With a new customer-centric chain-wide strategy, an ambitious multi-year plan to refresh its 1,100-plus stores, and a modernized logo, Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion is approaching its future with an emphatic roar. The grocery retailer, part of Delhaize America, the U.S. division of Brussels-based Delhaize Group, is “working to own the easiest full-shop grocery experience in the Southeast, anchored by a strong commitment to affordability, freshness and the communities it serves,” explains Paula Summers, Food Lion’s director of marketing. In doing so, it’s building on its longstanding heritage of convenient locations and low prices.
The new strategy, announced in May 2014, features the tagline “Easy, Fresh and Affordable … You Can Count on Food Lion Every Day!” Food Lion relied on customer feedback in strategy development, Summers says.
“Our customers have told us that they want a grocery experience where it’s easy to shop, easy to save and easy to figure out what is for dinner tonight,” she says.
Implementation of the new strategy called for small changes such as the addition of blue bags for cold/frozen items, as well as big changes such as an expansion of product variety to meet shopper needs, Summers notes. But perhaps the largest undertaking for Food Lion was customer-centric training for every one of its 63,000 associates in 10 Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states. The training helps ensure the retailer’s customers have a consistent experience store to store.
“We have redoubled our efforts to improve customer service and ensure our products are always fresh,” she says. “We want our customers to know that they can count on their local Food Lion team to meet their needs and serve their local community.”
In addition to an enhanced product assortment and improved customer service, the refreshed Food Lion stores feature new register systems that make checkout faster and savings easier for customers throughout the store. Thus far, the retailer has completed 77 store remodels in the Wilmington and Greenville, N.C., markets, Summers says, and is in the process of remodeling another 160 stores in the Raleigh, N.C., market.
Refreshing own brands
Also getting a refresh as part the new strategy are Food Lion’s own-brand products. The retailer has been converting its my essentials brand to the Food Lion brand, explains Tesha Sigmon, director, our brands for Delhaize America. Along with that conversion process, Food Lion has been introducing store brand items into new categories such as fresh produce and fresh meat, and has been refreshing the look of its Food Lion brand products.
During the packaging refresh process, Food Lion has also been adding information to the front panel of each product to make it easier for shoppers to spot nutritional information, product certifications and product benefits, she adds. The “official” launch of the refreshed brand to customers was on Sept. 9.
Food Lion’s own brands are critical to implementation of the new go-to-market strategy, too, “helping customers stay on budget without sacrificing quality or compromising on nutrition,” Sigmon says. Own-brand items are designed to be “easy to find, easy to use and easy to trust” — and are offered under the banner-specific Food Lion brand and Delhaize America’s Nature’s Place, Taste of Inspirations, Home 360 and Healthy Accents brands.
Each brand has a unique role in fulfilling customer needs. The Food Lion brand covers a wide range of food and beverage products of national brand quality to meet customers everyday needs, she notes, and save them money and time.
“We have some great new offerings in produce, including potatoes, apples and carrots,” Sigmon adds.
The Nature’s Place brand, meanwhile, covers natural and organic products that are free from 100-plus undesirable ingredients. New to the brand are chicken and pork products, as well as almond butter.
For customers desiring a premium food or beverage product made from the “finest ingredients,” Food Lion offers its Taste of Inspirations brand. The retailer currently is introducing meats and cheeses under this brand to its deli department, Sigmon notes.
On the non-food side, the Home 360 brand covers household items such as paper products and laundry detergent, while sub-brands Home 360 Pet and Home360 Baby cover pet care and baby care products, respectively. The Healthy Accents brand, meanwhile, covers health and beauty products. These brands all offer a quality that is on par with or better than the national brands, Sigmon says.
All store brand products also are backed by Food Lion’s “double your money back” guarantee. And the retailer continues to innovate on the private brand side in areas such as sodium reduction, packaging sustainability and more, says Heath Osburn, director, brand development and innovation, our brands for Delhaize America.
Food Lion also helps shoppers make more nutritious choices via use of the Guiding Stars nutritional ranking system, which assigns one, two or three stars to each product, with three stars indicating the most nutritious option, he notes.
“We believe continuing to innovate in the space of private brands is important,” Osburn says, “especially when it comes to making our products easy to use, making them more sustainable and meeting shopper expectations for new items.”
Going forward, Food Lion will continue to strive to make private brand items easy to use and find — and will also continue to raise the bar in relation to private brand quality, innovation and sustainability, he says.
Speaking of sustainability, Food Lion published guidelines for its private brands as part of its 2014 Sustainability Report, Osburn says. Since then, the retailer is on track to achieve its goal of using 100 percent traceable, deforestation-free palm oil in own-brand products. It also added front-of-pack nutritional information to more than 50 percent of its products and improved the nutritional profile of a number of products.
“We look to our creative associates, as well as customer feedback, to continue to improve upon our private brands,” he adds.
In recent years, Food Lion has stepped up its private brand marketing efforts, too, hosting creative events such as Operation Grocery Drop (large-scale own-brand product giveaways in selected cities within Food Lion’s market area) and imaginative contests such as the “You Name It” social media contest to name private brand sodas and store brand-related recipe contests. The company has even leveraged its private brands for the greater good in programs such as its Food Lion Feeds Holidays Without Hunger campaign, whereby customers have been able to purchase and donate a specially marked “Holidays Without Hunger” food box containing own-brand food item staples. Inspiration for such events and contests comes from within the company, Summers says.
“We are extremely fortunate to have talented creative associates who have overall accountability for our campaigns and for bringing them to life,” she stresses. “Additionally, we are constantly listening to feedback from our customers in order to draw inspiration for new campaigns, as well as review the success of current campaigns.”
Food Lion relies heavily on digital and social media for private brand marketing efforts, Summers adds, as they allow the retailer to reach a wide audience. In-store merchandising also is important to building awareness of the retailer’s own brands.
“Marketing and merchandising efforts are vital to overall private brand growth goals,” she explains. “Our strong teams work to continue to focus on creative marketing and merchandising with respect to private brand products.”
With such a large store brand program — consisting of approximately 7,000 SKUs under multiple brands — strong relationships with store brand suppliers also are critical to Food Lion’s continuing success on the own-brand side and, ultimately, to implementation of its new go-to-market strategy.
“We feel it’s important to make sure suppliers understand our brand promise, as well as quality controls set in place, in order to offer our customers higher-quality products and experiences,” Osburn says.
To keep those relationships moving positively forward, Food Lion makes sure its suppliers understand the end goal of each project and adhere to the stringent guidelines the retailer puts in place. And even though Food Lion doesn’t operate any of its own manufacturing plants, its approach to its private brand products is hands-on rather than procurement-focused.
“Food Lion’s our brands team plays a very active role in research and development to make sure we keep pace with trends, maintain high quality and continue to innovate for our consumers,” Sigmon says.
In late June, Delhaize Group and Royal Ahold N.V., based in the Netherlands, announced their intention to merge, meaning Food Lion (and sister grocery retailer Hannaford Brothers Co., Scarborough, Maine) will be part of a much larger company that includes thousands of stores in both the United States and Europe. (Ahold USA, Quincy, Mass., operates the Stop & Shop, Giant Food, Giant Food Stores and Martin’s Food Markets banners, as well as Peapod.)
“Ahold and Delhaize are an exceptional match, with complementary cultural values, heritage and portfolios, and a shared focus on customers and communities,” the companies said in a statement. “This merger is a unique opportunity to create an even stronger and more innovative food retailer [that is] able to serve more than 50 million customers per week in the United States and in Europe.
“The combination will create a network of more than 6,500 multi-format stores characterized by trusted brands with strong local identities,” they added, “which will allow us to serve more customers more completely, provide expanded opportunities for our associates and generate significant value for our shareholders.”
Food Lion has been converting its my essentials brand to the Food Lion brand.