The finer things

Late last year, Tesco relaunched its 1,500-strong finest range, which had undergone a complete redesign for the first time in its 15-year history. With intense competition in the premium products sector, Packaging and Converting Intelligence explores how labelling can be used to improve perceptions of quality and boost customer engagement with the product.

In years gone by, supermarket-own brands were a byword for budget shopping. Determinedly unshowy, they tended to blend into the background while other brands clamoured for attention.

This situation is no more; over the last decade, a quiet revolution has taken place on the supermarket shelves. Particularly in the UK, which has one of the most mature own-label markets in the world, own-brand goods have shed their lacklustre image to become desirable purchases in their own right.

Enter any major supermarket today, and you will be confronted with not just one own-brand line, but several, each occupying a discrete position on the pricing spectrum. There are the economy lines such as Sainsbury’s Basics, which explicitly target the most price-conscious consumers. There are the mid-range options like “by Sainsbury’s”, and others which are billed as healthy choices. And then there are lines like Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference, which attempt to carve their niche in the premium tier.

Perhaps surprisingly, this premium end is growing more competitive. In a climate of tightened purse strings, we have witnessed the so-called democratisation of luxury, whereby price-sensitive consumers will attempt to treat themselves in small ways. For instance, they might stick with the economy range for their basics, but splash out on quilted toilet paper or expensive chocolate. The UK’s “big four” supermarkets –Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s – are keen to cash in on this fast-emerging consumer group.

In late 2013, Tesco rolled out of one of its biggest rebrands in history. Its 1,500-strong finest range (formerly Finest) had been overhauled in its entirety; around three quarters of the products were new or reformulated, and all had been repackaged.

According to analysts, the relaunch came at a pivotal time – while the finest range was worth some £1.4 billion a year in sales, Tesco had been losing share to Waitrose, M&S and even Sainsbury’s at the premium end of the spectrum. It seemed that its 15-year-old flagship line was flagging.

Tesco denied that the move was a direct attempt to claw back share from rivals.

As explained by Chris Bush, UK managing director, at the official relaunch: “This isn’t about taking on Waitrose. This is us continuing our journey of improving our food offer that started last year with the relaunch of Everyday Value”. He stressed that the supermarket not only hoped to achieve double-digit sales increases, but also to deliver “the best product on the market”.

Whatever the intention, the makeover was impressive in scope. Rather than simply rejigging the recipes, it was clear that Tesco wished to radically alter perceptions of quality. In-store communications were revised, and the range entered into a lucrative sponsorship deal with ITV’s Downton Abbey. Above all, the brand received a new and distinctive look.

“The changes we’ve made to the product packaging enables us to demonstrate better to customers the care and the passion that has gone into the product,” explained Leonie Foster, brand marketing director, at the relaunch. “We talked to customers about the packaging of the finest brand and they told us it was a bit outdated – it was easy to find but a bit too corporate – and what we’ve really tried to do is create packaging that allows the unique personality of each product to shine through”.

Thank you for your corporation
Corporate is not a word that could be used to describe the revamp. The word ‘Tesco’ is de-emphasised, dwarfed in size by the word ‘finest’, the product name and sometimes the product information.

These descriptions, prominent on the label, are intended to reify precisely what is so luxurious about each item.

As remarked by lead copywriter, Lucy Hamlet: “The copy had to pull out the best things about each product – the element that put the product in the upmarket tier, rather than the standard tier; an exciting ingredient or an authentic recipe, for example”.

Consumers, then, know the pasta is made by the DiMartino family in Italy. The breadsticks come from a family bakery in Turin, the sea salt from a family business in Anglesey and the smoked haddock from a 100-year-old Lincolnshire smokehouse. The cream is “made to a 17th-century recipe created at the Chateau de Chantilly in Picardy” while the cheese is “matured in caves for a distinctive fruity tang”.

The graphical elements tell a story too. According to design and branding consultancy Honey, which led the makeover in conjunction with Parker Williams, R Design and P&W, the overall image brings “to life the artisanal quality and individual personalities of the different suppliers and products across the range”.

Thus, while the wording tends to highlight provenance, sustainability, freshness, ingredients and seasonality, the design is largely focused around craftsmanship.

Much of the typography looks hand-rendered, as though created by a family business. Dark colours feature prominently, alongside some use of embossing. The cakes have windowed lids, clearly communicating that the brand has nothing to hide. And, with clever use of illustration and photography, it is evident the packaging has been created with scrupulous attention to detail.

Premium class
The keyword here is eclectic, with Tesco on a mission to individuate the products and lessen the sense of corporate identity.

In many respects, these new designs are typical of the premium sector. Generally, today’s high-end packages rely less on the magpie instinct and more on subtle visual cues. Shininess and ostentation have come to seem tacky; we are more likely to see muted colours, matte finishes and artisanal finishes, alongside a mixture of textures. Gloss black is common; research firm Mintel has dubbed the shade the “workhorse of luxury packaging”.

Functional elements are important too. After all, attractive but flimsy cartons are unlikely to inspire a return purchase. To justify their premium status, they should be easy to open and keep fresh, with structural features geared to ensure product integrity.

All of this requires a significant investment of time and money, but if a company gets it right, the rewards can be significant. According to MWV’s Packaging Matters study, launched in 2014, 64% of consumers have tried something new because the packaging caught their eye, and 41% have made a repeat purchase. In fact, consumers ranks packaging as almost equal to the brand itself when it comes to product satisfaction.

As explained by Steve Kazanjian, vice-president of global creative at MWV, “Packaging continues to play an important role in building brand loyalty and driving repeat purchases in-store, and increasingly, it is also a vehicle that connects brands and consumers online. Brands that recognise how packaging can influence online shoppers have an opportunity to see a ripple effect as those consumers share their positive experience with others via product reviews or through their social networks.”

Six months after the finest line was relaunched, it is too soon to see how Tesco’s sales figures have been affected. However, with effusive reviews online it is clear the changes have been broadly well-received.

For various design agencies, this was one of the stand-out packaging launches of 2013. Speaking to The Drum, Stuart Chapman, associate director of The Big Picture, called the relaunch: “A mammoth undertaking which has been executed with care, elegance and finesse”. Andy Johnson, business unit director at Sun Branding Creative, remarked: “the use of foil blocking on some of the packs is particularly effective, creating shelf ‘shimmer’ to bring out the premium quality of the own label”.

For today’s shoppers, ‘own label’ and ‘premium quality’ are no longer a contradiction in terms. And with packaging playing a frontline role, it is clear Tesco has just upped the ante.

This article appears in the Spring 2014 edition of Packaging & Converting Intelligence

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