Canadian Packaging

Private Matters

Canadian Packaging   

Leading Canadian grocery chain leverages outstanding packaging design to grow its private-brands portfolio and drive consumer loyalty and recognition

Private store brands are no longer the dull-looking, non-distinct products modestly hiding in plain sight on grocers’ retail shelves, with study after study pointing to the relentless rise in the popularity of private brands across the grocery industry landscape, while strongly suggesting that the widespread trend is here to stay.

According to this year’s Food Navigator survey published by FMI – The Food Industry Association, four out of five current private-brand consumers intend to purchase more store brands in the future, with a growing number of them saying that store brands influences them as to where they want to do their grocery shopping.

For leading retailers like Metro, along with its banner stores like Metro Plus, Super C, Food Basics, Marché Ami, Les 5 Saisons and Marché Adonis, the trend validates their long-nurtured belief in the power of store brands to differentiate from competition and drive loyalty.

And even though the current inflationary economy is undoubtedly helping private brands to gain momentum, up to 80 per cent of purchase decisions are made outside of the ‘lowest price’ alone, according to another new food industry survey conducted by IMI International.


As that survey suggests, it is more about the value equation offered by store brand being perceived as ‘worth it’ by the consumers.

“Metro’s private label team has a very consumer-centric approach,” says Marie-France Gibson, vice-president of private brands at the Metro Group.

“It is all about delivering the value on those key attributes that consumers want with a portfolio of brands designed to address every moment of consumption, with specific roles to play in the consumers’ lives,” Gibson explains.

And while taste, quality, convenience and price are still the main purchase drivers, Metro and its long-time strategy and design agency Pigeon Brands have also been focusing on some important pillars supporting those drivers, with the environment naturally receiving a great deal of attention.

While people have been talking about it for years, consumers finally seem ready for eco-optimized packaging and are looking for more sustainable options.

And while the so-called ‘green revolution’ many have been waiting for has been slow to materialize, according to leading consumer intelligence company NeilsonIQ, this is about to change, as more and more consumers want “sustainability” to be the new business baseline.

In doing so, the consumers are rewarding brands who emphasize sustainability by helping them achieve disproportionate growth.

Commitment to the environment is nothing new for Metro’s private-brands business.

Well aware of the environmental impact of the approximately 4,000 SKUs (stock-keeping units) in its store brand portfolio, the private-brand team has worked relentlessly in recent years to increase the number of Canadian-sourced products, which now account for 90 per cent of local suppliers.

Back in 2020, Metro worked alongside Pigeon Brand and other industry leaders such as ÉEQ (Éco Entreprises Québec), Metro created the Better Recycling Blue Book guide to encourage its vendors to improve the recyclability of their packaging, reduce their waste, and eliminate unnecessary packaging.

Some of the key initiatives implemented since then include:

  • Recyclable bags for frozen fruit assortments by switching from multi-layer to HDPE (high-density polyethylene) film;
  • Recyclable cups for 100-gram assorted yogurt four-packs by switching from polystyrene to polypropylene.
  • 20 per cent plastic reduction for the K-Cups coffee pods assortments;
  • Carton bread clips for many of Metro’s bread products, replacing polystyrene clips;
  • Recyclable tray for the Irresistibles three-cheese platter, thanks to a switch from polystyrene to PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic;
  • Removal of a non-recyclable polystyrene tray from the 284-gram Irresistibles Shrimp Torpedo packs;
  • 30 per cent box weight reduction for two SKUs of the Selection brand cereal bars.

Over the past year, seismic shifts in consumer food preferences and eating behaviors have created waves of upheaval across the value chain.

According to a recent Earnst & Young report, titled How to Create Long-term Value in a Reimagined Food System, the traditional food system is in the process of reinvention—being shaped with a strong focus on the consumer, the planet, and connections.

This is not a foreign concept to the Metro team, for whom innovation is a key driver to create and put unique and distinctive products in market, that consumers can only find in the Metro banner stores.

In the last couple of year, Pigeon Brand helped Metro bring many of its store brand to life with exceptional package design, including frozen fruits mixes, seasonal Christmas offerings, limited-edition flavoured chip, seafood appetizers, frozen pizzas and snacks, etc.

“These products are not private brands: they are brands, and we treat them as such,” says Pigeon Brands executive creative director Olivier Chevillot.

“From strategy to design, the attention to the visual language and the storytelling is meant to help them win,” Chevillot states, “whatever the category they play in.”

This winning mentality has been strongly underscored over the last year with multiple prestigious industry awards.

At this year’s 30th annual Grand Prix New Products Awards competition of the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), products from Metro’s brands—including Irresistibles, Selection, Life Smart and Personnelle—stood out with an impressive 26 nominations and 11 awards, making it the highest number of nominations in the private label categories and the highest number of awards overall across all categories.

Among these prestigious awards, Metro received the All-Canadian trophy for its Irresistibles Ice Creams—offering unique flavours such as blueberry and hot chocolate, while highlighting Metro’s commitment to working with local suppliers.

Metro also impressed the judges by winning the Innovative Packaging Grand Prix award with featuring a playful and clever Advent calendar with design and presentation that communicates value and differentiation.

Since 2018, the Metro Group has received 113 nominations and has won 44 awards from its portfolio.

Metro has also done very well here and abroad over the past few years at the Canadian PAC Awards, the Global PAC Awards and at the Vertex Awards, the latter being an international competition rewarding exceptional private label design.

“This demonstrates the innovative nature and leadership of our brand portfolio,” Gibson concludes, “as well as the exceptional value and quality of our products, while showcasing our commitment to using environmentally responsible packaging and impactful design.”


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