Kroger Rebrand: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
While I’m a loyal Publix shopper, on occasion, I’ve stopped into a Kroger grocery store out of convenience. The truth is, I’ve never felt a connection with the Kroger brand, brand support, product or offers.
In preparation for writing this rebranding review, I came across many articles that commented on Kroger’s past marketing initiatives, such as “Right Store, Right Price” or “Kroger Means Meat.” None of which I can recall.
Poor assumptions and poor branding.
What I do remember from shopping at Kroger is the awkward logo, the unhelpful employees, the dollar-store-style sale signage and the card you need to get the deals. Don’t get me started on the flies.
On the bright side, I do enjoy The Little Clinic branding within Kroger. It’s one memorable sign of life and professionalism.
Kroger as a Grocery Retailer
Kroger was established in 1883 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Kroger now has almost 2,800 stores in 35 states and annual sales of more than $121.1 billion. It’s not the largest grocery retailer in the U.S., but it is one of the largest in the world.
Employing nearly half a million associates, Kroger and its banner names serve 9 million-plus customers daily. Many of its stores feature fueling centers, health clinics, and pharmacies.
Kroger also does good. They donated $192 million in 2018 to support hunger causes in its local communities, it diverts tons of waste from landfills, rescues produce and reduces waste, and is constantly making electricity usage improvements.
Industry observers say growth in Kroger’s core food retail business has lagged and the company’s bottom line has been squeezed by competition from Amazon, Walmart, and other large grocery retailers.
Kroger Unveils a New Brand
In November 2019, Kroger unveiled its new brand. It had a refreshed logo, a brand color scheme, and a tagline; paired with a brand font set and the birth of the Kroji’s. The new identity was designed by DDB.
Kroger states per their website, “The last two years have been a time of transformation as we work to redefine the grocery experience through Restock Kroger. And we just completed another important step on this journey – clearly defining our brand to celebrate our love of people and our love of food.”
Reinventing an organization is a valid reason for a rebrand, so I’m glad to see that Kroger made the decision to innovate.
Unfortunately, Kroger seems to have ignored customer experience elements during its rebranding process. Had they prioritized the customer experience, they could have made a larger impact.
Kroger Rebrand: Initial Takeaways
Setting aside my opinion about the design and details, there are a few key branding points that this rebrand nails.
First, the rebrand delivers the ability to connect or engage with consumers. It has achieved a unique look that piques interest and garners attention. The existing Kroger brand delivered zero engagement.
Second, the rebrand helps Kroger stand out in a sea of grocery competition. The fact that no one has compared it to another rebrand in a review is incredible.
According to Mandy Rassi, Kroger’s Vice President of Marketing, “Strip away the logos, and it is impossible to tell the difference between the [grocery] retailers.”
The custom illustrations within the new Kroger rebrand squash the imitators.
The messaging about the new brand states that it provides brand consistency for Kroger. There’s no way to judge if consistency is delivered when a brand is launched, but the creation of the illustrated Krojis will certainly help.
Kroger is right to not simply rely on the rebrand alone to drive change. They have backed the Kroger rebrand with an aggressive multi-media marketing campaign that strives to bring to life their new position and approach. The rebrand is one step in a larger initiative called Restock Kroger.
“We are on a transformation journey and we are making strong progress on redefining the customer experience,” said Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO. “Everything we are doing today is creating a truly seamless shopping experience, so we can serve customers anything, anytime and anywhere.”
The Kroger Logo
The logo is definitely an improvement. It’s cleaner, more balanced, has increased letter spacing, and shows a stronger, more precise construction.
It’s still keeping with the large, continuous letterforms on the ‘K’ and the ‘G,’ which seem to subtly depict a smiley face. It’s still playful and light-hearted, but takes a more modern approach.
Other than the half circles, the font face looks fairly standard, but a good choice for standard. For a company with the breadth of Kroger, I would have wanted a custom font set created with more unique qualities of visual interest, but the new logo trumps the existing logo and pairs nicely with the new custom Kroji illustrations.
Completely scrapping the longtime Kroger logo would be detrimental to the retailer and a difficult transition. I think the refreshed logo serves its purpose well enough.
Blue remains Kroger’s signature color. The company says it “represents the Kroger brand heritage of food savvy, and signals safety and trust to customers.”
Since “Fresh” is a key concept in this rebrand, it does make you wonder: could they have moved to a more “Fresh” color? Or created a color concept system that would allow a “Fresh” key color to be introduced to the brand on a recurring basis?
The Kroger Tagline
According to Kroger, the rebranding is shaped around a new slogan, “Fresh for Everyone,” to convey its commitment to providing “fresh, affordable and delicious food.”
The company said the “fresh” focus also portrays the Kroger name as a “uniquely egalitarian American brand.”
Let’s stop right there for a second. If we are going to say our stores and products are for everyone, we can’t use words like egalitarian, because not everyone knows what that means. Brand disconnect in verbiage.
Kroger says, “We believe no matter who or where you are, everyone deserves to have affordable, easy-to-enjoy, fresh food.” Please remove the need for a scan card to get affordable food. Brand disconnect in customer experience.
I think the “affordable,” “easy-to-enjoy,” and “easy-to-access” details got lost. Those pieces are important to me.
Yes, Kroger’s food is fresh, but the manner in which they connect people to their food is what makes them desirable.
They are positioning themselves to be the best in all the ways in which people “get” their food, whether it be through an app, delivery, curbside pickup, or in-store.
While they seem to be focused on innovating in all of these areas, the tagline misses this. There’s nothing in my research that indicated they were repositioning the quality of their food to fresh food, or that their fresh food is their differentiator.
The Kroger Brand Font Set
I’ve seen two font families thus far as part of the new brand. Both are sans serif fonts, one with rounded edges and one without rounded edges.
The pairing of these two looks is not necessarily what I would categorize as a best practice, but I think in design and branding there’s always room for breaking a best practice when it has a purpose, so I’ll stay on the positive train here.
The rounded sans serif was probably too playful and childlike to pair with the logo as a tagline, so Kroger most likely demanded to see other options. A generic sans serif unrounded was paired and picked and therefore needed to be a part of the Kroger rebrand font set.
A custom font set should have been crafted specifically for Kroger to meet both the branding and on-going marketing needs.
Reviewing the brand support, I don’t see any clear distinction as to when one font is used and when the other is used, or how they are paired. But it’s probably too early to make a judgement call on fonts.
I will say that the generic price signs have got to go.
The fonts chosen, especially the rounded sans serif family, pair nicely with the illustrative style of the Kroji’s. Otherwise, the pairing of fonts seen in brand support thus far appear generic and elementary.
Meet The Kroji’s
The “Kroji’s,” a cast of animated characters that Kroger says brings differentiation to its brand, were designed to “represent Kroger customers, associates and communities in an inclusive, relatable, optimistic and fun way.”
Kroji is a mashup of “Kroger” and “emoji,” the digital icons popularized in social media. Does it work if you have to explain it?
Overall, the idea of the Kroji and the unique illustrative style is top-notch. I love the idea that these are characters that customers and employees can relate to.
The custom illustrations and animation of the Krojis allows the customers to see themselves in the stories, even more so than using real people. With the Krojis, you start to fill in the blanks between yourself and the character on the screen and can relate more.
The strategy behind the Kroji’s is brilliant. They’re also cute and memorable.
I’m curious to see what the Kroji’s develop into. Because we weren’t on the rebranding team, we don’t know future plans, but from a branding and positioning perspective, there could have been a deeper connection to the brand positioning and differentiators harnessing the Kroji characters, upon the launch of the new brand.
There are many future marketing opportunities with the Krojis, especially with regard to demonstrating the ways Kroger connects people with food and the value found at Kroger. It would have been my suggestion to do some deeper brand marketing at the launch of the rebrand introducing unique Kroji characters that illustrated these differentiators.
This goes back to missing the brand positioning, and relating the entire Kroger rebrand to “Fresh for Everyone.”
On a more lighthearted note: Kroger, what are the bees for? Do they represent something? Maybe the flies?
Kroger Brand Support
Joking aside, I have to say that I’m happy to see Kroger put any type of brand support that connects to the customer in place. I also like that what they are doing is unique and intriguing.
Sadly, as I continued my research, I began to disconnect from the tagline with each piece of brand support I encountered.
If everything Kroger has is fresh, it’s gonna be hard for other grocery retailers to compete. Sorry Kroji’s, everyone has fresh.
It’s telling me that if I eat, I deserve fresh and I can get that at Kroger, and that’s supposed to make me want to shop there?
Value is what motivates me to shop at a grocery store. Fresh is expected.
Right now, they are leading from a fresh position that’s not actually fresh at all.
The brand support used to launch the Kroger rebrand should have encompassed how I can get fresh easily, conveniently, and for a good value. That’s the differentiator. All competitive grocery retailers offer fresh.
Unless Kroger finds a way to communicate its innovation of connecting people to their fresh food through brand-driven marketing, they probably will not be able to regain lost customers and obtain new ones.
A key piece of brand support is customer experience and Kroger left that out of this rebrand. “Whoops,” says the Kroji.
The Kroger Marketing Campaign
Kroger followed its rebrand with a mass media advertising campaign, including retail, television and radio broadcast, digital, print, social, podcast, cinema, outdoor, TV, and music-streaming channels.
This campaign has introduced the various elements of the Kroger rebrand, which is step one in consumer introductions. We say it all too often, if you build it, they won’t come, but you must build it so they will come. So props to Kroger for upholding a fundamental on following a rebrand with a marketing campaign.
The campaigns we’ve seen are animations of happy Kroji’s shopping at Kroger. Not the differentiator. Kroger wants you to know that when you shop at Kroger you’ll be happy, but it’s clear that there’s a ton of innovation happening to reinvent Kroger and that’s not communicated in this campaign.
The agency chosen to rebrand Kroger is a traditional, yet innovative, advertising agency. I can’t wait for the day when large corporations that need to reposition and innovate know the difference between a branding agency and a marketing or advertising agency.
Branding and marketing are vastly different. Branding sets the foundational, the positioning, and the technicalities. Marketing works within the branding set forth to spread the message. If you don’t have a strong brand and positioning, don’t bother marketing. I think that’s what happened here. They missed the brand positioning through a poor tagline and the marketing is off as a result. Unique, memorable, connective, and cute, but off.
If you want to learn more about brand-driven marketing, check out our blog that differentiates it from sales-driven marketing.
Kroger desperately needs branding and marketing continuously working hand in hand.
I think Kroger rebranded with the intention to showcase how they are innovating to meet the desires of how customers ‘aspire’ to eat or get their hands on the foods they want to eat. If that was the purpose, they could have done a much better job to communicate what part the ‘new’ Kroger will play in bringing these food aspirations to life.
I don’t think Kroger has the wrong positioning Kroger, but I do think the execution of the verbiage chosen, in the tagline and in brand support, paired with the lack of innovation in customer experience missed the mark What Kroger is doing and how that’s being communicated doesn’t line up.
Kroger achieved a connection to the consumer and they are off to a great start. A little more strategy to connect this rebrand with their true positioning and differentiators, and they might become my new go-to grocery store.