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The Design of Everyday Value

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In 1984 I arrived in London from the provinces. One of the more exciting things about being a student was cooking for myself which, naturally, also involved shopping for myself. We had supermarkets in my hometown but the slightly down-at-heel Sainsbury’s in Kentish Town, with its seventies uppercase orange logo and brown glazed tiles, offered a cornucopia of exotic items that were not generally found in Huddersfield (at least not in the supermarkets my parents shopped in). Courgettes; red and green peppers; aubergines; houmous; Haloumi cheese; and pitta bread all offered a more exciting alternative to the meat and two veg meals that I had been brought up on. 

Living in a self-catering hall of residence off the Camden Road, money was tight and, as The Face and The Human League jointly announced, the prevailing mood was ‘Hard Times’. I soon realised that Sainsbury’s was not the cheapest place to shop and, if I was to have money for booze, records and clubbing, I would need to find a less expensive place to buy food.

Imagine my delight when, on a day out to Camden Market, I spotted a supermarket that didn’t quite fit the norm.

Here was a supermarket that looked like it had been left to fade in the sun, where the only colours remaining were blue and white. This was a supermarket with no big brands: no Kellogg’s, no Cadbury’s, no McVitie’s, and no Mellow Bird’s either – just aisle after aisle, shelf after shelf of ‘no frills’ goods packaged, like the exterior, in minimalist blue and white and available in ‘economy’ extra-large sizes to appeal to strapped-for-cash punters.

The supermarket was Victor Value, a short-lived store on Camden High Street that looked like it had been transported from a Communist state. The early eighties had seen a surge of interest in the iconography of the Soviet era with furry Russian hats, Lenin badges and CCCP t-shirts being sold on stalls on Camden Market – then at the height of fashion and popularity; Victor Value seemed to tap into that interest, offering an ascetic version of supermarket shopping which mirrored the ‘hard times’ affectations of the style magazines.

I was prompted to reminisce about the blue and white no frills packaging of Victor Value by the 2011 revamp of Tesco’s Value range, now rebranded as ‘Everyday Value’, with distinctive packaging designed by Rocket Design. Tesco’s Value range was introduced in 1993, at a time when Britain was in the grips of the last recession; the blue and white stripes of its packaging are an echo of the design of Victor Value – hardly surprising when, in fact, Tesco owned Victor Value, buying 217 shops in 1968 for £7.75m with some of the larger stores rebranded as Tesco. 

Moving forward from my Camden student days, I became partnered, a homeowner, and an aspirational shopper. We shopped in Tesco but, with a steady income, were able to shop selectively, choosing quality over quantity. Contrast the bleak and outdated packaging of the Value range with the sophisticated black and silver typography of Tesco’s Finest range and you get a snapshot of the divisions in wealth in the UK, perhaps illustrated by some graffiti seen in Hackney

Fuck you and your Tesco’s Finest

There was always a sneaky feeling that, despite the seductive packaging, the Finest range wasn’t that much better than the standard items. And, if it was better, did that mean the other stuff was crap? In reality, my basket consisted of a mix of items from all the ranges: sometimes, the Value range was as good as the more expensive option and like many other middle class shoppers, I also started to shop at no frills supermarkets like Lidl seeking out the excellent olive oil; the good quality (and wonderfully under-packaged) fruit and vegetables; and the fantastic selection of Continental cheeses and meats.

Tesco’s Value range always carried negative connotations: of cheapness and poor quality; it was the kind of product that you saw stacked high in the trolley of unhealthy looking shoppers: white bread, processed meat, fizzy pop, oven chips, fish fingers and biscuits. The rebranded Everyday Value features new designs, with a more visually appealing and less stark colour palette than the original range. The original design used a basic palette of two colours – red and blue on white leading to queasy clashes when the food was presented in clear packaging. The new Everyday Value range retains the two colours on white formula but in combinations that are a little more sympathetic to the content – the ready to eat prunes are now packaged in two hues of purple carrying connotations of the ripe plums that were the prunes’ previous life. The typeface is consistent; the name ‘Everyday Value’ is in bold with the words in two colours; the name of the product appears below Everyday Value, separated by a wavy ‘hand-drawn’ line, printed in a lighter weight and set in lowercase. A strapline below carries positive
information –

No artificial preservatives, flavours or colours.

The over-riding mood is practical and sensible with a friendly note added by illustrations of food and kitchen equipment that look like something Cath Kidston might have dreamed up – all the better to appeal to the middle class consumer.

There used to be some economy in printing in only one or two colours, hence Tesco’s Value range using only blue and red on white. Today, it is almost as cheap to print two colours as four (particularly on long print runs) and supermarkets have started introducing full colour images of the product to their value line packaging.  Tesco’s Value tomato ketchup has a photograph of chips dribbled with the sauce. This is a curious note: the ketchup is packaged in a transparent bottle whose shape alone carries enough connotations of ‘ketchup’, this is supplemented by illustrations of tomatoes, hot dogs, burgers and chips as well as, of course, the words ‘tomato ketchup’. Likewise, the frozen garden peas have a transparent window revealing the contents as well as a photograph of freshly-cooked peas steaming in a bowl with butter melting on top. However, simple pared-back designs, often in one or two colours (but evidently printed with a four-colour process), continue to signify economy – and have become a shorthand to attract shoppers looking for bargains.

The rebranding of the Everyday Value packaging has transformed the range from being something shameful, something to be hidden in the bottom of your shopping trolley into something that carries positive connotations – of sensible frugality and virtuous economy: a perfect reflection of most people’s current circumstances and reflecting the trend for the middle classes’ dalliance into low-end supermarket shopping at cut-price stores such as Lidl. And it obviously is big business: M&S have recently followed Waitrose by introducing a value range and Sainsbury’s and most of the other major supermarkets already carry their own value sub-brands.

The flipside of supermarket value ranges with their economical design, are the premium ranges and how they are designed and presented: these often have metallic or special colours, embossing and textures to signify luxury, quality and sophistication. Premium ranges often use black as a background, which is intriguing when considering white space in other forms of product is often used to signify luxury, quality and sophistication. (think expensive art books, Muji or perfume).

I would consider that value ranges don’t necessarily cost less – or more – to design than premium ranges: I’m sure that the research, development and design is as keen and rigourous for both, and each use complex visual codes to attract their target audience. But given that the margins are higher on premium ranges, while value lines are often sold as loss leaders to draw customers into the supermarket, it’s clear that more money is spent on special printing, papers and finishes for premium ranges. This extra spending on packaging is perhaps where the real cost difference between the design of value and premium lines is found and, perhaps, to some extent, aims to justify the higher cost of a premium product.

James Brook

James Brook is a freelance graphic designer working mainly with artists, galleries, museums and arts organisations, and specialising in book design and typography. He has a background in fine art and has a particular knowledge of specialist artists’ publishing. James has an MA in Graphic Design from the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London and a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. Using cook books as source material, James’s MA research examined the ways that typography can be used to make information (recipes) comprehensible to a reader – how it can direct, guide and inform – using a visual language that addresses the needs and desires of a specific audience.