Sainsbury’s #MealDeal rebrand: Marketing mess or selling success?

September 16, 2016

Who knew that changing the lunch menu could cause such a stir? Well, not Sainsbury’s it seems.

The UK supermarket chain swapped out its 'Taste The Difference' sandwiches with a new ‘On The Go’ selection, as part of its £3 meal deal – much to customers’ dismay, who were not shy in taking to social media to express their discontent at the move.

On the face of it, Sainsbury’s seems to have got what was coming to it. What did it expect? As well as removing the 'Taste The Difference' sandwiches from the money-saving lunchtime meal deal, it’s also removed the subs and pasta pots.

Cake has also been removed from the deal, which offers a discount when two food items and a drink are bought together. And we all know how much the British love their cake.

Sainsbury’s made the changes without as much as an explanation – until the tweets started flooding in, when it felt forced to speak out, stating that it has “invested in the quality of our salads, sushi and sandwiches, we’ve looked at every ingredient to make our range tastes better, look fresher and give customers more choice”.

By then, the damage had been done. Many customers are suggesting that they will now be going elsewhere for their lunch, while those of us who are not directly affected by the decision – i.e. don’t buy the meal deal – think that Sainsbury’s has acted somewhat underhandedly.

It’s well within its rights, of course, to change its offers, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Or is there? Maybe it did see this reaction coming after all. Let’s take a look at what we can learn from the whole debacle:

1. Communication is key

If it’s a positive change, release a statement about it. If it’s a potentially displeasing change, keep schtum and hope that nobody notices. That seems to be the questionable tact Sainsbury’s used, based on the fact that back in 2014 – when it last changed its meal deal offering – it wrote a blog about how customers will be affected.

This time, though, it chose to say nothing. Is it ever a good choice to keep quiet? Well, it might not be as black and white as you thought. In the US, for example, Kraft Heinz recently removed artificial preservatives, flavours and dyes from its mac & cheese recipe and chose not to tell anybody about it because it feared that making it healthier would be off-putting to some consumers (ironic, but let’s face it you don’t buy pre-prepared mac & cheese if you are a health freak). And nobody did notice, until three months later when they released the information to high praise and no sales decline.

However, there was no chance of Sainsbury’s meal deal customers failing to notice that all the premium sandwiches had been excluded from the offer. In this instance, open communication was required, wasn’t it?

2. Try to estimate the reaction

Some changes to your brand or product range will be met with a passive reaction, while others will incite some fervent feedback. It’s a marketers’ job to attempt to gauge that reaction and try to manage that.

Sainsbury’s surely must have sensed that changing its meal deal offer ran the risk of riling customers – if it did, it would have taken steps to prevent any social media ‘outrage’, wouldn’t it? Maybe not. Perhaps a strong reaction on social media was part of the plan? Get people talking first, then explain later why it is they’ve made the changes. Customers would have arguably been less likely to take to social media if Sainsbury’s had done the explaining first.  

3. Social media ‘anger’ quickly blows over

Your standard social media outrage is over after a single sleep – sometimes it only takes an afternoon nap. Social media users are quick to move on to the next thing, such is the nature of the platform. While a social media shoeing is never ideal for a brand, they can be assured that it will quickly blow over.

As long as the shoeing is dealt with in the correct way, of course: you’re going to need a lot of hands on deck to manage and respond to the reaction, with social media mentions quick to receive a polite and helpful reply.

4. Make sure it lives up to the hype

If you’re going to introduce a new product or service – or in Sainsbury’s case, expand a product range – make sure it lives up to the message being pushed out.

While Sainsbury’s was a little reactive with its message, it promises “more succulent chicken, maple cured bacon, crispier lettuce and more flavoursome tomatoes”. While some on Twitter have suggested they haven’t been able to taste a difference, others have said that the new “delicious” ingredients have improved the sandwiches.

Maybe Sainsbury’s hasn’t got it quite as wrong as we first thought. By simply changing up its meal deal, it’s ensured some free publicity in the major newspapers; got people talking about its brand on social media; and improved and simplified its range of sandwiches. When you look at it like that, Sainsbury’s might have just played a blinder.

Is it time to refresh your brand? Download our free eBook now!

Dan Vivian - Business Development & Marketing Director