From Boutique to Big Retail: Strategies for Premium Brands Entering Supermarkets

Phil McMahon | B2B

From Boutique to Big Retail: Strategies for Premium Brands Entering Supermarkets

Phil McMahon | B2B
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Entering large, high-footfall retail spaces can be a pivotal moment for boutique, artisan, or independent brands. The promise of increased volume sales, brand visibility, and a wider audience can be irresistible. However, when an upscale or niche brand enters the supermarket scene, certain challenges regarding brand perception arise. Strategically addressing these challenges head-on can ensure that your brand retains its unique identity while reaping the benefits of broader market exposure. Here's a look at some of these challenges, along with potential strategies to address them:


Perception of the Brand:



Challenge
: The reputation of a retail store can influence consumer perceptions of your product. For instance, a premium product's value may be perceived as diminished if it's found in a discount stores such as Poundland, versus the heightened esteem it might receive in a high-end supermarket like Waitrose.

Solution: Partner selectively with retail outlets that align with your brand's identity. By placing your products in upscale chains or dedicated gourmet sections, you can ensure that your brand’s premium image remains consistent and uncompromised.  Don’t make assumptions about consumer perceptions though.  Consumer sentiment can change over time, as strongly evidenced in 2023 by the growth of supermarkets’ sales of own label products in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis.  Make sure you have an up-to-date barometer of consumer sentiment towards your brand and your target retailer.


Scale of Production:

Challenge: A product's exclusivity and artisanal appeal can wane if consumers perceive it as mass-produced due to widespread availability.

Solution: Lean into storytelling. Consider the success of brands like Hendrick's Gin. Despite its availability in many UK supermarkets and worldwide, its branding consistently emphasises its unique botanical blend and the small-batch production methods used in Scotland. The ornate, apothecary-style bottle, combined with marketing campaigns that highlight its distinctive cucumber and rose infusions, ensures it retains an artisanal image despite its wide distribution. By focusing on origin and unique production methods, your brand can maintain its premium perception even when widely available.


Marketing and Positioning:

Challenge: A brand's perceived value can be influenced by a supermarket's advertising methods or the way the product is displayed on shelves.

Solution: Work closely with retailers to ensure that co-marketing efforts and in-store presentations resonate with the brand's image and message. For instance, Fever-Tree, a premium tonic water and mixer brand, has managed to maintain its high-end image in supermarkets. Their collaboration with retailers often results in dedicated end-of-aisle displays, pairing suggestions with premium gins, and highlighting the brand's commitment to natural ingredients. By actively shaping the narrative and presentation of the product in-store, you can preserve your premium status even on mainstream shelves.


Pricing Strategy:

Challenge: Regular heavy discounts can decrease a product's perceived value.

Solution: To maintain a product's premium image, brands should focus on consistent pricing, educational promotions, and unique packaging. Take Yakult, for example. This probiotic dairy product from Japan has long been associated with gut health and positions itself as a premium health drink in the UK. You can find it in major supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Morrisons. However, instead of resorting to heavy discounting, Yakult frequently rolls out educational campaigns highlighting the science of gut health. The product's distinctive small bottles and its focused product range - as opposed to branching into various yogurt-based items - underline its speciality. Consequently, even when placed beside cheaper alternatives, Yakult distinguishes itself as a niche, science-backed offering.


Quality Consistency:

Challenge: Scaling production for supermarket demands might risk quality inconsistencies.

Solution: Be transparent about commitment to quality and brand values. Tony's Chocolonely, despite its playful packaging, has a serious mission: to make 100% slave-free chocolate the norm. As they've established themselves in UK supermarkets like Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, they've remained committed to high-quality chocolate and their unique ethical stance. Each bar's segmentation (purposely uneven to represent the inequalities in the chocolate industry) and detailed information about their ethical sourcing practices ensure consumers are aware of their dedication to quality and fairness. By maintaining product quality and consistently communicating their values, Tony's Chocolonely has retained its premium brand perception amidst widespread distribution.


Post-Purchase Engagement:

Challenge: Even after a successful purchase in supermarkets, ensuring repeat purchases and building loyalty can be challenging amidst the vast array of choices available to consumers.

Solution: Focus on post-purchase communication and engage consumers beyond the supermarket aisle. For instance, Burt's Bees, a premium natural personal care brand, offers not only quality products but also emphasises its commitment to sustainability and natural ingredients. Once a boutique brand, it has now entered major supermarkets, yet they ensure customer engagement through their online channels, sharing tips, brand stories, and promoting their commitment to sustainability. This level of ongoing dialogue can keep your consumers informed and connected, encouraging brand loyalty even in a competitive supermarket setting.

Transitioning from boutique spaces to the bustling aisles of supermarkets poses unique challenges for premium brands. Yet, with tailored strategies, your brand can uphold its distinguished identity, ensuring that the mass market's reach complements rather than compromises its esteemed reputation. By prioritising brand alignment, consumer engagement, and consistent quality, you can successfully navigate the supermarket landscape, turning potential pitfalls into opportunities for growth and deeper consumer connections.  If the brands mentioned in the examples above can do it, so can you!

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