innovation and design at Toronto-based Idea Couture, to tell us whether or not Sobeys’ new approach is as fresh as its name would imply.

The look
Friedmann: The FreshCo look itself is modern and minimal, if not upscale, with the playful green adding some friendliness to the epicurean feel of the black and white font and photos. It’s hardly a new visual approach in the world of food and beverage, but definitely welcome in this market. Finally, good taste and good price are not mutually exclusive.
Torella:  The contemporary name and logo design is simple but uses impactful colours. The photography, graphics and staff dress all support the brand positioning. The brand promise of large selection, good quality and refreshing environment all come together to produce a store look and feel that is not typical of the discount food/grocery category.

The feel
Friedmann: It’s not unusual across Canada to hear people say they avoid certain value grocers simply because they can’t stand the chaotic and unpleasant environments. With its clean, mapped-out interior and a larger proportion of space dedicated to fresh items, FreshCo is setting itself up for a consumer experience win relative to those other bargain grocers. The brand identity does not necessarily reflect FreshCo’s enhanced multinational food offerings, but it wisely focuses on reflecting the brand’s core values first: marrying experience, style and affordability.
Torella:  Trying to achieve a unique grocery brand in the hyper-competitive Ontario marketplace is a daunting challenge. Pulling together and integrating everything from the name/logo to the store look and feel, product assortment and merchandising, staffing and communications have been done with impact and style.

So fresh it’s cool?
Friedmann: While the idea of modern affordability is a decidedly differentiated positioning, the FreshCo brand may come up just a bit short in meeting the full opportunity. Firstly, I wonder whether consumers might confuse the new grocery offering’s label with a successful “cheap chic” spinoff from one of Sobeys’ core competitors – Joe Fresh.  Secondly, I wonder how ownable the concept of freshness is in an environment that is increasingly littered with names like Freshii, Fresh, Fresh & Wild, FreshDirect and so on.
Torella:  Execution is key to retail branding effectiveness. The challenge of delivering “Fresher. Cheaper” will depend on focus, intensity and consistency. The product selection of AAA meats, seasonal Ontario fruits and vegetables and locally baked goods tailored to the store trade area all at low, cheaper prices will be the test of success.

The creds
advertiser FreshCo; agency Rethink; CDs Ian Grais, Chris Staples; writer Katie Ainsworth;
designers Lisa Nakamura, Jeff Harrison; producers Ninette Aves, Jennifer Goos; photographers Clinton Hussey, Kevin Clark; studio artists/typographers Jonathon Cesar, Tom Pettapiece, Richard Parkes; account services Patsy Gannon, Allison Abernethy; client supervisor Linda Young-Blendick