From ice-cream to olives, refreshing Countdown’s packaging was always going to be a mammoth task.
For Brandhub, a brand and packaging agency based in Auckland specialising in FMCG products, it's meant spending the past 18 months injecting 'the joy of fresh' into Countdown’s Fresh offering, such as bakery, perishables and deli, encompassing more than 500 product SKUs.
Meanwhile, the grocery offering has been getting a new look from an Australian team.
Australia versus New Zealand
Despite the New Zealand and Australian-led design teams both working on products for the same supermarket, there are key differences in Australian and New Zealand consumers so it was important to prioritise what the customers are looking for.
“Woolworths in Australia was part way through its rebranding, but New Zealand wanted its own take on the refresh,” says Douglas. “[The rebrand] had to relate to what Australia was doing, but Kiwis have different requirements, in what they are looking for with packaging is different.”
She says the biggest difference between Australia and New Zealand requirements is Kiwis like to see the product that they are buying.
“It’s all about the product, particularly when it comes to fresh. It’s not so much about the information on the pack – it’s how fresh does the product look? We want to see it, smell it or feel it. That’s what people are looking for.
"[In New Zealand] we have a lot of fresh produce and access to such, there’s a lot of choice. Australia has quite a bit of [call out’s, information] going on – Australian’s like to see that kind of information – benefits, nutritional information – so although New Zealanders like to see that, they like to see a smaller amount.”
Creating a new look
Douglas explains the goal of the refresh for Brandhub was to make sure it provided a vibrant and uplifting design that told a story, allow flexibility between all of the departments and different ranges and requirements, while providing uniformity to build the Countdown brand equity.
She says it was time for a refresh. "Brands have life cycles. Every five to seven years people will be doing stuff like this. Design, like anything, gets a bit dated."
Douglas says Brandhub applied its “HUB” (hatch-unify-brand) approach to the task, looking at insights and qualitative/quantitate research from Countdown to understand customer needs.
This included speaking to business managers and people within Countdown who knew the range, as well as going to stores across Auckland to see what they would be dealing with.
“We asked ourselves questions - what can we do with this and what’s our take on it? We introduced the use of illustrations and shape, and the more playful look because [the brand essence developed] was all about the joy of fresh food.”
Mandatories from Australia included logo treatment, fonts and a tiering system of Countdown’s Core and Core Plus ranges, though Douglas says this wasn’t a limitation and the company was able to put its own personality into the refresh. The Core Plus range is yet to be launched into stores.
Once Brandhub had looked at what Australia had done and the guidelines it had to work within, part of the strategy was to distil down what was the essence of Countdown Fresh range.
It decided on three main pillars which would guide the messaging; provenance, sensory and benefits.
“For most of the core products we led with sensory – such as sharp tasty cheese – then captured some of the provenance story, such as made in New Zealand, and benefits such as ‘perfect for sandwiches',” says Douglas.
She says this helped determine what information was on the pack.
“We wanted to be able to have room to play around with imagery, especially with products where you can’t see the product unless you turn it over.”
The look was also brighter colours and bolder fonts for Core, while Core Plus, the more premium range, generally leads with provenance while sensory becomes less prominent.
Close to home
During the rebranding process, Douglas says they found people perceive home brands to be lesser quality, something she says isn’t the case.
“A lot of the time they are exactly the same quality as the product sitting beside them. What I think [Countdown] needed to overcome with this rebrand was this perception of mass production.”
With the home brands becoming more prominent - Foodstuffs has its Pams, Pam Finest and Value for example - Douglas says it is important for supermarkets to get on board.
“It offers customers great quality at great prices. Supermarkets have so much sourcing power they can make a vast range of staple products available to their customers, offering an alternative to other brands."
However, rebranding can come with a large risk, something companies don't take lightly, such as Gregg's. When its agency FCB was tasked with giving its herb and spices packaging a new look, it was careful to maintain some familiar features of the old packaging to ensure consumers didn't lose the products on the shelf.
It's an insight from Byron Sharp, a professor of marketing science at the University of South Australia and author of How Brands Grow, who identifies packaging changes as one of the most common mistakes business make with brand strategy as it can reduce a brand's ability to be noticed.
Douglas also acknowledges the risk when speaking about the packaging for Countdown's brand, particularly when a brand has a very strong following.
"When people are loyal to a brand and feel they have a connection to a brand, changing it can be risky. In my experience the companies that do it the best make sure they do their research, deciding upon a refresh after weighing up all the risks and opportunities.”
The response to the refresh, says Douglas, has been really good and the team has enjoyed working on the project.
“Hopefully the perception of home brands is starting to change because it's holding its own against the competitors. For a product, the most critical touch point is the packaging.”
Countdown’s business manager of Fresh, Sean McManus says the end results so far have been excellent and well received by customers.
"I look forward to completing this phase of work with Brandhub and continuing on in the future”.