Safeway breaks new ground with a marketing strategy for its store-brand of natural products
What is 305 feet long, weighs 11,303 pounds and required 1,032 bolts to assemble? The world's longest picnic table.
Safeway proudly holds the title after earning a Guinness World Record for assembling the table on National Picnic Day in June at Marina Green in San Francisco.
As part of an out-of-the-box marketing event for its new Open Nature natural product line, the retailer invited more than 400 Safeway shoppers, employees and San Francisco Bay Area bloggers to attend a picnic lunch on the table. The picnic featured the recipes of Food Network chef Tyler Florence created using Open Nature products.
A Guinness official was present to measure the table, which was 5 feet longer than a football field and equivalent to 38 standard picnic tables. Built by four people in 10 days, the table is made of 7,176 feet of Douglas fir.
This table broke the previous Guinness World Record (248 feet, 2 inches) set in New Orleans in October 2009.
As exceptional as it was, the Guinness World Record is not the only unique marketing event Safeway has created for Open Nature, a line of natural food and beverages that do not contain artificial flavors, sweeteners, additives or preservatives.
The retailer has devised a variety of grassroots, nature-themed promotional campaigns. These include a contest to find “America's Most Natural City,” and an RV road trip across America.
Such efforts are among the reasons why Safeway's private-label sales are outpacing national brands by about 3 to 1. And while this occurred during a soft economy, the company predicts continued success.
“We think, should the economy get better, we will continue to outpace national-brand growth,” Steve Burd, Safeway's chairman, president and chief executive officer, said during a third quarter conference call with analysts. A Safeway spokeswoman was unavailable for comment.
Since launching Open Nature earlier this year, Safeway has been busy devising innovative ways to get the word out about it. Over the summer, Nancy Cota, vice president of innovation/consumer brands who spearheaded the development of Open Nature, traveled the country in a custom recreational vehicle to sample Open Nature granola, peanut butter and other products. Stops included San Francisco, Idaho and Yellowstone National Park.
Cota documented her venture in the Safeway blog. “From Mount Rushmore to the nation's capital, my family and I have had a great time traveling across the United States for the past few weeks to take in some amazing sights,” Cota wrote in one post.
The most recent Open Nature event came last month as part of a Facebook contest to vote on “America's Most Natural City.” Safeway asked the public to vote for one of 15 pre-selected cities where Safeway and its family of stores have a significant presence in the community. They were Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tucson and Washington, D.C. Portland earned the most votes (1,189), for its natural attractions. Coming in second and third were Denver and Seattle, respectively; both had tremendous community support for the contest.
Portland received a donation of $20,000 for its Parks & Recreation Department, along with 25 picnic tables from the Guinness event.
“We wanted to make a positive impact and give back to the parks and recreation organizations,” Mike Minasi, Safeway's president of marketing, said in a statement. “Many of them provide everything from playgrounds to picnic spots and it was clear that voters shared our passion for preservation of all things natural. We hope that our contest inspires others to give back to their communities in this time of reduced budgets.”
In addition to the monetary prize, Safeway randomly awarded one Facebook voter a year's supply of Open Nature foods. Portland Parks & Recreation put the donation toward the city's E-205 Initiative to enhance nature trails and build park amenities such as children's playgrounds in the East Portland area.
“The money will help us at a critical time in light of E-205,” Mark Ross, media relations for Portland Parks & Recreation, told SN.
What made the campaign so effective for Safeway was that the city of Portland helped market it. Once it found out that it was nominated for the “Most Natural City” title, it started spreading the word via Facebook, Twitter and other social media to get Portland residents to vote.
“Safeway got more than its money's worth,” Ross said. “We did a huge push to encourage people to vote.”
The city of Portland used money to enhance a public park and adjacent elementary school with cedar chip trails for running and walking, and new picnic tables and benches.
“This was a unique opportunity to enhance an entire community for generations to come,” he said.
Safeway presented the money in a high-profile media event. Portland Parks & Recreation Commissioner Nick Fish's was on hand with dozens of school children at East Portland's Gilbert Park to officially accept a check from Safeway.
Safeway's Open Nature Facebook contest serves as a poster child for how a retailer can use social media to its advantage, said Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill.
“They got the city of Portland involved and talking about the brand in a positive way,” he said.
What's more, the media reported on the event — thereby giving Safeway exposure. Safeway didn't have to pay a lot to spark such brand interest. The $20,000 award was a nominal price to pay for that kind of brand awareness.
Safeway's Open Nature strategy is another example of how a retailer can successfully develop and position its store brands, said Wisner.
“Safeway has set the standard of what retailers are going to have to do to going forward,” he said.