Would You Buy Crackers From This Owl?

Kroger's new entry price-point brand

Kroger’s new entry price-point brand

Have you heard this one? Knock-knock. Who’s there? Moo. Moo wh…INTERRUPTING COW! Well meet Kroger’s new interrupting owl.

In June Kroger launched 3 new private label brands to replace their aging “Value” brand for entry price-point products. The move was more than a facelift; it was a complete re-imagining of the branding strategy for this tier of products. It marks a big shift in the role of the Kroger name in the mix of merchandise by excluding their logo altogether. Two of the new brands are certainly quirky- an owl whispering “P$$T” for food items, and “Check this out” for non-foods. There is also a fresh food solution that used to scream “Value” in red and blue but is now tastefully presented as Heritage Farms. It is the talking owl, however, that is worth examining.

This “talking owl” approach reflects a new consumer proposition around savings grown out of the Great Recession; saving is fashionable, saving is fun, savings are gathered not hunted. (It also shows some bravery on the part of Kroger to embrace an unorthodox new creative direction.)

The past solution utilized the store’s logo as an endorsement and the big Value message was code for “cheap”. I can see the up side of removing the store name from these entry price-point products for Kroger. It’s a potential drag on quality associations when the chain is looking to associate its logo with national brand competing products elsewhere on the shelf. It is also tough for Kroger generally since they go to market under so many different banners (Ralph’s in California, Fred Meyer in the northwest, etc.) Removing their name neutralizes the products across their system.

What is breakthrough about the solution is that the owl character directly engages the shopper in the store. Additionally the brand communicates something positive about the shopper’s decision once at home versus being just a graphic announcement of low price. The packaging, by actually “speaking”, becomes a part of the store experience itself as shoppers scan the shelves. The owl and provocatively bouncy type interrupt with a proposition that is almost anti-brand. Once in the home pantry, it then reinforces that Mom is smart, not a mere penny-pincher.

Here the owl as a spoke-species is the wise purveyor of intelligent choices. In this economy of “good enough” he intervenes in the aisle and alerts shoppers with a direct message; “Psst, check this out…”

Private label merchandise is a powerful means for retailers to manage margin and retain customers with proprietary offerings. Here the new Kroger program creatively becomes part of the store experience itself. The hard part is the art of managing the SKU’s so that they do not trade down shoppers from their higher priced options, but entice them into categories they are buying at dollar stores or avoiding all together.

After a few hundred trips I may get tired of the owl or he may start to lose his interrupting power, but hey, he may start saying other creative and relevant things and become a valuable new brand asset. Knock knock. Who’s there? A great new approach to connecting private label with the store experience.


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