Sobeys launches its largest-ever private label campaign for Compliments

The company is pulling out all the stops to support a key pillar of its new transformation plan.

compliments1In its September investors call, Empire CEO Michael Medline announced that its private label penetration was growing faster than the industry, amplified by pandemic-driven value-seekers. That echoed statements the company made in the summer when it launched Project Horizon, its new transformation plan that had further growing its private label portfolio as one of its key pillars.

The grocery retailer, Canada’s second-largest, said it improved its private brands’ positioning and branding, “reviewing the specific role of private brands in each category and determine in which categories and banners to expand based on consumer needs.”

A lot of the focus from external analysts and investors when it comes to private label has been on Farm Boy, the retailer Empire acquired in 2018 along with its much-loved private label. But internally, Empire is also giving a major boost to its Compliments brand, which includes what Sandra Sanderson, SVP of marketing for Sobeys, calls the “largest private label marketing campaign in our company’s history.”

Sanderson tells strategy that this includes a fully integrated campaign with TV spots, online videos and digital billboards situated near its stores, but also 100 new Compliments tractor trailers on the road that are acting as moving billboards as they make deliveries. A completely revamped site and a lifestyle-focused influencer and PR media strategy further extend the house brand reach.

“What we wanted to do with that is to reposition the brand in the minds of consumers as being the equivalent quality to national brands, but offered at a better price point,” Sanderson says. All creative utilizes the tagline “we all deserve Compliments,” a message that conveys the brand as a higher-quality choice at a price point consumers can treat themselves to.

In addition to being available at Empire banners such as Sobeys, FreshCo, Foodland, Thrifty, and Safeway, it is also available through the new Voilà grocery delivery service, which has been busily giving out free samples of products ranging from orange juice to burger patties.

We figure that’s a great way to create awareness of Compliments and also to deliver value to customers who are trying out Voilà  for the first time,” Sanderson says. Farm Boy is also available on Voilà , and Medline said in the September investors call that there have been active and collaborative conversations between the Farm Boy and Sobeys private label teams – which have been “moved into a higher gear” and formalized recently – with Farm Boy benefiting from Empire’s scale and brands like Compliments benefiting from Farm Boy’s experience and track record of success.

The Compliments brand relaunch includes a new look, with bold colours and graphics to stand out on shelf and a large prominent “C” that, Sanderson says, represents “compliments” but also “community” and “Canada,” its two key organizational values. There’s also prominent in-store signage and displays, amplified by employee Compliments t-shirts (the OOH, Sanderson says, is meant just as much for customers as it is for associates to instill pride).



Sanderson adds that innovation is a very important part of building out its brands, and customers can expect to see new products coming out on a regular basis; the company is currently continuing a category-by-category review to determine where the biggest opportunities and consumer demand in private label exist.

According to the latest insights from experiential agency Momentum, 65% of consumers report they have bought more private label since the beginning of the pandemic with 85% agreeing they are satisfied with the quality of the less-expensive brands. Private label coffee brands, in particular, are a category reporting strong growth. 

For the campaign, BBDO is the creative agency and UM handled the media buy.