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Potted seedling, photo by SP Veres taken from stock.xchng.

"This used to be the news... but now it's a plant." Food Lion printed press releases on seeded paper.

Three weeks ago, Food Lion, the southeastern U.S. supermarket chain, opened its first “Green” store in Columbia, South Carolina. The store meets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification standards and offers shoppers features like bike racks, an in-store recycling facility and environmental education kiosks.  

The chain promoted the store using a special Web page for the five months in between groundbreaking and grand opening, letting customers know what was approaching. When it finally opened on Dec. 10, press releases were issued to the media on special paper that when torn up and planted in soil, will sprout. 

Promotions 

In addition to cleverly encouraging journalists to do something they might dream about (ripping a press release to shreds), Food Lion reached out to consumers by creating a Web page dedicated to educating shoppers on the new green store. The page features a video highlighting the store’s environment-friendly features, an interactive quiz about the green store, a photo slide show of the store’s construction process and a list of tips for maintaining a “green” household. 

Jeff Wells of the blog WHRefresh thinks Food Lion’s promotional Web site was a step in the right direction as far as educating shoppers on sustainability, but says stores can do more: 

Marketing on the company homepage is great, but honestly, very few people casually visit their local supermarket’s website to learn about the latest initiative. Reach them through social media, put up signs in the store. Better still, give them a reason to visit your website by offering coupons, posting blogs and interesting (not just self-serving) videos. 

Shopping carts, photo by H Assaf from stock.xchng.

Food Lion thinks shopping should be a "green" activity, but some don't agree with their methods.

Reactions 

When Food Lion first began construction on the store in July, Columbia news station WIS-TV posted an article online about the store’s groundbreaking and Food Lion’s plans for it. Readers responded to the article and several were upset that the store was being built from scratch, instead of moving into an existing building. John commented: 

what’s greener, a lot full of trees or a food lion strip mall?   

I know they want to expand business, everyone does. But in the end, they are polluting more with this store than they were without it. Yes, it’s better than having a store that creates even more pollution, but wouldn’t it be even better to replace a current store with a green store instead of just adding more to the mess? 

Five months later, negative comments toward Food Lion continue to appear. In a recent post about the new green store, Hanna Raskin of Slashfood recounted some of Food Lion’s past lawsuits, including one involving spoiled meat. Raskin went on to write about the grocery chain’s attempt to reposition itself in the eye of the public, but the post’s comments show that many readers continue to associate the brand with its past. Tony R. said: 

Almost as filthy as Winn Dixie. Their meats are awful. They don’t need to go green….they need to shut down. 

With a similar sentiment, Chewy posted: 

Food Lion has always been green…try their meat. 

Next steps 

Clearly, Food Lion is trying hard to show the public that it cares about the environment and wants to help its shoppers easily transition to a “green” lifestyle. However, it appears some the chain’s PR should be directed toward further polishing its image in areas outside sustainability. 

I think Food Lion has demonstrated some very innovative thinking in both its initiatives and promotions, but as usual in public relations, there is still more work to be done.

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