To continue with our supermarket streak (three in a row, booyah!) at Brand New I would like to offer a, well, brand new entrant into the category. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market (yes, that’s the official full name) is a new chain of supermarkets opening in the West Coast of the United States, with 30 stores planned to open in the states of Arizona, California and Nevada by the end of 2007. The new venture is headed by UK-based Tesco, one of the world’s largest retailers (“the world’s third-largest retailer, behind Wal-Mart of the United States and Carrefour of France” according to Wikipedia). Launching the store and its associated 1,500-plus SKUs, Tesco worked with three agencies to complete the project, U.S.-based marketing / communications / anythingelse firm Deutsch Inc., U.K.-based and independently-owned branding agency Pemberton & Whitefoord (P&W), and U.K.-based and retail-specialized design and fabrication company Schorleaf. (The invoices from all three combined could probably buy you three or four of those islands near Dubai).
The work towards the launch has been ongoing for more than two and a half years, with Schorleaf being the first one on board and the two other agencies joining in for the remainder eighteen months. Schorleaf was in charge of the physical design of the stores while the two other agencies developed more than 1,500 SKUs that required self-branding — I’m not sure if they sell non-F&E products like, say, Doritos or Tropicana (has anyone been to one of them yet?) — with P&W in charge of 600 SKUs across 70 product families, and Deutsch in charge of packaging for fresh and frozen items, as well as developing the stationery suite, web site, collateral materials, uniforms and a set of brand guidelines done jointly with P&W. So, yes, it was hard. Before I delve into my critique, allow me to share a framework for it:
Tai: Do you think she’s pretty?
Cher: No, she’s a full-on Monet.
Tai: What’s a monet?
Cher: It’s like a painting, see? From far away, it’s OK, but up close, it’s a big old mess.
— Clueless (1995)
My first impression of the work was to be wowed, simply at the fact that so many SKUs were designed from thin air and built into a cohesive brand that would look great aisle after aisle. Colorful, poppy, fresh, dynamic, new… all attributes that came to me at first glance. But I’m not a first glance kind of guy, and upon further scrutiny the whole system is merely competent and sadly lackluster.
Take the logo. They have employed the rounded-corner-except-one-pointy-one holding shape — that a dozen other companies have used before and used way better by Templin Brink in this packaging for Archer Farms — and plopped a rounded-corner typeface (I’ll give them that) with a very weird apple-bomb-with-timer about to explode that, at best, looks like expensive clip art. There is nothing fresh about this logo — and easy? Well, yes.
The packaging, again, looks nice, and I would buy those artichoke hearts in an instant, but everything falls short of greatness. Every layout, every color, every supporting element (from illustrations to photography) feels rushed and incomplete — almost as if they all needed one more round of refinement before going into production. Above all, there is one element to this identity that makes me fume and displays the lack of attention to detail that this packaging received: The faux handwriting. One of the biggest clichés to make something feel friendly, personal and neighborhoody. I don’t mind it when it’s well used or, you know, when it’s actual handwriting. Here, there is no uniqueness with this off-the-shelf typeface; anytime you have “ee”, “oo”, “tt” or just repeating letters close to each other, the effect is lost, as the letters are exactly alike and I still haven’t met anyone that can repeat three identical “e“‘s in a row. For the size of the project, I can’t understand why no one would commission a type designer to create an OpenType font that would have contextual alternate glyphs to avoid repetition and add a layer of sophistication and care to the visual system. But enough about that, c’est la vie in the world of large branding agencies.
My mouth waters, not at the packaging, but at the potential of such a blank canvas where new ideas and executions could be brilliantly exploited. Instead we are treated to an unimaginative set of packaging of familiar and well-trodden visual cues striving for uniqueness and personality — and achieving neither.