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Black ties and shiraz

Loblaw’s private-label gourmet line aims to take grocery shoppers upmarket.

They should have called it Memories of Pusateri’s.” So went a comment on the food blog ChowHound last month when word broke that Loblaw Companies was launching a premium line of fine foods, President’s Choice Black Label. Comparing Black Label to Pusateri’s, a Toronto foodie’s paradise, wasn’t far o the mark. Loblaw’s new 200-SKU line of oils, vinegars, pastas spreads, confections, sauces and even potato chips introduces a more distinguished selection to traditional supermarket aisles, and at sharper prices than what most gourmet shops charge.

But Black Label, which hit 140 Loblaw stores in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia this month, is more than that. By adding a “best” to its good (No Name) and “better” (President’s Choice) store brands, Loblaw is employing a European three-tier, private label price strategy.

"This is designed to migrate people up the food chain and pay a bit more,” says Alfred DuPuy, managing director at the Toronto office of global branding agency Interbrand. Consumers trust President’s Choice enough to move upmarket with it, DuPuy says.

Today, even bargain hunters look to drop fancier fare into their carts. In the UK, where three-tier pricing strategies are the norm, Tesco and other grocers find typical shopping baskets contain both premium and value private labels, says Stewart Samuel at IGD in Vancouver. “It enables them to establish three price points within a category.”

Many Black Label products are sourced across the globe. Black Label Cherry Shiraz jelly comes from a vineyard in Israel and No. 5 Umami paste was developed with food writer Laura Santtini. No doubt a few oddities tucked in the line (bacon marmalade, anyone?) will spur Twitter buzz and word-of-mouth sales.

In-store, Black Label products are being sold together in display units that, according to a Loblaw spokesman, feature name-brand fine foods as well. The words “Black Label” don’t actually appear on the packaging–just a stylized “PC,” the product name and description, plus a black and white photo showing a farm, fresh ingredients or old-world food making.

Black Label’s dark packaging stands out amid the colourful aisles of a typical grocery store. And black definitely suggests “premium,” says Patrick Rodmell, president of branding agency Watt International. (Think black-tie dinner, Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch or Amex’s black card.) However, the overall design of President’s Choice Black Label looks a tad “systematized,” Rodmell says. Premium products should inspire dinner-table conversation about ingredients or the food’s origins. “The language on the packaging is fairly generic.”

As usual, shoppers will have the final say.

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