Safeway Redefines Transparency With 'Natural' Line


Safeway, which already dominates the organic-products market with its O Organics line, is rolling out Open Nature, yet another store brand. But with this one, which has all product ingredients listed on the front of the package as well as the back, "we're responding to consumer demand for transparency, and we're telling them exactly what we mean by natural," Nancy Cota, Safeway's VP/innovation and new product development, tells Marketing Daily. "They are tired of four-syllable ingredients and brands that claim to be natural when they're not. We're giving them an option that means they won't even have to turn the package over and look on the back."

The retailer is plugging the product in stores and on packaging with the tagline: "We believe that nature has nothing to hide, and neither should your food."



Consumer demand for such a line has been building for some time, explains Jim Seiple, group VP/research & development, but this line has been years in the making. "The problem is that while the word 'organic' has a very clear meaning, and is governed by the USDA, the term 'natural' is much looser. For a consumer, figuring out what each manufacturer means when they use it is very confusing. We're offering one definition -- 100% natural, 100% real, minimally processed -- and explaining it on all the products and throughout our stores."

Another delay, he says, was that it took time to find sources. For example, "we only use whole grains and whole wheat. Open Nature products don't have any enriched flour, synthetic vitamin fortifications, alkalized cocoa, or hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils -- finding those vendors took some time."

"We know that there is a lot of mistrust out there," adds Cota, "so it was important for us to wait until we could get it all right."

Cota and Seiple point to recent research from Packaged Facts that shows while 38% of consumers currently buy organic products, 58% look for those that are natural -- and that while both are up 9% from last year, sales are expected to double to $78 billion by 2015. "We would like to do for natural with what we did for organics," says Cota, who spearheaded the retailer's O Organics brand, which now includes 300 certified organic products and is the biggest selling organic line in the U.S.

To promote the new line, Safeway is serving a meal on what it hopes will be the world's longest picnic table: a 305-feet long sustainably made fir table at an event in San Francisco. "That's five feet longer than a football field," he says. (Celebrity chef Tyler Florence is scheduled to cook up recipes using the new line.) Afterward, the table will be split into eight-foot segments, and distributed to parks in communities where Safeway operates. The idea is to set a new Guinness World Records. Adds Cota: "We figured since we hope to build the biggest natural brand, why not start with the longest picnic table?"

Open Nature is the latest in Pleasanton, Calif.-based retailer's ever-expanding store-brand strategy; it currently has more than a dozen. "Private label has been growing so fast for the past 10 years," he says, "in part because Baby Boomers grew up with them, and are open to how they're evolving. They used to just be about price, then they became about achieving the same quality as national brand for a lower price. Now they're lifestyle brands -- we see them as a way to bring shoppers back to Safeway again and again. In fact, we never even refer to them as "private label" in house -- we treat them like regular brands, and act like a little CPG company inside a retailer."

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