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Ethics in PR

Sweetbay: An Extreme Brand Makeover

Last night I attended the Boston American Marketing Association's event "Sweetbay: Extreme Brand Makeover".  The event was terrific, read my notes below. (I borrowed a few edited sentances from VIA's case study)


I attended a presentation all about the brand make over of Kash N’ Karry supermarkets to Sweetbay in Florida last night.  Kash N’ Karry was a failing supermarket chain with 103 stores in the west central florida marketplace.  Increasing competition from Wal-Mart on pricing and the dominant competitor in the marketplace, Publix, meant Kash N’ Karry either had to so something or face financial ruin.  Kash N’ Karry asked, VIA a brand strategy company to help them create a new brand because of VIA’s success with Hannaford Bros. Co. another supermarket owned by the Delhaize Group.

VIA started by created 5 brand themes to evoke the essence of the brand.  Each theme described a strategic position the company wanted to establish in the minds of customers in their marketplace, after extensive research of the market, Kash N’ Karry had determined there was a gap in the market for a company that positioned itself as the company most passionate about food.  The dominant competitor Publix included food as part of their brand positioning, but food is not Publix’s focus.  Kash N’ Karry thought they had the opportunity to establish themselves in the minds of consumers as the supermarket that is most passionate about food.  VIA took the company through a naming exercise, working with 13 senior managers in the company, they were able to select a name for the supermarket that would convey where they wanted to establish their supermarket in the minds of consumers, Sweetbay. 

Sweetbay is a swamp magnolia in the Florida area and well known by local people.  The name also evoked an image of food, with the word sweet for a dessert or candy, while bay reminded customers of Tampa Bay, where the company was located.  VIA then helped Kash N’ Karry develop a logo for the name, at the last minute out of a choice of 3 logo’s, the CEO of Delhaize Group stepped in and recommended they pick the second choice for logo, as that logo had some connection to the Hannaford Bros. Co logo, VIA has previously developed for Delhaize.  The logo includes iconic images of food, an apple, cherry bread etc, while the curl of the “Y” in sweetbay conveys the company’s passion.

With the themes selected and the essential design finished Sweetbay worked extensively on designing the whole store and its images within the new brand strategy.  They also thought carefully about the food they would sell, how it was located in their stores, and pricing strategy.  Sweetbay did not necessarily want to continue to market to its existing Kash N’ Karry customers, they wanted to attract customers who were extremely passionate about their food and were willing to pay a slightly higher premium for that quality.  Sweetbay provided extensive training to their associates to make sure they were both passionate and knowledgeable about food.

Sweetbay launched a 10 month promotional campaign leading up to the opening of their new stores.  Tactics included outdoor advertising, direct mail, in-store materials, radio sponsorships, print advertising, site signage and a new website. 


Sales to the stores has been 30-40 times the previous Kash N’ Karry sales in the new Sweetbay stores.  Publix has responded by re-evaluating their marketing message and emphasizing their expertise in food.  Sweetbay is now considering moving forward the remodeling of their existing Kash N’ Karry stores to the new Sweetbay name from 5 years to 3 years.  Lessons learnt from the process for me, were how Sweetbay really used their analysis of the marketplace to understand where there was a gap, and then their follow up in developing a strategy that would enable Sweetbay to position them as the leader in their target category, food!

Steve Smith, the VP of Marketing at Sweetbay was a great speaker; he enthusiastically described how his company went through the whole process.  Also as the client on the account, he gave you insider details of how a brand makeover really works, from last minute surprises from the CEO as to what logo Sweetbay should pick to accepting a designer’s proposal that they make the decals on their trucks look like an armored truck.  John Coleman, the CEO and founding partner of the VIA group gave an excellent overview of why branding is important to a company, and Julia Brady, Senior Client Strategist at the VIA group ran through the whole brand strategy process, with great input from Steve throughout.