Film, fashion and…food? Metro’s unorthodox marketing mix

Metro is showing off its marketing mojo with a slew of unexpected initiatives

Toronto, ON: Metro Movie Night (Katherine Holland)

Metro raised many perfectly sculpted eyebrows when it signed on as the first and only grocery sponsor of World MasterCard Fashion Week in Toronto in the spring.

It may seem somewhat incongruous for a supermarket chain to back a fashion spectacle, but the sponsorship aligns with Metro’s mission to stand out with its marketing.

The Fashion Week sponsorship preceded Metro’s sponsorship of July’s restaurant-heavy Taste of Toronto food festival, as well as one- off events including a singles night and a free movie screening. All are part of several “off- script” marketing initiatives introduced by Metro as it looks to shake its reputation as Ontario’s new kid on the grocery block.

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While Metro has been the “local grocer” in Quebec since 1947, the banner first came to Ontario in 2008, when Metro rebranded its Dominion, A&P and Loeb stores acquired from A&P. “[In Ontario], we are a neighbour that has yet to make a formal introduction,” says Nancy Modrcin, senior director of marketing at Metro Ontario. “We want to clarify the role we will play in the communities where we work, live and serve.”

According to Modrcin, Metro’s summer marketing program, which also includes a traditional marketing campaign based on the concept “meant for each other,” has garnered 14 million earned media impressions, largely on the basis of its unconventional marketing initiatives.

The company also increased engagement in the Metro Master Class, a key component of the four-day Taste of Toronto festival. Members of the class get tips from celebrity chefs, such as Lynn Crawford, during a series of hands-on, half-hour classes. Participation rose by 50% thanks to the addition of 12 more participants per session and a 30-person viewing section. The master classes were all completely booked within 30 minutes of each session opening.

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While Metro’s customer base is broad, Modrcin says the company’s recent marketing is aimed at two key customer segments: “Metro Foodies” and “On the Move.” The former group demonstrates what she calls a “keen interest” in experimenting with food, while the latter looks for quick and easy ready-to-eat options. “When you’re introducing yourself to somebody new, you want to connect with them in a personal and relevant way,” says Modrcin. “But you also need to get people’s attention, especially if you want to stand out in a crowd.”

In May, Metro held a singles night at its Liberty Village store in downtown Toronto, with shoppers signalling their single status to one another by tying a red ribbon to their cart or basket. Then in June, the store held a movie night in its parking lot. It played the 1971 classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory on a full-sized screen and dispensed fleece blankets, as well as free popcorn and movie snacks. The event attracted roughly 250 people–a golden ticket for Metro in its attempt to win over the younger, brand-agnostic shoppers who live in the area.

These initiatives are partly driven by Metro’s desire to differentiate itself from competitors. They also show its willingness to act quickly when a marketing opportunity presents itself. The singles night, for instance, stemmed from an email sent by a Metro customer revealing that its Liberty Village store had been listed as one of the best venues in the city in which to find love on a lifestyle website for women. “My team couldn’t resist the opportunity to leverage that,” says Modrcin.

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Sally Seston, a principal with Toronto-based Retail Category Consultants, says in-store events such as a singles night or a movie night are an attention-getting way for Metro to drive customer preference. That’s especially important at a time when old- school grocery marketing staples, such as loyalty programs, are becoming more common and, arguably, losing their effectiveness. “If I have five grocer’s loyalty cards on my keychain, it’s hard to say they’re driving loyalty,” she says. “[These events] can help build the loyalty grocers are not getting through their investment in loyalty programs anymore, because they’re all vanilla.”

Seston says the key to success with these types of initiatives is understanding the target customer. “The concept that works to bring a bunch of singles from downtown Toronto to your store is very different from what would work in a retirement community or family community,” she says.

For Modrcin, these programs are a way to build customer loyalty through surprise and delight. “We will always talk about food because we sell food, but the really interesting stories are anchored in everyday moments and unexpected pairings,” she says. “It’s fun to brainstorm ways to put food at the centre of those unique conversations.”