Target brings marketing and brand management savvy to private label like few others do. Here's how it achieved its private label brand success and what's ahead.
Ask Todd Maute, senior vice president and partner at New York-based branding and design company CBX, what he thinks about Target’s private label products and he’ll tell you about a juvenile diabetes research charity auction he attended not too long ago.
As he waited for the black-tie event to kick off, Maute wandered over to the prize area to see what would be auctioned. What he saw were baskets filled with Target private label brands like Archer Farms.
Minneapolis-based Target, the store that made discount shopping chic long before the recession hit, is doing the same with its private label food and household product offerings. Those include basic line Market Pantry, upscale Archer Farms, and up & up, its line of more than 800 household cleaners, health and beauty care items and other sundries.
Target wants more consumers to come to Target for their groceries, increasing their frequency of visits and the company’s overall sales in the process. The retailer rang up estimated private label grocery sales of $6.7 billion in 2009, putting Target at No. 7 on PL Buyer’s exclusive list of North American private label grocery retailers, as compiled by London-based research firm Planet Retail.
Private label grocery sales will reached a Planet Retail-projected $9.5 billion for Target by 2014 as it continues rolling out is PFresh food format, which offers more fresh products along with other groceries including its private label brands.
Welcome to private label taken to a branding level beyond where most other retailers are today.
Key components of Target’s private label strategy include:
• Consumer research to develop private label products and brands
• Backing private label with a full array of marketing tools ranging from national ads to extensive in-store displays
• Strategic thinking that goes beyond just addressing price as the main driver of consumer purchase.
“Any supermarket could do exactly what Target has done but it’s going to take a non-traditional approach. They [supermarkets] have to become marketers, not just merchandisers. They have to really think about their brands,” says Blair McCaw, president of Constellation Management Group, a Chicago-based brand management consultancy.
Unlike some other food retailers, Target “is more focused on ‘how do I create not a price image but a store image and how do I use that to drive store loyalty.’ I think they understand what they want out of their private label program and they execute it flawlessly,” says Jim Hertel, managing partner with Willard Bishop, a Barrington, Il.-based retail consulting firm.
“The thing [Target] has done historically better than anyone else is they really have approached their branding as a CPG marketer would,” adds McCaw. “They understand segmentation, they understand their consumer; in food, they have a tiered [brand] strategy and they seem to understand very well how those brands are different.”
Indeed, responding to written questions from PL Buyer, Annette Miller, senior vice president, merchandising grocery for Target, explains the retailer’s brand segmentation strategy in terms of the chain’s “Expect More, Pay Less” ad slogan.
“Archer Farms clearly stands for the Expect More part of our brand promise, while Market Pantry represents Pay Less,” Miller says (see page tk, to read more of Miller’s responses).
Target senior management also understands how its brands reflect the Target image. The company in 2009 rebranded its household lines to the up & up moniker, taking the traditional Target bull’s-eye and Target name off scores of products.
The reason, explained Annie Zipfel, director of owned brands at Target, during a speech she delivered at a private label conference in September, was because Target didn’t want its name and logo on products that consumers thought of as basic. “Basic and generic sure didn’t feel like Target,” she said.
Retail analysts applaud that decision even though it runs counter to what other retailers are doing, namely putting their banner names on more rather than fewer products. “The cache of the Target brand was really being run down” by being on commodity products, says Christopher Durham, a retail consultant, member of PL Buyer’s editorial board, and private label blogger who runs mypbrand.com.
Changing to up & up addressed that, he adds. Agrees Maute, “It used to be the only place you saw the bull’s-eye was on value-driven, non-food items. I always thought that was one of their mistakes” that’s been corrected with the change to up & up, he says.
On the up and up
The up &up launch in June 2009 is a good example of how Target approaches its store brands. The company began a review of its brands roughly five years ago that eventually led to the decision to take the Target name off products and replace it with the up and up line, Zipfel said during her presentation. Research included looking at more than 4,000 shopper comments about Target’s store brand offerings.
Consumer feedback led to reformulation of more than 130 products. The company used an outside testing facility to examine such product qualities as flavor, aroma, ease of package use and appearance.
Up & up was created as a brand that would reflect “everyday optimism” Zipfel said, in everything from its name to its clean white packaging with different colored arrows for different product categories. Taking the Target bull’s-eye off the packaging “was a pretty big deal,” Zipfel recalled. “The discussion was how do we replace the bull’s-eye by being Target?”
Some think the arrows also serve as a subtle reminder that up & up is a Target brand since arrows and targets are associated in archery. The packaging was designed without fine print but with inviting design, Zipfel said during her presentation. It was “a brand that’s always looking on the bright side,” she said.
The line launch was backed with extensive marketing that included in-store displays and even floor graphics, the last being something Target doesn’t normally do. Even valuable end cap space was given over to the brand. “When a retailer is committed to giving their brand prime space that shows they are committed to their brand,” says Maute.
“We were concerned when it launched that it looked a little nondescript and anonymous but subsequent store visits have shown us that the range is well sign-posted and marketed with a fairly vigorous value message,” says Bryan Roberts, global research director with Planet Retail. “The fact that Target has been directly comparing up & up with brands is a bold move, but it seems to have gone down pretty well with shoppers.”
Target also promoted up & up with aggressive couponing for at least one key product, reports Teri Gault, CEO and founder of thegrocerygame.com, a Web site that tracks coupons offered across the country.
“To drive the brand in the fall of 2009, Target offered amazing coupons to print from their Web site or at kiosks in their store for up & up baby wipes, which with the sale on refills and with coupon sometimes made them free. This promotion really drove the brand virally, sparking a lot of talk on the Web about the quality. Moms were sold and I think it really worked to drive the entire up & up brand in all categories,” she says.
The wipes continue to be priced aggressively, Gault adds. “Grocery Game databases show that the up & up baby wipes retail for $13.69 for large package of 480-528 baby wipes. They go on sale for $9.19. By comparison, Huggies 320-360-count package retails for $10.99, goes on sale for $9.99, and typically has coupons for $2, making the final price $6.99. At that price, the same number of Huggies would be $10.50, making the up & up wipes a better deal on sale for $9.19,” Gault reports.
Why the push behind baby wipes? “If mom can trust you and your products in the baby category, then she’s going to continue shopping in the other categories,” says Scott MacLennan, director of store brands at STR, a Canton, Mass.-based provider of quality assurance services to private label retailers and others.
Target also has moved into more upscale markets with such house brands as its Choxie chocolate line and food items carrying TV celebrity chef and cookbook author Giada De Laurentiis’ name.
Choxie has developed enough cache to be a gift purchase for consumers. The brand has been promoted with the Target marketing arsenal of TV ads, in-store merchandising and promotions, says Patrick Rodmell, president and chief operating officer of Toronto-based Watt International Inc., a brand consultancy and design firm. The retailer “has used the brand to build on the cache of Target,” he says. Target’s Miller confirms that Choxie is a gift-oriented product, writing: “The flavors and forms differentiate the collection and provide a perfect opportunity for our guest to purchase as gifs or as an indulgent treat for themselves.”
The De Laurentiis products, debuted in January 2010, are moving Target into the super premium specialty food arena, notes McCaw. “They’ve taken a page out of their fashion and beauty strategy [which often uses celebrity endorsers] and turned it to food,” he notes. Indeed the De Laurentiis deal includes a cookware line.
Back in the everyday grocery aisles, Target has worked to distinguish Market Pantry from Archer Farms. Archer Farms includes more than 100 organic offerings, for example, delivering on a brand promise that stresses quality.
The brand personality revolves around authenticity which means “a genuine connection to traditional values,” says Rodmell. “You can’t just demonstrate that in the way you look, it’s in the way you act,” he says.
While others think Target has successfully distinguished between Archer Farms and Market Pantry, Rodmell would like to see the retailer do more. “Make sure the distinction between the two is clearly understood,” he advises.
Beyond continuing to define its various private label brand personalities, Target faces the larger challenge of rolling out its Pfresh food format across it store network. By late 2011, Target is expected to spend more than $2 billion to renovate 740 stores to include the Pfresh fresh products assortments that include fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products.
Being able to source fresh products, work out delivery logistics and convince shoppers quality is high could separate Target from other non-supermarket food retailers, Rodmell notes. Having “bakery, meat and produce meeting and exceeding standards found in supermarkets is a recipe for success,” he says. “That will be the tipping point for success or failure of that concept.”
Target won’t be expanding Pfresh in a retailing vacuum. Asked about clouds on Target’s horizon, Planet Retail’s Roberts says he sees “the Walmart cloud. It’s investing heavily in stores and private brands to close the gap [with Target]. I think the competition from Walmart is going to intensify but I think Target is more than capable of holding its own.” Even troubled mass merchandiser Kmart is rolling out private label food products to grab a slice of the food shopping dollar.
Traditional supermarkets also are showing more private label smarts, so they shouldn’t be counted out as strong competitors for Target’s expansion plans. Kroger and Safeway are two that seem to be taking strategic rather than merely tactical approaches to their private label efforts, for example, notes McCaw.
Reaching the private label grocery sales for 2014 that Planet Retail projected will test Target’s marketing prowess, but most analysts think the company has set a course that will get it to where it wants to go on the private label front.
“Target differentiates itself from Walmart and Kmart with its dynamism and overall more attractive brands,” says Laurent Bourscheidt, executive creative director at STC Associates, a New York-based brand management company. What Target offers is “an incredible unified range of products that are easy to spot, easy to understand and look fun and smart in complete synergy with the Target brand.” Not a bad formula for private label success.