There has been a lot of discussion about Tesco’s new venture, Jack’s on Linkedin and the press. A clearer picture is emerging about the brand, which is having a huge amount of fanfare for what is, in reality, a small launch of two stores. Tesco isn’t a stranger to launching a new brand. They did it before in the USA to much fanfare with the ill-fated Fresh & Easy. Much was written about that venture too, some of ill-founded, some of it true. I was involved in the branding and packaging for Fresh & Easy while working in a previous design agency. We got to see all the consumer research in the hush-hush operation and went to the USA to check out the competition. It was an exciting time, but it didn’t feel right from the start. Fresh & Easy seemed to sit between two stalls, a bit mid-market and bland. I remember being in a meeting with Sir Terry Leahy and was about to make an observation but was stopped by one of the Tesco team. You didn’t question him apparently!

I thought Fresh & Easy should have been closer to Trader Joe’s, which seems much loved in the USA (although not without it’s critics). The atmosphere in Trader Joe’s was friendly, with happy smiley staff and very distinctive packaging with a retro feel.  The brand had an interesting history and its name comes from the founder, a real person! The USA is full of businesses where owners are proud to put their name above the door.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market didn’t exactly roll off the tongue as a brand name and while it introduced certain innovations into the USA such as self-service checkouts, these didn’t exactly make it feel easy in a country where people pack your bags for you. Fresh and Easy felt stark, impersonal and cold compared to Trader Joe’s and while it was launched to much fanfare, it suffered from teething troubles, lack of stock of stock which gave it some bad publicity from the start. On top of that, it introduced lots of own brand/private label products under the Fresh & Easy banner that were often sold alongside brands which were a huge upfront cost developing thousands of products and lines in a new market. If any of these products felt below par, it reflected on the whole Fresh & Easy brand. They didn’t excel in any one area or stand out and the original ideas for the brand were watered down in the realities of bringing a new brand to market. Because of this, no-one really cared when it failed.

Jack’s as a name is right on the money though. It has Providence and the story is spot on, going back to the ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’ ethos of Tesco’s founder. The emphasis on British produced goods is very timely too. Jack undoubtedly also stands out as a discounter. So far, so good and on paper, this all should work as it addresses some of the lessons learned from Fresh & Easy. But have they mistaken cheap for value?

Jack’s logo reminds me of the handmade grocers discount special boards from yesteryear.  This has received some criticism from some, but once again I believe it works…if it was just on the bags and store. The mistake with the logo is that they have stuck it on all the packaging.

Aldi and Lidl don’t brand their own brand with their logo. They create their own branded products that look like credible brands in their own right (but often mimic them, too closely in my book). But they don’t look cheap, they look confident and believable. They have clearly invested in their design. Jack’s, on the other hand, have gone down the traditional own brand/private label route with the same Jack’s logo at the top of every pack. The own brand/private label packaging design looks cheap and generic. I was expecting Jack’s to go down a slightly retro route, following Aldi and Lidl along similar lines to Tesco Discounter ranges they introduced years ago. These own brand/private labels brands looked like tertiary brands, sourced by the supermarket and sold to their customers as exclusive brands only available in store. This would have been a good fit for Tesco. Remember the wonderful Dudley Moore ads when he was trying to find the chickens, travelling across the world as Tesco buyer and happening upon wonderful products that he thought should be on Tesco shelves? Why didn’t they build on that? Imagine if the offer was ‘Jack’s, sourcing products from British farmers and producers, only available in Jacks’. Then, if a product doesn’t meet expectations, it could be dropped, tweaked and redesigned without harming the main brand. Having exclusive, believable brands at amazing prices is delivering real value in consumers eyes.

You expect own brand/private label to be cheaper.

Aldi, in particular, are investing in their stores. The produce is in real wooden crates, in contrast to Fresh & Easy who printed wood onto cardboard for their point of sale. Some Aldi stores look more Wholefoods than Costco. Jack’s seem to have gone for a look in-store that screams ‘cheap’. It’s a stark contrast. People like low prices, but that’s not the main reason they shop. The biggest selling products in the UK aren’t always the cheapest.

Just compare this Aldi store to Jack’s:

In the quest to compete, I think Tesco may have made a mistake, just like they did with Fresh & Easy. They think they are competing by on price instead of perceived value. I expect the two test stores they have started with the evolve pretty rapidly. Tesco has been innovative of late with some fresh ideas and I expect that the rollout of other Jack’s stores will only happen once Tesco is entirely happy with the format.

Jack’s may be fresh, but it won’t be easy.