Supermarket giant Sainsbury freshens up for a big sell
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The Independent Online
Sainsbury's is getting fresh. Like a lover spurned, it's responding to competition by launching a new campaign designed to woo British shoppers.

The message? Quality and choice. If you think you've heard that somewhere before, that's probably because you have. Sainsbury's has been banging on about good food for years. However, at a time when its rivals are trying their hardest to be the cheapest, most helpful and customer-focused, Sainsbury's has gone back to basics: talking about products instead of bonus points.

"Sainsbury's are passionate about food, where our competitors are selling `merchandise'," Sainsbury's marketing director, Kevin McCarten, insists. At Asda, it's all about price, you see. And Safeway? Well, behind the store's pint-sized artillery, led by Harry and Molly, is the theme "Lightening the load". "Every little bit helps", is Tesco's current line. But where, Mr McCarten asks, is talk of the product: the food?

At the heart of Sainsbury's new pounds 5m campaign is a mouth-watering 50-second commercial featuring beautifully lit, deliciously shot food. An accompanying poster and press campaign continues the idea. "Fresh foods. Fresh ideas" is the theme. The emphasis is on freshness and the variety of different foods on offer - 103 different types of cheese, 18 kinds of butter. And the cherry on the cake? A sound track mixing Louis Armstrong's with the dulcet tones of the middle-aged shopper's favourite middle-aged crumpet: Lovejoy star Ian McShane.

The new ads, created by the advertising agency AMV. BBDO, follow in the footsteps of Sainsbury's highly successful celebrity recipe ads and the retailer's popular publishing spin-off, Sainsbury's magazine. However it's also the culmination of many months of soul-searching by the chain which, having lost market share to Tesco and endured criticism for both lack of flair and a limited range of branded goods, has been struggling to find new direction. "Over the past year we have been looking at ways to refresh and rejuvenate the brand," Mr McCarten explains. "Between 1993 and 1996, we were not delivering superior quality or choice aggressively enough. We veered between different [market] positioning."

A long-standing campaign theme has been "Where good food costs less', which Sainsbury's still uses and will continue to use. However, a subsequent strap line, "Everybody's favourite ingredient", has been axed as part of the new strategy. "It was pompous and arrogant" is Mr McCarten's explanation. "Sainsbury's must now balance accessibility with superiority. And freshness will be at the heart of that."

Freshness is not just about food; it's about thinking, too. "Fresh ideas" so far include the world's first solar-powered refrigeration lorries, launched by Sainsbury's and Southampton University earlier this month. Then there's the deal struck with New York-based Microban International to produce a new generation of anti-bacterial protected products such as kitchen implements and chopping boards. But hang on a minute. What will all this really mean for the humble shoppers trawling Sainsbury's shelves for their weekly shop?

Well, at a cosmetic level, the stores look different. They've changed their colours. Out goes the old brown and beige design scheme; in come crisp fresh green and yellow. Meanwhile, new in-store hoardings feature pictures of fresh produce. But all this has yet to convince discerning shoppers. Take Mrs Cartwright of Hampshire. Faced with greater choice, thanks to increased competition amongst the big retailers, she's become a past master at shopping around for the best quality and best value.

"Excessive advertising in and around shops makes me dubious," she observes. "In fact, I don't really think advertising makes any difference at all. I go to a supermarket because I find the food better there. It's as simple as that." Mrs Cartwright will shortly be putting Sainsbury's grand new promise to the test.

Meg Carter

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