Building Private Label Buzz with Internal Audiences
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Building Private Label Buzz with Internal Audiences

In the extremely competitive supermarket industry, where profit margins are notoriously thin and maintaining brand loyalty is a continuous challenge, private label programs have proven to be the area with the greatest potential for success in both areas.

Paul Holmes

In the extremely competitive supermarket industry, where profit margins are notoriously thin and maintaining brand loyalty is a continuous challenge, private label programs have proven to be the area with the greatest potential for success in both areas.  Safeway’s private label division, Safeway Corporate Brands, is the clear industry leader in the area and the implementation of an internal branding initiative for their private label program would ensure ongoing enthusiasm for and knowledge of a constant stream of new products.


Challenge:  Private label programs have been part of the Supermarket industry for decades.  For much of that time these products have been looked on as “second-tier” generic substitutes for well-established national brand items – both by the consumer and by the supermarket chains themselves.  All that began to change during the 1990’s, as industry leaders recognized the potential for transforming their private label lines into branded entities rich with customer loyalty and increased profit margins. 

Safeway Corporate Brands was a leader in this transformation, with the launch of its Safeway SELECT line of products in 1993.  With its beautifully designed packaging, attention to quality, authentic ingredients and lower price point, the line was a huge success and a major step forward in shedding the generic, “copy-cat” reputation of store brands.  As the Safeway SELECT line of products – and its success with customers—continued to grow, Safeway needed a way to communicate the philosophy behind the line and its differentiation from other store brands, with little or no budget for advertising or other marketing efforts.

Solution:   Safeway, Inc. recognized that the easiest way to get their message out would be through their 200,000 employees, whose regular interaction and established relationships with Safeway customers – not to mention family and friends – provided the ideal forum for communicating brand messages.  Recognizing that fostering enthusiasm for the line among Safeway employees would be key– Safeway Corporate Brands tasked Porter Novelli San Francisco with creating an original employee publication that would provide Safeway employees with an ongoing orientation to Safeway Corporate Brands’ Private Label program, educating them about product lines overall and specific new product introductions, while selling the culture, commitment to quality and teamwork that is inherent in developing and managing Safeway brand products.  Porter Novelli aimed to cultivate pride and ownership in Safeway Brand products to spur enhanced interaction between Safeway employees and customers, friends and family about the benefits of Safeway products.


More than 200,000 Safeway, Inc. employees in the United States and Canada including in-store personnel, backstage employees, senior management and staff at regional offices and corporate headquarters and Safeway retirees.  This includes all employees at acquired chains Dominick’s, Genuardi’s, Randalls/Tom Thumb, Vons and Carrs.  To address sensitivities of these constituents, Brands! will focus on products and avoid promotion of the Safeway name, stores and corporate ownership.


Porter Novelli developed the concept for Brands!, a quarterly employee newsletter that would communicate the personality and passion behind Corporate Brands products and people in a fun and informative manner.  Porter Novelli counseled Safeway that should the publication veer into “corporate speak” or have the feel of a communication tool “selling” the line to employees it could end up having a negative impact on the brand image among the target audience.  To that end it was recommended that the publication remain focused on the products and people behind the line using the following tactics:
· Focus on category success and leadership stories, leveraging points of differentiation including strengths inherent in products, package design, quality and value.
· Demonstrate third party endorsement of Corporate Brands leadership through media coverage and customer commentary.
· Encourage employee participation by soliciting questions and comments on Corporate Brands products that will be answered directly and selectively published in Brands!
· Measure readership through retention rate of free product coupon in each issue.
· Personalize the Corporate Brands division through employee profiles that demonstrate commitment to excellence and belief in the Corporate Brands philosophy.
· Use a tone and presentation that is does not have a “corporate” feel and avoid management “jargon” and salesmanship.
· Encourage employee sampling of new products  - and thereby create automatic third party validation.


Retention rate of product coupon for each issue has exceeded 70% on a regular basis.  Numerous comments, employee recipes and other inquiries are received following each issue both through the Brands! feedback email and directly to employees in the Corporate Brands division.  While it is hard to measure the effectiveness of Brands! in building pride of ownership in Corporate Brands products, the anniversary issue of the newsletter included an employee survey which set out to measure specifics of readership, usefulness of information and overall impact of Brands! on employee understanding and support of Corporate Brands.  Results were overwhelmingly positive, with 75% of respondents finding Brands! a valuable source of information and more than half of the respondents commenting that they share information from Brands! or share Brands! itself with friends, family and customers on a regular basis. 

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