With the recent opening of New World and Countdown Metro in Auckland's CBD, it seems New Zealand supermarkets are following in the footsteps of their overseas counterparts. While I can’t hide my excitement in having convenience re-enter my life, I do wonder if this may be the start of a slippery slope. Once the supermarket giant shows its face, it’s only a matter of time before the own brand phenomenon takes hold, a development that could mean the bounty of boutique food producers that currently grace our shelves may be squeezed out.
Many overseas markets are already painting this very picture. Sainsbury’s is a prime candidate with six ranges in total spanning basic to premium while also factoring in healthy eating, organic and gluten-free. Each range is sympathetically designed to fit its niche, creating an inclusive tier effect that will fulfil most people’s needs. This development of a portfolio of sub-brand ranges has led to huge growth and domination of shelf space. Once the brand has secured consumer trust across the board, you can get creative with the design to pull in even more fans.
The seeds have indeed been sown in New Zealand with Countdown’s three ranges, Woolworths Select, Signature Range and Home Brand, and Foodstuffs’ two, namely Pam's and Budget, but they have yet to take over the shelves. This could be attributed to a lack of design and brand investment, with Pams being the only range to inject a sense of personality into its presentation. But with such a wealth of boutique products on offer, would they be wasting their time?
Investing in design could easily be misconstrued by the market. If the consumer thinks they are paying for ‘fancy design’ the whole concept of own brand is undermined. The designer in me argues that with investment in development of the core brand voice, we could easily have a Sainbury’s on our hands. But are we ready to taste the difference?
While it’s clear Countdown is missing a trick, in my opinion, their loss is essentially many people’s gain. New Zealand is a haven for independent food producers. The lack of own brand paves their way onto the supermarket shelves, encouraging them to flourish while also expanding consumer choice. Most of all, the designer in me has to thank Countdown for indirectly batting for Team Boutique. Working in New Zealand means there is still a chance that quirky chutney brief will land on my desk.