Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Does Green Mean It's Safe?

Today's Brandweek features a story about Safeway bringing organic food to the masses. The Q&A with Safeway top marketer, James White, discusses the retailer's latest moves in organic and green products, and tries to clarify the difference its O and Eating Right brands.

It seems to me that the article misses the main point: As a society, we have lost faith in our institutions to keep us safe. From the FTC to the FDA to OSHA to EPA, the regulators are asleep at the wheel. People are looking for someone to fill the void and reassure us that the products we buy and the food we eat are not going to hurt us. Frankly, this is a big part of Whole Foods' historical appeal.

But Whole Foods is embattled on multiple fronts right now: from the acquisition of Wild Oats to the latest e.coli-related recall to becoming more value-oriented. As a result, the "seal of approval" aspect of its brand is in the background.

Safeway has a huge opportunity to become the new seal of approval signaling what's safe to buy, use and eat. Maybe that was the thinking behind the company's name in the first place! Can it afford to invest in both O and Eating Right to deliver the message? Should there be an umbrella brand that carries the overall message, and to which both O and Eating Right are linked? That can all be figured out.

The key is for Safeway to be honest in its claims, speak to consumers in plain English, and put the seal of approval brand(s) only on products that really are good for us and not just less bad versions of what's already available. Are they up to the task?

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