Posted by: thewritethingdotbiz | February 15, 2011

Shadow brand case study: “Whole Paycheck”

If I told you that I was going off to “Whole Paycheck,” you would almost certainly know that I was headed to buy some groceries at Whole Foods Market. It’s not often that a shadow brand is so well established in the national lexicon. But that’s what can happen if a shadow brand goes too long unaddressed.

“I’m getting a little tired of that tag around our neck,” says Walter Robb, the company’s co-president, according to a New York Times article. “We are a lot more competitive than people give us credit for.”

Another aspect of Whole Paycheck’s brand platform is that it is a supporter of organic and local agriculture. Per its website: “Buying organic supports small, independent family farms… Organic farmers are less reliant on non-renewable fossil fuels.” Yet, as Field Maloney points out on slate.com, Whole Paycheck sells you organic produce from South America, at a premium price, bearing a high carbon footprint, as well as fresher, local, but conventionally grown produce. He astutely asks, “Which is the more eco-conscious choice?” I admit a weakness for pineapples and even grapes in March. But Whole Paycheck’s brand is inconsistent with its offerings in this key area.

Maloney also mentions in-store posters of real live American organic farmers (Whole Paycheck’s “grower profiles”) displayed right over conventional produce, with nary an organic item in sight. Awareness of this lack of integrity is beginning to leak into the realm of Whole Paycheck’s shadow brand as well.

Here are some ideas for Whole Foods:

  • As long as you’re selling premium items, position yourself with superior quality being a major value proposition.
  • Position yourself as a company that pays a living wage and good benefits to its happy employees, suggesting that a budget food outlet could not sustain this level of commitment.
  • Take a cue from Portland’s competitor, New Seasons: Don’t pay lip service to local organic producers. Structure your supplier relationships to favor local growers and name the farm right over the produce.
  • Extra credit for bold management: Run an ad campaign for your customers, in which the lucky winner will have the equivalent value of his or her whole paycheck in groceries donated to a local food bank once per month for a year. Do this in every store in the United States and begin to convert the acrimonious name association into something beautiful and worthwhile.

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