Co-op: Brits are tired of brands jumping on the ethical bandwagon

As it launches a new marketing campaign for its food business, the Co-op’s customer director says it is using the trust in its brand to build on strong sales and attract new members.

The Co-op is launching a new marketing campaign celebrating the ethical way it sources food and encouraging people to sign up to its membership scheme, as well as taking the opportunity to have a dig at its rivals over sustainability.

The ad, which explains how Co-op members can now get 5% back on all own-label food and drink purchases and that 1% on all purchases is invested to support their local communities, features prominent buzzwords such as ‘Fairtrade’ and ‘British sourced’ in its voiceover.

And speaking to Marketing Week, Jemima Bird, customer director at the Co-op, insists the ethical positioning is possible because consumers trust the brand in a “unique” way.

She says: “People trust us in a way they don’t trust other retailers. It’s because we have always stood for sustainability, it isn’t just about suddenly jumping on a bandwagon and deciding ‘lets do the community thing next’. Shoppers see through that instantly unless you actually give back to the community.”

“A great place”

The Co-op wants to add another one million members in 2017, having added half a million since relaunching its membership scheme last September. And with the latest campaign once again reinforcing its work in the community – it claims to have raised £3.7m for local causes since September 2016 – Bird says the brand is in a “great place” to hit those targets.

The industry numbers appear to reflect Bird’s positivity. According to Kantar Worldpanel the Co-op grew its sales by 2% for the 12 weeks ending 29 January – a rate well ahead of the rest of the grocery market. In fact, it continues a run of growth that stretches back to July 2015.

Bird admits she’s seeing more Co-op Food carrier bags on the high street than she has in “quite some time”. And its growth is coming despite the rise of the discounters, with Aldi recently overtaking the Co-op to become the fifth largest grocer

“I’m not sure we’re doing well on food because people are tiring of the discounters but there’s definitely a place for specific retailers at specific periods of time and right now the nation has real hunger for trusted convenience retailers,” adds Bird.

Making a co-operative seem cool

While she wouldn’t discuss the Co-op Bank, which recently put itself up for sale, Bird says the Co-op Group is hitting targets in other areas of its business such as its funeral care. The biggest focus for 2017, she says, will be using its momentum in food to generate new members across the group, particularly millennials.

“I guess our biggest challenge is to convince people we’re cool,” she admits. “We want to continue to rebuild the Co-op brand so people are passionate about it and want to shop at it. Millennials are a key part of that journey.”

In targeting millennials, social media will continue to be a huge marketing focus for the Co-op. Yet Bird concedes the Facebook metrics scandal has made the brand turn to its chief media officer and data scientists and listen to them “very closely”.

She concludes: “What P&G’s Marc Pritchard said was a really good shout. We are tasking the people who really look after our data and media to put the same rigour around digital ad channels as traditional spend. We need to get the most amount of bang for our buck.”