One of the major low cost supermarkets in Canada, at least in Toronto where I am, is No Frills (I think No Frills stores are concentrated in Ontario but there are some in other parts of Canada). No Frills seems to operate on a franchise basis. My local outlet is Freddie’s No Frills on Alberta Avenue.
No Frills is owned by Loblaw Companies Limited, a company which runs a number of supermarket chains with different names, of which the one which is actually called Loblaws is one of the posher supermarket chains which sells more expensive specialty products like English cheese. The Loblaws empire, in turn, is a subsidiary of George Weston Limited, having been bought out in 1947. Canada seems to be OK with virtual monopolies in some areas of service provision.
In No Frills, many of the cheaper “value” products are part of the “no name” line, identifiable by its yellow and black packaging as well as by the “no name®” trademark. Since Canada is officially bilingual, food packaging has to be in French and English, so the label also says “sans nom®”. This seems to be the equivalent of what we would call a supermarket own brand in the UK. Equivalent brands in British supermarkets would be “Tesco value” or “Sainsbury’s basics”.
Is it just me, or is there something of a contradiction in making “no name” a brand or a registered trademark? Surely this makes “no name” a name, which identifies this line of products as belonging to a particular company, available in a particular supermarket and having particular characteristics. I know to look out for “no name®” products for cheap and cheerful items which won’t strain my budget too much. There is even a Wikipedia article on “No Name (brand)” , which led me to this article on the website brandchannel, which opens like this:
Even though it’s been on grocery store shelves for three decades, Loblaw Companies Ltd. is confident its no name brand is nowhere near its expiry date.
The Toronto-based grocery giant recently relaunched the iconic brand and its unmistakeable plain black printing on yellow packaging. Company officials say the move was made to coincide with no name’s 30th birthday, and refocusing on a no-frills value brand at a time when the economy is in freefall is obviously prudent.
(Renée Alexander, ‘no name – who?’, brandchannel, April 6, 2009 issue)
This article quotes a professor of marketing as saying that “no name carries some significant cachet with consumers because they believe its products sell at the lowest price possible.” If these truly were no name products, then “no name” could not be an “iconic brand” capable of being relaunched, carrying cachet or being marketed.
The brand name “no name” reminded of Naomi Klein’s book No Logo, which was published in 2000 (shortly after the protests at the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle) and became a manifesto for critics of the negative effects of global capitalism. Before checking on Wikipedia to write this post, I hadn’t realised that Naomi Klein was Canadian.
This is often the case with well-known Canadians – people don’t know that they are Canadian. Perhaps Canada doesn’t market its own brands well enough, though it might be a little too ironic to do so with “No Logo” (although it is now being marketed as “No Logo: The International Bestseller”).
Klein’s book is subtitled Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies and is targeted at big global business empires such as Nike, Gap, McDonald’s and Microsoft. Klein argues that people’s susceptibility to marketing makes them desperate to possess products with the right brand that will make them cool and give them identity, and that this gives to these global corporations a disproportionate power which enables them to mistreat their workers, customers, competitors and others affected by their operations.
The “no name” brand is not quite like that. Its appeal is not that it will make you cool but that it won’t break the piggybank. However, it does still function to make some people in the chain of food production invisible. Since supermarkets are generally speaking retailers and not producers, this means that even “own brand” products have been supplied by a third party of some kind before packaging and retailing. Depending on what kind of product it is, this could be a farmer or a factory. Whilst “no name” is a name, it does mean that the actual producer is given no name and no recognition. Maybe we should consider no only what name a product has but whose name it carries.
[edited to correct “costumers” to “customers” – not sure if that’s a Freudian slip of some kind]