Thursday, 17 July 2008

One to watch...

The Co-op has just announced its takeover of Somerfield's - making it the fifth largest supermarket chain in the UK. I've seldom read a more ambitious statement from a CEO, "This is great for our business and in my view propels us back to the Premiership of food retailing. People talk about the big four. I hope people will soon talk about the big five.” He talks of the deal leading to a renaissance of the Co-op brand. 

And I think he's got a point. The headline in Times Online was, "The Co-op ready to capture the magic of the Sixties with £1.6bn Somerfield deal." Indeed in 1967 the Co-op had 25% market share and was Britain's biggest grocery store. But I hope they do more than get bigger, I want them to recapture some of the essence of sixties shopping - cleaner, simpler, sustainable.

The Co-op have been doing a huge amount of re-branding and advertising lately to establish their ethical credentials and do have a great deal of credibility in the area. I think they are also poised to be the really green supermarket. There's a gondola of green ideas that will both tap into their core values of social responsibility and co-operative practices, suggest that intangible nostalgia of 'when things were better (and more green)', and create a modern, ethical brand with new ideas for the current environment.

Already I'm hoping that they come up with genuinely new ways of selling fresh produce, less packaging, less air miles, more seasonality. They are 'the UK's largest farmer', according to their website, which gives them a great opportunity to take control of the supply chain, get organic, sort out their chickens and eggs (chickens first presumably) and provide produce in a sustainable and responsible way. I'm hoping they re-introduce the habit of getting your deposit back on your bottles - glass or plastic. As a child this was always a useful way of getting a bit of cash to buy a few sweeties. Perhaps revolutionary re-designs of their shops to reduce energy use, capture natural energy, re-cycle stuff, fill your own bags etc etc. They could way out-green all their competitors. They already have over 4,000  branches (I think this must include some banks and funeral directors as they only have 3,000 grocery stores after the takeover...) powered by wind and water. They are the UK's most eco-friendly retailer (YouGov Online Poll 2007). They sell over 180 Fairtrade products.

The Co-op has so much brand authenticity. From their website, "A co-operative is a business, but more than this, it is a group of people acting together to meet the common needs and aspirations of its members, sharing ownership and making decisions democratically." This seems so right.

I want them to do well. I want them to save the planet. After all they are "good with food". And I'll keep watching.