‘Co-op’ on track to come back

Plans to rebrand ‘The Co-operative’ are being discussed internally at the Co-operative Group. As part of its rebuild programme, the society is looking at options to revert to one of...

Plans to rebrand ‘The Co-operative’ are being discussed internally at the Co-operative Group.

As part of its rebuild programme, the society is looking at options to revert to one of its historical identities for its stores and products.

The three logos up for consideration, which have been registered as trademarks at the Intellectual Property Office, are slight updates on the originals promoting a retro feel.

The three logos
The three logos registered as trademarks by the Co-operative Group

The Co-op Cloverleaf was adopted first in the 1960s and later refreshed in the 1990s before it was widely replaced with ‘The Co-operative’ branding – but Lincolnshire Co-op and some other societies have continued to use the Cloverleaf

The Wheatsheaf was the first registered trademark of the Co-operative Wholesale Society in 1877, but this current version is based upon an iteration published in 1953 where CWS is replaced with Co-op.

The third logo was used by Letchworth, Hitchin and District Co-operative between the 1930s-1950s, which later became a part of CWS.

The logos were presented at the Group’s members’ council meeting on Saturday 5 December, by chief executive Richard Pennycook. A separate meeting for independent societies to discuss the proposals is expected to take place in the new year.

Nick Crofts, president of the Co-operative Group’s National Members’ Council, said the presentation, which looked at the future of branding and a digital membership offer, led to many questions from council members and a number of breakout groups also looked at the rebuild strategy in detail.

He added: “These are really exciting times for the Co-op. The National Members’ Council wants to ensure that the Co-operative Group and indeed all UK retail societies are able to benefit from these exciting proposals.”

As part of a separate trademark filing, the Group also registered ‘Pioneer’, which is registered under ‘Class 35’ of the trademark database. This covers a number of uses, which includes retail services and products, plus the operation of a loyalty scheme. In 2016, the Co-operative Group is expected to relaunch its membership offering.

In an interview with the News in March, Mr Pennycook said the three-year plan to reform the Group, was built upon “the past associations” of the Co-op and “150 years of doing the right thing”.

A spokesman for the Group commented: “We continue to make good progress in rebuilding the Co-op. In registering these three potential brand identities we are simply exploring possible options for the future which align with our heritage.”

The Co-operative logo RGB[1]‘The Co-operative’ branding (above) was developed following a 2001 recommendation from the Co-operative Commission, which highlighted the need to develop “a common national branding approach for the movement”.

It was piloted by the Co-operative Group in 2005, and rolled out over the following years across its estate, as well as those of other societies, such as Central England and Midcounties Co-op. Though some societies, notably Scotmid, East of England and Lincolnshire Co-op, kept their local identities and did not adopt ‘The Co-operative’ branding.

Retail analysis: Bringing back the heritage of ‘the Co-op’
by Graham Soult

In trying to find the right branding for ‘the Co-op’ there has always seemed to be a tension between, on the one hand, wanting to celebrate the diversity of the UK’s consumer co-operative movement while, at the same time, seeking to give some unity to a complex collection of businesses and formats.

‘The Co-operative’ brand worked well at the point where the Co-operative Group embraced a family of fascias from food to funerals. Arguably, there is less logic behind this unified set of fascias now that food is such a dominant part of the Group’s activities, with the pharmacies divested and the travel and banking operations no longer true ‘co-operatives’.

I’ve always argued that the independent consumer co-ops that remain should emphasise their localness and difference, rather than being perceived as part of a distant corporate entity.

Equally, I’ve long maintained that if The Co-operative Food is to successfully compete in a challenging grocery market, the business’s heritage, values and community embeddedness – harking back to those Rochdale Pioneer days – should form the basis of a distinctive brand and offer that celebrates this unique past but resonates with modern-day imperatives such as sustainability and provenance.

On that basis, I’m pleased that all the proposed logos are embracing a past that sometimes, I feel, the Co-operative Group hasn’t quite known whether to acknowledge or not. I would welcome the Group implementing its own, new fascia, along with a clear statement of the values that underpin it, but for the independent societies to do their own thing – as many, like Scotmid and East of England, do already. As for the cloverleaf, for those of us who shop at Tamworth Co-op, in the town where I grew up, the cloverleaf has never gone away, and remains a part of that society’s proud, independent identity.

Businesses such as Butlins have previously introduced heritage-inspired logos in a bid to capitalise on their heydays and remind consumers of what they loved about the brand in the past. A retro logo could be just what the Co-operative Group needs – provided that it’s backed up with the strong values, great products and impeccable service that will conjure up positive reactions among present-day customers.

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