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BP Finally Brings Back Amoco

October 11th, 2017 · No Comments

By Garland Pollard

CHICAGO – Seven years ago, I proposed on Seeking Alpha that BP, formerly British Persia and British Petroleum and now just BP, bring back the Amoco brand as an option for franchisees. This was during the BP oil spill fiasco, which was, at the time, a big mess.

They just did it. Here’s the quote from BP:

“The reintroduction of the historic Amoco brand is an exciting step forward in BP’s U.S. retail growth strategy, and it clearly demonstrates our commitment to helping our branded marketers grow their businesses,” said Rick Altizer, senior vice president of sales and marketing for BP Fuels North America.

BP consumer research found that the Amoco brand still resonates with many American consumers, and that both it and the BP brand appeal to similar audiences. In light of the findings, the two brands will share a similar marketing strategy, leveraging the strengths of BP’s programs and the familiarity of the Amoco brand.

This is a very smart move, and long overdue. It is a good move that they have done it now, rather than as a defensive move because of the public relations issues with the oil spill, which is long since resolved and in some cases, forgotten.

The move will allow dealers to have differently branded stations close to each other and not seem to be repetitive.

As they implement this move, they ought to do a number of things for the BP brand. These might include re-emphasizing the BP brand in certain areas of the country. For instance, Florida is home to literally hundreds of thousands of British from the United Kingdom, Commonwealth countries and former colonies that had a positive view of BP. This would work also in the mid-Atlantic and D.C. area, which is highly international. Across the U.S., there are millions of multicultural Commonwealth citizens from Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, South Africa, Canada and dozens of other places, and they all know the BP brand. This would help to differentiate BP from Amoco, and create a new market.

To emphasize this change, they could bring back the old BP shield design as a consumer brand, and embrace the idea of British Petroleum rather than being “beyond petroleum” as some marketing defines the company now. BP stations in Florida might actually connect with things British and Commonwealth, including food and beer. Remember. The first international show proposed by Netflix was about Queen Elizabeth, and it was a hit amongst every demographic and age and country. This does not necessarily mean cutesy giveaway wedding plates with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, thought that might be interesting and highly amusing. This would recall the old gas station practice of giving away promotional glasses to kids.

It might instead mean support for Invictus games, giveaways and partnerships with Land Rover, Mini and Jaguar, and beer promotions with Newcastle, Guinness and the like. It also might mean the promotion of products related to Commonwealth British culture, which includes Arab and Indian brands, and U.K. soccer teams.

The company said it will have parallel marketing thrusts for the BP and Amoco brands. That might be a mistake. There is a slightly different feel to the brands. The Amoco brand was more about high octane fuel, and performance. There was a decidedly muscular feel to the brand, which carried a torch. Perhaps instead of marketing each brand as a convenience store, doing what is basically badge engineering, they might re-establish actual service stations with one of the brands like Amoco, so that the actual fixing of cars is associated with the brand.

Part of the issue with convenience stores owned by gas stations is that gas people, while good at getting energy out of the ground, are not good at marketing food. They are awful at it. Thus, companies like 7-Eleven developed in the ’70s and now Wawa has eclipsed them in customer service. The gas is an afterthought, and the gas companies never properly supervise their franchisees. The bathrooms get dirty, the beer signs clutter up the windows, and the counters get filled with display racks of nasty cheap Swisher Sweet cigarillos. As my daughter says, the stations look “sus” as in suspect, and they do not appeal to a female consumer. This is the situation with many BP stations.

One important item. The Amoco brand never actually fully went away. It appeared on on pumps even after Amoco stations were branded BP. They used the Amoco brand as a product brand, thereby keeping the brand alive. Companies that drop iconic brands like Amoco need to institutionalize this practice, so that when times and business styles change, they can adapt.

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A&P’s Jane Parker Brand Returns for Christmas

October 1st, 2017 · No Comments

By Garland Pollard

Mid-century ad for Jane Parker fruitcakes. The products were special enough that they demanded their own marketing programs.

ASTORIA, QUEENS – After the bankruptcy of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, yearly customers of the company’s Jane Parker fruitcakes were left bereft of their favorite holiday treat. However, two Long Island food entrepreneurs, brothers Alex and Chris Ronacher, have revived the historic brand, which was nearly as famous as A&P’s house brand, Eight O’Clock Coffee.

The cakes were beloved; they were packed, far more than others, with maximum fruit and nuts, and had almost 65 percent non-cake ingredients, including raisins, nuts, orange peel, cherries and pecans. Due to their position at the end aisles of the nation’s largest grocer, they were also the nation’s best-known brand, and only available at A&P.

The Ronachers, entrepreneurs who run an online candy mail order marketplace, the The Online Candy Shop, had become aware of the brand as they did a vigorous business reselling the cakes each Christmas season, buying them in bulk.

Jane Parker Fruitcake during the A&P era.

“We too were upset when it wasn’t available,” said Alex, who has spent roughly the last year putting back the various aspects of the brand, including manufacturing, packaging, marketing and selling. They purchased the brand from the auctioned pieces of A&P, which had been marketed by Hilco Streambank, a company that not only liquidates buildings but also finds new buyers for brands, websites and other intellectual property. The brand was listed for sale last fall, among other assets of A&P. In total, they expect to accomplish the brand re-launch for less than $100,000, a bargain for such an iconic piece of American food history.

The cakes were so important to the overall image of A&P that they were advertised as specialty products in magazines. They echoed the spice trade and clipper ship image of A&P, which was once the nation’s larger grocer. A&P promised that “you’d delight the family with this special treat.”

“Sugar ‘n spice, ‘n’ everything nice! – that’s what Jane Parker Fruit Cakes are made of! No place is too far to go, no price too high to pay for the rare fruits, nuts, sugars, and spices which make Jane Parker Fruit Cakes such festive favorites…such a welcome addition to the Holiday menu.”

The brothers are running Jane Parker as a standalone business, one they hope to expand to other products in later years. Right now, they are focused on getting what was right about the fruitcakes back, piecing the company back together. The process was much more difficult than they expected, even though they knew what was right about the product, and were well-familiar with it as a retailer.

The Jane Parker brand is larger than just the holiday fruit cakes. Jane Parker was the A&P bakery brand, and it had a giant bakery that was located just across the World’s Fair site in Flushing Meadows, Queens. N.Y. Parks Commissioner Robert Moses had the company turn off the sign during the World’s Fair; it appears in many photos of the fair and the site is now a Home Depot.

“When you want to try to recreate something,” said Alex Ronacher, “it’s detective work to find out the missing pieces.”

Challenges of rebirth

There were dozens of challenges in the restart, beginning with the recipe. They purchased the recipe and all rights. However, when they were sourcing to have it baked, they realized there was a typo in the formula. “It was a switch of a number,” said Alex. “We wanted to make sure we had everything right.”

Where to have the cakes made again was also a challenge. It had been made in Canada, but things changed after the closing. “They didn’t want to bake the fruitcake any more,” said Chris Ronacher. The brothers ended up finding a manufacturer in the U.S., which meant that the product could be advertised as Made in the U.S.A. again.

“They got it exactly right,” said Chris. The company is offering two styles, a classic fruit cake and a dark. The classic fruitcake even comes in a 48 ounce ring in a decorative Christmas tin, with a substantial price of $59.97, which will be shipping beginning this Oct. 11. This puts it in the realm of other specialty holiday cakes sold at places like Nieman-Marcus.

Another challenge was getting the graphics back together. They had to recreate all the packaging, and find new manufacturers for that, as well. “It was very daunting,” said Chris Ronacher, whose family friend graphic artist Ion H assist in recreating the box. Cousin Stephanie Schamban took the photos.

The cake’s last sales were in 2014, so even figuring how much to make for the initial Christmas season was a challenge, as previous runs of the product were for online sales on Amazon, wholesale and at A&P stores. Since the stores were no more, they have had to ratchet back, and will initially just be selling online, and will use the same Amazon channels.

A&P, in its declining years, in 2006 sold off its famed Eight O’Clock coffee brand to India’s Tata for approximately $220 million. Other brands that were well known by A&P, however, were just dropped, and much brand value was lost by the company. That was a great loss; in its heyday, A&P featured its own brands, which were of a high quality and far above many national brands. As the company declined in the 1970s and 80s, its quality suffered, and it dropped house brands as it added many different struggling grocery companies to its lineup.

As part of the deal, the brothers got the Jane Parker web domain back, and have put up a newly designed, stylish website showing the product in handsome photos. After the launch this year, they are looking at expanding to other Jane Parker products.

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A Short History of the Heatilator Fireplace

September 22nd, 2017 · 1 Comment

By Garland Pollard

Early brochure cover of the Heatilator. Note the tubes that circulate heat, hidden behind the fireplace surround.

The inventiveness of the 20th century left us with many viable, yet overlooked, genius brands. One such brand is the Heatilator, a fireplace heating system that gets more efficiency and safety out of the fireplace. Heatilator was created in 1927, and it was a simple idea of making a cast iron wood stove look like a fireplace, and then surrounding the actual fireplace with air pockets, and letting the cool air circulate up from the bottom of the room to be heated by the iron fireplace surround.

My grandparents had a Heatilator in the library of their house, c. 1939-41, Bel Air, in Lancaster County. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in front of the fireplace, which I am guessing was one of the early models of the Heatilator. Today, you can rent the house as part of Belle Isle State Park; the house is wonderfully maintained by Virginia State Parks and as far as I know, the fireplace is still in use, and I guess if something went wrong they could get help from the company’s limited lifetime warranty. (A side question for any brand manager or CEO: Is it possible that you could offer a limited lifetime warranty for your product? What would that look like? Would not that be something to aspire to?) [Read more →]

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Kaufmann’s Return as Real Estate Play Inspires

July 30th, 2017 · No Comments

By Garland Pollard

PITTSBURGH – Because many downtown department stores have failed under the current model of Macy’s, there is a misunderstanding of what a department store is, and whether a department store is a valid idea. Currently, the idea of a department store is a massive, massive clothing and accessories store, with some other things thrown in.

But that was not the original idea of the department store. In its origin, the store went from a general dry goods store and evolved into a what in my home state of Richmond was a tall mall.

The “tall mall” was the nickname I heard when describing department stores in downtown Richmond. Richmond’s Thalhimers, like so many other department stores with 19th century origins, began as a small independent store and grew in complexity over the decades. Even as the company grew its sales in its core retail division, the owners gradually added many leased departments and properties. Thalhimers in its heyday included a coins and stamps shop, a travel agency and a city utility payment office as part of their credit card operation. That is on top of the usual idiom of having leased counter space of jewelry, cosmetics and some fashion lines. [Read more →]

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Safeway House Brands & Edwards Coffee History

July 12th, 2017 · 2 Comments

By Garland Pollard

PLEASANTON, Calif – House brands seem to be all the rage these days. They go in and out of favor at grocers; these days national brands seem to be the brands that are on the outs. Apparently, part of the acquisition value of Whole Foods for Amazon was their experience with house brands (particularly the 365 brand) and independent startup brands.

Most large retailers are in the business of cultivating house brands, including Dollar Tree, which slaps a new brand on just about everything they sell. Often, it is just a “TM” rather than registered, but nonetheless, it makes too much sense to use house brands. When consumers trust a store, they also trust the brand.

However, some companies have just let their great house brands grow fallow, and that is a missed opportunity, one that Safeway counsel Robert Gordon might investigate.

After decades of retrenchment, Safeway is now on an expansion trip, and they have a few select house brands they are using. Sadly, because the Safeway company’s identity has been changed so much in recent decades, many house brands were lost, though they continue to promote the use of Lucerne. Safeway back in its heyday had dozens of great house brands, most of exceptional quality. These include Bel Air frozen foods, Crown Colony spices, Mrs. Wrights baked goods, Cragmont soda, Town House canned goods, Scotch Buy (bargain stuff) and Edwards Coffee.

I have a personal interest in Safeway; they were omnipresent in Virginia, including a location on the Northern Neck in Kilmarnock, in Richmond, and in Tidewater. Interestingly, in the 1970s, a small town like Kilmarnock had a full line A&P and a Safeway across the street. Today, the Kilmarnock Safeway has gone independent, and is now the Tri-Star.

We wrote about the Safeway private brand universe back in 2009.

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→ 2 CommentsTags: News

Junk the Food That the Kraft Heinz Trust Dumps

May 22nd, 2017 · 3 Comments

By Garland Pollard

Perhaps this sounds a bit churlish to see cultural downfall in a child’s lunch. And to churlish, you might generously say inconsistent, as the vile concoction of items in a current Lunchables was something that was purchased by me in a fit of hurry and laziness.

After I had purchased the item, and it went into the fridge, I actually looked at it. It was of course a Lunchable, a trademarked youth food item sold by Kraft Heinz (NASDAQ: KHC). It contained nothing that would constitute a healthy lunch, and had many other offenses so obvious as to need to be spelled out. Not because they are not immediately visible to the average person, but because they are so easily seen, and yet obviously disregarded as offensive, as this is a product made by what was once a reputable maker of healthy, wholesome foodstuffs.

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→ 3 CommentsTags: Grocery

Revived Sea & Ski Hits the Beach Soon

May 19th, 2017 · 1 Comment

By Garland Pollard

ROCKLEDGE, FL – It seems that the historic Sea & Ski suntan lotion is coming back.

Sea & Ski now has a new website, and promises to be on the shelves for the 2017 summer season. The manufacturer is Cross-Bands Manufacturing, LLC, 1938 Murrell Road, Rockledge, FL 32955. Smart geographic branding; Rockledge is in Brevard County, Florida, very close to Cocoa Beach. Smart location. It is always good to have your product hail from a location that asserts and emphasizes the brand identity.

The packaging looks handsome and well done, with a color scheme quite close to the original. The key part is if they are able to reproduce the legendary smell. published a history of the product back in 2009, in hopes that it would be revived, and was the first to campaign for its re-introduction.

The lotion was invented by entrepreneur Charles Rolley, who Time magazine called a “kinetic promoter.” Rolley sold it to Botany Industries in 1955; in 1961 it was said to be the “nation’s biggest maker of suntan lotion.”

It sold out in the late 1960s to Smith-Kline Pharmaceuticals. The brand was owned by Carter-Wallace (they of the condoms and Carter’s Liver Pills) until 1988, when it was purchased by Faberge.

Read the history HERE.


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Bell’s Seasoning: Since 1867, American Culinary History in a Box

April 27th, 2017 · 1 Comment

By Garland Pollard

Perhap’s we should be writing about Bell’s Seasoning around Thanksgiving time, but the brand, founded in 1867, is a useful product all year round.

At one time there were dozens of such regionally popular brands; one by one they have been shut down, repackaged, reformulated or forgotten.

Bell’s, which is owned by contract manufacturer Brady Enterprises of East Weymouth, lingers on, thankfully. It has a cult following and generations of fans from all income groups. The sister company to Bell’s is Bar-Tenders Mixers.

In recent years, the regional brands that have survived, and not been reformulated or destroyed, have had renewed followings. These include Old Bay Seasoning, C. F. Sauer spices and Duke’s Mayonnaise. So many others have just been lost inside large companies, or just plain forgotten.

Shelf-stable food brands that are dried or canned make excellent independent brands; they do not require large sales volumes or sophisticated distribution networks to keep alive. [Read more →]

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J. Crew Problem: Snuffleupagus Pants & Emperor’s Ugly Clothes

April 23rd, 2017 · No Comments

By Garland Pollard

NEW YORK – One of the great books read to me by my grandmother, a Sophie Newcomb educated potter by the name of Margaret Clarkson Pollard, were Hans Christian Anderson’s tales. Perhaps the most memorable was “The Emperor’s New Clothes” about an emperor, crooked weavers, and child who dared to be honest. A line that hits me afresh today:

“The swindlers at once asked for more money, more silk and gold thread, to get on with the weaving. But it all went into their pockets. Not a thread went into the looms, though they worked at their weaving as hard as ever.

What made it a great tale? First, the story was a safe time when you could discuss the idea of nudity with adults, and get a chuckle out of it. Secondly, streaking was a big fad in the ’70s, and the fable sort of turned that idea upside down. Indeed streaking was about causing a scene and endless laughter with nudity; could we ever imagine a society that was so brainwashed it would not notice an emperor in skivvies? Thirdly, the fable established a sort of subversive element to the establishment; I wonder today if the fable is read to North Korean children? Fourth, it showed that modesty was a virtue. Lastly, the whole moral idea of the fable was that children needed to express their most basic truths, openly, and would be rewarded and be  considered smart and adult if they did this. Plus, it was a good business tale. [Read more →]

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Brand Survivors: Esso, Premium and Red Cross Toothache

April 20th, 2017 · No Comments

By Garland Pollard

It is always heartening when an old brand survives generations, world wars and multiple depressions and recessions. So it is that we noticed three brands that (sort of) live on, in various states of existence.

Esso: The Esso brand is still viable around the world, and just because Raymond Loewy did the Exxon logo for the United States, the great name associated with John D. Rockefeller lives on across the world. What some, however, forget is that ExxonMobil does a masterful job of keeping both the Esso and the Exxon brands alive. In the United States, diesel fuel is often sold as Esso Diesel. For companies that have merged a number of brands into one uber company (and that seems to be in every industry these days) keeping and old corporate or product brand alive is fairly simple. You continue to use the brand name on a sub-product. So, for instance, Esso appears across the world and in Canada, but in the states it shows up as a single product.

Nabisco Premium Crackers: A saltine is one of the great taste sensations that has little taste; the lightly crusted crackers achieve a charm unexpected when you dust them with salt. Nabisco Premium is the most venerable of the saltine brands, over Keebler’s Zesta and other store brands. Sadly, there seems to be less and less salt in a Premium, and that’s not good because salt (and of course light if we are reading our Gospel of Matthew) is what makes it zing. Let us remember the words of our savior, and apply them (carefully) to a favorite snack: [Read more →]

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