Co-operative Retail Services, the second largest co-operative retailer,
is adopting an aggressive marketing stance and talking to agencies about
stronger brand advertising right across the board for its four chains.
The retailer, a sister company to the Co-operative Bank, has 530 food
stores nationwide, under names such as Leo’s, Pioneer and Lo-Cost, and
spends a combined pounds 7 million a year on advertising.
Profits have been disappointing at CRS, and last year’s results, due out
in the next few weeks, are expected to show another difficult year.
By comparison, the Co-operative Bank has increased its customer base by
100 per cent over the past year, partly by drawing heavily on the strong
ethical principles of the Co-op movement in its advertising campaigns.
CRS has done minimal overall branding work, and has not promoted the
group’s strong sense of social responsibility, which has been enshrined
in a set of published principles.
However, there has recently been a string of marketing initiatives since
the planned merger between CRS and another co-operative group fell
through last summer. These have included the launch of an in-store
magazine, a range of own-label products, and the unveiling of CRS’s 12-
month ‘low-price zone’ campaign.
The Manchester-based CRS currently has two rostered agencies - J. Walter
Thompson (Manchester), which handles Leo’s, Pioneer and Stop and Shop,
as well as some non-food business, and Barrington Johnson Lorains, which
CRS took on when it bought the Lo-Cost chain a year ago. Each handles
its own media.
Both are understood to have been asked to look at CRS’s business as a
whole, although neither would talk about it to Campaign. The Co-op’s
food advertising manager, Jim Plumley, denied any major review was
afoot. ‘We have conversations with various agencies on an ongoing basis.
At this stage we’ve got no plans to change,’ he said. But reports that
CRS is considering a more consolidated approach continue to circulate.
CRS was set up last century as an ‘ambulance society’ to run any ailing