A Tale of Two Brands
During the past year, I received many calls and emails from National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) member stores asking how they should integrate the Co-op Advantage brand with their existing store brands. This is an excellent question, and a good way to answer it is to look at how two co-ops are handling this issue.
Before we delve into the case studies, let’s first revisit the history of the Co-op Advantage brand and the supporting elements that are available to NCGA members.
Co-op Advantage Program
The Co-op Advantage logo was originally tied to the CAP (Co-op Advantage Program) specials flyer, which was initiated in 1999 by the former Midwest Cooperative Grocers Association. CAP specials started as a one-color flyer with 15 to 20 products printed on both sides of a letter-size sheet of paper. Within a few years, the flyer was printed in full color and distributed nationally. It was really the first visual piece to connect co-ops across the country.
The CAP flyer and logo were evaluated as part of a consumer study managed by NCGA. In 2002 and 2003, the association conducted research to explore the core, mid-level, and periphery wellness shopper model1 as it relates to food co-ops and then hired a design firm to develop branded materials in alignment with our target demographic profile. This work provided the foundation to develop the “Co-op Advantage” from a logo on a flyer to a comprehensive brand identity.
Doing this presented a unique marketing challenge: how to develop a robust Co-op Advantage brand that would not compete with existing store brands. “The Co-op Advantage brand had to be complementary to a wide variety of existing store identities,” commented Robynn Shrader, CEO of the NCGA, “so the brand advisory group coined the term ‘support brand’ as a way to communicate its purpose.” She added, “The brand needed to be clear and specific so it could be easily used by the co-ops.”
The next task of the association was to develop the supporting elements of the Co-op Advantage brand that would make it a flexible and adaptable tool for every member co-op to use. The brand advisory team worked closely with a brand consultant, design firm, and a writer to drill down to the minute details of the brand—how it should look, how we should talk about it, how it should be used. These elements, also known as “assets,” became the brand architecture, the logo and color palettes, and the messaging system.
With the assets in place, the association and its members had the tools needed to integrate the Co-op Advantage brand identity into new and existing touch points. The Co-op Advantage visual identity and messaging system can be seen in various NCGA-produced items such as packaging, food brochures, specials flyers, coupon books, food guides, posters, and shelf signs.
Let’s see how two stores are integrating the Co-op Advantage brand into their marketing materials and in-store experience while maintaining their own unique store brands.
Valley Natural Foods: Burnsville, Minn.
When Charli Mills joined Valley Natural Foods five years ago as its marketing manager, the co-op was just six months away from opening in its new location. Mills was handed a golden opportunity—to develop a cohesive brand identity.
For the relocation, Valley Natural Foods management partnered with RetailWorks to create a new visual system that would define a specific brand experience (a Northwoods theme) that beckons the adventurous spirit in shoppers. Messages about “exploring” and “experience” filled the store. Aisles were called “trails,” and design elements included birch accents and evergreen trees. When designers from RetailWorks proposed a font for the trail signs, Mills recognized its uniqueness. The Mordred font became the co-op’s new logo. The store’s color palette used hues of sage-green, rust, and butter-yellow. Mills adapted the Valley Natural Foods member newsletter to reflect the messages and design elements found in-store.
When the recently updated Co-op Advantage brand assets were made available to association members, Charli reviewed them and determined which elements would aesthetically complement her co-op’s brand. She already had a user friendly signage program in place—a sign for member specials, for CAP specials, and for storewide specials—so it was just a matter of integrating the new Co-op Advantage assets.
“I was already following the CAP shelf sign layout, and it seemed to work for promoting our storewide specials too, which we identify by using our store logo. As far as the color and font palette goes, we selected a few colors from the Co-op Advantage brand guide that complement our colors, and we chose to use the Co-op Advantage ‘Whitman’ font for body copy,” said Mills. Now the signs for CAP specials and storewide specials share a similar look.
Mills conducts quarterly brand audits with her peers and store staff. The audit also includes a review of Co-op Advantage materials. “Our first brand audit revealed that our shelf signs were really getting out of hand. They would be exposed to water, have layers of tape on them and be hand-written,” she said. Mills created a visual display to demonstrate to management what the customer sees. “I put bad examples on one side and good examples on the other. It became obvious which side of signs gave the right impression to our customers.” Mills continued, “We are currently working on initiatives to further empower staff to monitor store signs and help create a clean and consistent shopping experience.”
Mills has integrated the Co-op Advantage brand in other ways. When you walk into Valley Natural Foods today, it has virtually the same look and feel it did five years ago, but you will find Co-op Advantage signs, bags, deli containers, soup and coffee cups throughout the space. These components appear thoughtfully integrated with the store brand. “The association has made it simple for me to pick and choose what works best in our store. It’s like a modular program. At the same time, I realize the benefit lies in using as many Co-op Advantage branded materials as possible because it helps connect us to other members—especially with nearby co-ops.”
Neighborhood Co-op Grocery: Carbondale, Ill.
Last year, Neighborhood Co-op Grocery announced that it would be closing its current location to open a new and expanded store in another part of town. Lisa Smith, brand development manager, saw this as a great opportunity to use the Co-op Advantage brand assets.
“Why reinvent the wheel?” she asked. “I went back and reviewed all of the training materials—the branding kit, past CCMA trainings, and the Marketing Matters conference materials—to help me reconnect with what it really means to brand. And as I slowly uncovered all the CAP brand resources, I was able to begin integrating them into our new store plans.”
The previous co-op location had many limitations due to its smaller size. “We did not have the space to use all of the Co-op Advantage materials. We did not offer a number of CAP products, and our discount and signage program seemed to create some confusion for shoppers,” commented Smith.
Opening a new store meant starting everything from scratch, and Smith needed help with decision making. “We used the Co-op Advantage brand as a compass for making challenging decisions: choosing light fixtures, colors, signage, everything. I heavily relied on the Co-op Advantage color palette, too. It drove a number of decisions.” Smith continued, “We overhauled our in-store signs. I took all of the signs and put them on a board and identified one consistent element that they needed to have. I used the Co-op Advantage colors as a guide for creating new aisle directories, banners, and shelf signs.”
The new location is double the size of the old store and features a larger deli and an eating area. “Our expanded size allows us to offer and do so much more than in our previous store. We are now participating in the CAP sampling program and using the flyers, coupon books, and food brochures. We want to take advantage of whatever branded materials NCGA has to offer, and treat the Co-op Advantage as a unifying theme rather than using bits and pieces of it,” said Smith.
Smith said she could not imagine heading into the relocation process without the training materials and Co-op Advantage materials. “Co-ops have so many things in common, and if we all use the tools that NCGA provides we would not only save time and money, we could all collectively demonstrate what makes co-ops great places to shop.”