Pigeon and Metro perk up their design challenge

Students from George Brown and College Salette will help give the grocer new insight into a category ripe for redesign.


Last year, Metro and Pigeon announced their inaugural student design competition centred around private label kombucha, and now it’s challenging students with a different beverage category: coffee.

Students have been tasked with designing two coffee products that will fit within Metro’s Irresistibles private label brand. The pandemic means the competition will be done virtually this time around, but there are other changes too.

Design students will be put through their paces with a Dragons’ Den-style pitch to determine if they properly understand the coffee category, the brief, the consumer and how they can best translate Metro’s design needs in a way that really connects with consumers. They will also be judged on supplementary materials relating to point-of-sale, shopper marketing, TSAs and social media.

This year, the student design contest is being integrated into curriculum at George Brown College – replacing OCAD as the Toronto-based academic partner – and Montreal’s Collège Salette, with 80 cohort students expected to participate.

The winning designers will land a paid internship Pigeon’s offices in Toronto or Montréal, in addition to recognition for outstanding work in design. The second-place prize is a $1,000 Metro gift card, as well as a “Student’s Choice Award” voted on by the respective student bodies. The judging panel will include experts from Pigeon, Metro, the participating schools and Christopher Durham, president of My Private Brand and co-founder of the Vertex Awards.

“We always think about design within the 360-degree purchasing environment,” says Christina Essue, an artist and creative strategist at Pigeon, of the kind of thinking it is hoping students will bring to the competition. “We think about it on physical shelves, and especially now on digital shelves when it’s a thumbnail on Amazon or Walmart.”

For the competition, it is all about thinking how you story-tell beyond pack, Essue says, whether it’s recipe ideas or something else to increase purchase appeal beyond a pretty picture.

If a design is outstanding enough for Metro to adapt it, there is a compensation model built in, but the main objective is connecting the design community with the grocery player. Likewise, Bob Boutilier, CD at Pigeon, says that beyond giving students a real-world exercise and access to the agency, Pigeon in turn can access a large pool of new talent. Both Essue and Boutilier point out that BIPOC and women are amply represented in senior positions of leadership at Pigeon, which they hope will inspire a diverse pool of students to submit.

The last competition was focused on kombucha, an on-trend category Metro was looking to tap into. But Boutilier says this year’s competition will help provide some unique insights about ground coffee from a younger demo, and help inform how Metro approaches its Irresistibles private label.

“The category was up for redesign anyway, and Metro thought it’d be a wonderful opportunity to get the insights from a core that does not normally shop this aisle,” says

The winners will be announced by the end of the year, with an award ceremony at each school celebrating the quality of their work.