Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Safeway has "house brands" of the most commonly purchased items in its stores.

Adulterated and poor-quality food were a major problem into the 1940s. Brand names, like Wonder bread and Campbell's soup, became popular because people could identify high-quality items and keep purchasing them. Advances in the preparation of canned, freeze-dried, and dehydrated foods came during World War II. Freeze-dried coffee, for example, became highly popular (and is still the most consumed kind coffee in the United Kingdom). TV dinners and frozen foods became a staple in the 1950s and into the 1960s, and remain a major part of the American diet today.

In the 1970s, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began challenging the dominance of brand-name goods on grocery shelves. The argument was that these goods invariably were priced at a monopoly level, since no one else could make Cool Whip or Folger's Coffee or Perdue Chicken. The FTC argued that consumers were being ripped off, and that "generic" versions of these same foods could be sold in stores without the "brand name mark-up". Beginning about 1975, the FTC ruled that, if companies wanted to keep their trademarks and patents, they would need to license their foods to any willing manufacturer. Suddenly, a hundred corporations sprang up which manufactured the same groceries but with a generic label. They were making the same salad dressing, the same bread, the same soup, the same cookies, the same cracks, the same cheese as a brand-name company. But the packaging lacked any real identification.

From about 1977 to 1978, "generic" items were common in grocery stores. Generic food came in plain white packaging with black text, but often was half as expensive.

The "generic" fad faded quickly. Most consumers were embarrassed to "buy generic", and preferred the social cachet of brand-name goods.

But around 1980, just as the generic fad was fading, major grocery store chains like Safeway, Albertson's, Winn Dixie, and Kroeger began licensing brand-name foods themselves. It wasn't necessarily a new trend. The Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA) had been manufacturing their own groceries since the end of the war, but IGA was a regional chain in the west and considered a purveyor of lower-quality food for blue-collar and working poor.

Safeway was particularly aggressive with their push for an in-house brand. Initially, the idea was that there should, in fact, be a brand. Safeway created the "Scotch Buy" -- a brand that played on the stereotype of Scottish people being particularly thrifty and interested in high quality. "T'ain't fancy but it sure is good!" was their slogan, sung by a redheaded Scottish guy complete with lilt, kilt, and tam o'shanter. Ugh.

In time, however, the big chains began realizing that their own brand name -- Safeway, Albertsons, Food Lion, Osco -- was what lured people in. The "in house" brand largely went away by the late 1980s, replaced with the "store brand". "Albertson's bread" and "A&P coffee" and "Osco aspirin" were commonly seen, with the funky "off-brand" names gone by the wayside.

In the mid-1990s, off-brand names began making a comeback. Safeway introduced "Lucerne" dairy goods, and in the 2000s began pushing its "Pantry Essentials" ultra-low-cost cleaning and household products.

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Now, why discuss this?

Because Safeway's children's cereals are particularly freakish-looking.

Look at their "Crackles" breakfast cereal. They originally chose a mascot, like almost all children's breakfast cereal. In Safeway's case, it was a squirrel. Since kids like crunchy cereal, they named him Crackles.

Frankly, Crackles the Squirrel looks like he's on crack.

Imagine having to look at this insane, greedy, drug-crazed squirrel first thing in the morning.

Safeway jettisoned Crackles after a few years, and now has a generic, 1950s-inspired, bland happy squirrel (in purple) on the cover of their food.

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