Retail society rebrand ‘puts our co-op at heart of region’

East of England Co-op, Britain’s third biggest independent retail co-operative society, has unveiled a new look designed to set it apart from other big retailers. The rebrand will...

East of England Co-op, Britain’s third biggest independent retail co-operative society, has unveiled a new look designed to set it apart from other big retailers. The rebrand will be rolled out in its supermarkets in the coming months and in its new Bury St Edmunds store.

As part of the shift, a series of advertisements and communications with members will feature photos of local people and their stories, including suppliers, contractors and community groups who have benefitted from the co-op’s support.

“We’re investing, but we’re doing it prudently,” said Amanda Long, East of England Co-op’s Executive Officer for Marketing, Membership and Media. “We’ll have a big hit with the supermarkets, where we make the highest profit and have the highest footfall. The rest will be rebranded as part of our refurbishment programme.”

Ms Long said the aim was to compete with strong retail brands, while emphasising the society’s differences. “We lose sales when competitors with a strong brand open near us,” she said. “We’ve been here for over 140 years. We’ve got to change and adapt. This brand is the best way we can protect our members’ legacy.”

The rebrand has been informed by market research among members, non-members, customers and non-customers. The sample was aged between 18 and 85, and represented East Anglia's diversity, from the three regional centres of Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester to some of the most remote rural areas in England.

Feedback showed the co-op was considered friendly with a strong heritage, but old-fashioned.  “What set us apart for them is we support local suppliers,” said Ms Long. The society has paid over £20 million in local food purchases since 2007. It supports more than 125 local suppliers.

“People also wanted to better understand what being a member actually means,” she continued. “They needed to hear more about how we’re working with communities.

“People told us they call us ‘the co-op’, so we wanted to include that. There’s always a bit of confusion between us and the Co-operative Group, and we saw that very much in the research.”

The society decided to differentiate itself from The Co-operative brand, which is adopted by the large majority of retail societies, but to devise a brand which complemented Group branded materials. “Being part of the CRTG [Co-operative Retail Trading Group] supply chain, we wanted to make sure that our designs worked well with what the Co-operative Group uses,” said Ms Long.

“Our members and customers’ core message was be as local as possible. They said tell us what you’re doing in terms that matter to me. Being a local community retailer, we can do that.

“Everything we’ve done is evidence based. It’s not just a logo. A brand is everything you do, from adverts to the way we serve customers.”

The brand will feature the society’s work with local communities, for example its commitment to ploughing profits from tobacco sales into health projects including defibrillators and special care baby units.

“Rather than saying we’ve given x to do this, it’s about showing how that input has affected real people,” said Ms Long. “It’s our local stories. We can get it down to fact that we sell bread from a bakery that’s 192 steps away from our store.”

The colour palette for food and corporate branding is vibrant green and yellow, and warm, engaging raspberry and mushroom. For funeral care there is a dark purple. Travel is defined by orange, and blue denotes healthcare services.

“Co-operatives like ours have got to differentiate ourselves,” said Ms Long. “You can’t get into a price war because you’re not going to win. We’ve got to talk about how we add value. I think the mistake retail co-operatives make is to try to be the same as other retailers.

“The public love the brand. It’s smart, it’s modern and it’s friendly. The focus is on community and ethics. That’s what we wanted.”

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