SOBEYS’ VP OF BRAND MARKETING ON WORKING WITH JAMIE OLIVER AND MANAGING A CHANGING BRAND
Text by Theresa Rogers
In August, Sobeys announced a partnership with world-renowned chef and healthy eating advocate Jamie Oliver. The nationwide grocer says it wants to educate, inspire and empower Canadians to eat better. We wanted to know more so Canadian Food Insights spoke with Gillian Kerr, VP of Brand Marketing at Sobeys.
Why is Sobeys embarking on this partnership with Jamie Oliver?
As you know, Sobeys has launched a new brand positioning which is summarized with our new tagline, “Better food for all.” It’s about a mission, a journey that we’re beginning to bring better food to Canadians. We see what Canadian consumers want in terms of better food basically in four areas: a demand for fresh, quality food. Second, desire for sustainable food products. Third, a desire for healthy and wholesome products, and fourth, ways to save time and cook with ease. Many Canadians are managing special diets due to a medical condition or their own diet due to some of their food choices, and they want stores and food sources that can help support that and they want all of that and they don’t have a lot of time to do it so finding solutions that are fast and quick and easy. We see better food as certainly being wholesome and you can see that through those four areas.
As well, we know that Canadians have a great passion for food. It’s about enjoying food so when we looked for how we wanted to communicate this, we were looking for someone who was aligned with that viewpoint and the values that we had with the better food for all platform. That’s why Jamie Oliver was kind of a natural for us. He is interested in sustainable food products. He is interested in food that is healthy and wholesome, food without a lot of preservatives or additives or even overly processed but of course, he’s definitely interested in food that tastes great and new ideas. He’s passionate when he talks about food and he also knows that consumers need tools and tips and recipes that can deliver that quickly as well. He’s very much aligned with the way we see better food and it made him a great fit for us.
I know you’ve just introduced the partnership. The tools and tips and recipes will be forthcoming?
Yes, well the first area he helped us with was in the area of sustainability and I would say the main areas that he’s helping us with are sustainable products and the advancement of cooking skills. I invite you to go to sobeys.com to see how his team has teamed up with Sobeys’ team and together have been able to bring the offer of Certified Humane chicken, beef and poultry. We’ve been told by the Certified Humane people that we are the first North American retailer to do this. We’ve been working on this with Jamie’s team since last January in order to understand what a good protocol would be. They helped us partner with the Certified Humane group and together, find producers who were raising food according to these standards. We’re very pleased to launch this product offering and our customers have really appreciated it and have told us that through the sales of product as well as other commentary.
Does it matter that he’s not Canadian?
We certainly asked ourselves that question. We wanted somebody who was aligned to our values and had the ability to tell our story. We were looking for a good communicator. We researched 10 chefs that were from the Food Network. There were three British chefs, three Canadian chefs and four American chefs and he was number one in terms of general likability and number one in terms of alignment to the values that we were aspiring to and certainly top three in awareness.
Who were they rated by? Did you go out to consumers?
Yes, it was a consumer panel and it was all across Canada and it was interestingly, pretty even across Canada and pretty even male and female.
How long was that process of research and selection?
We’ve been working on this for about a year.
I saw the Jamie Oliver commercials a few times right after your initial announcement and haven’t seen them since. What is the process of relaunching a brand?
It’s incremental and you will see that spot again. It certainly will be in rotation but it’s really to do the job of announcing our mission and announcing our partnership. This holiday you’ll see a new message about a different product offer and Jamie will be the spokesperson for Sobeys on that. So to answer your question, we’re announcing the partnership and the first proof point to bring better food to Canadians was the Certified Humane offer. We also had many other product launches around that: artisan breads and produce programs. It’s really about new product programs, new store services, new seasonal tips, recipes, information, and it’s about rolling out the pieces of the offer as they are relevant to customers in a seasonal timeframe.
How are you making consumers aware of this offering and this program? Are you focusing on customers that you already have or are you looking to acquire new customers and how are you reaching them?
Television is an awareness medium. We want the marketplace at large to be aware of how Sobeys has changed. Of course, supermarkets use flyers so some of the details of our offer are there. We have a new insert called Better Food News where we’re talking more specifically about some of the products aligned to the better food for all platform so there’s more information there about Certified Humane and some of the produce items like our Ripe and Ready Avocadoes, tomatoes that have a range of sweetness, a potato by usage program where you can choose the potato by your usage needs – boil, baking, roasting, etc. We’ve also relaunched our website so there’s a lot more product information on there than there was on the last iteration of our website.
The reason that I ask is my local Sobeys closed recently. If I didn’t see your press release or commercial, I would never have known.
[Supermarkets are] a local business. Obviously we’re not going to serve every local community but we chose television because there are certainly enough Canadians and enough Sobeys and we wanted them to be aware of our message.
Where will Safeway fit into this new brand and how will that transition be managed?
That’s not part of the platform today and as the final deal is yet to be completed it’s something that I won’t be commenting on.
You mentioned the humane chicken, beef and pork. There are other stores that have similar programs around seafood, etc. How do you differentiate yourself from these other companies?
We have a Certified Humane certification which is a third-party certification that assures the customer that the brands that we have brought into our stores under this certification have been approved by a third party. It’s right on the label for customers to see… We’re the only North American retailer to offer this in all three proteins: chicken, beef and pork and that is a differentiator. Nobody else is doing that.
There’s a lot of competition coming to the marketplace through various acquisitions, the arrival of Target, etc. How does all this competition affect your brand?
It’s only pushed us. We have to be competitive so we have to find ways that we can differentiate. Even prior to the association with Jamie, we’ve been doing research to understand what Canadians want from their food sources and we know there is a desire for better food amongst Canadians. They want better sources, they want less processed food but they want it all to be easy, affordable and convenient to them and quickly accessible. That is the space where we’re going to go and based on our research, what we want to offer customers.
Is there anything else you want to mention?
You asked how a brand is changed. It really is one proof point at a time. And just like anybody who’s making changes, it takes a while for a business to make changes and we understand that our customers have different needs and everyone is at a different point on their better food journey. While some people are changing cookies for apples, other people want to eat organic every day and you have to meet both those consumers where they are. All this to say, we want to be a retailer of choice. We’re not going to transform our business overnight but bit by bit, offer by offer, we want to offer Canadians more in the way of better food.