There’s a new war brewing among the big supermarkets. The battleground is ‘value shopping’ and the fight seems to be over who can make their value range look as little like a value range as possible.
Few product ranges have become as distinctive and instantly recognisable as the Tesco Value range, products marked out from a distance by the bold blue-and-white stripes of their packaging. Sainsbury’s tried it with a white-and-orange range of their own but somehow it wasn’t as distinctive and – perhaps best for them – it didn’t become as synonymous as the Tesco range did with our collective struggle to get through the recession.
However, when Waitrose introduced its sleekly packed Essentials range, I sensed it would be a game changer. There was nothing in the Essentials packaging that marked it out as a value range. Perhaps the consumer has started to feel self-conscious, even stigmatised, by pushing a trolley packed full of blue-and-white-striped goods. Maybe they feel it marks them out to fellow shoppers as struggling, as not being able to afford the top branded goods. Even in recession, we still want to keep up with the Joneses.
So out goes the blue and white stripes and in comes Tesco’s new Everyday Value range, with colourful yet subtle packaging. Although Tesco points out it’s not a straight like-for-like swap, the addition of the word “everyday” implies routine as opposed to “cheap as chips”, while the new packaging creates less negative stand-out in the trolley.
Value has been good for Tesco and good for the industry. It provided the platform for Tesco’s dominance of the supermarket sector which, together with its Finest range, enabled it to pitch against Lidl, Aldi and Asda at one end while squaring off against Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer at the other.
But one consequence of the recession is polarisation. Politicians talk about the “squeezed middle” demographic, but it’s happening in retail too. All the action is either at the economy-end of the market or at the higher-end. It’s always been difficult for retailers to operate convincingly at both poles. This latest move by Tesco may be the first step towards positioning it at the middle-higher end of the market in time for the recovery if – and when – it finally materialises.