Morrison's capturing the McColl's supply contract is audacious. The decision to execute using the Safeway brand is not unproblematic.
The continued expansion of Aldi & Lidl across the UK; JS's moves to acquire NISA and Tesco's drawn out deal to bank Booker means the battle for proximity store dominance is fully engaged and price competitiveness is crucial.
It is likely that most Safeway SKUs created will have an existing Morrison's counterpart and will be produced on the same lines. But this means more complexity for the factories to manage, more packaging, higher inventories of finished stocks, interrupted runs, more waste and overall impaired economics. This is unhelpful to McColl's; it could be damaging to Morrisons. Running with the existing Morrison's portfolio conversely would bring efficiency benefits to both.
Safeway is an old aunt who died some time ago. She wasn't anyone's favourite aunt and if truth were told, she had developed a rather unusual and not necessarily pleasant aroma over her last few years. Safeway disappeared in 2004 having seen customers flee away and then savaging itself with a programme of deep branded price cuts that proved self destructive. I dare anyone to name a signature Safeway SKU that they fondly recall or whose absence has been missed. Anyone making the "residual fondness" claim is either trying to post-rationalise or is seriously misguided.
A blow to Sainsbury & Asda
Whether this is a first step to a full acquisition of McColl's by Morrisons will have to be seen but overnight Morrison's have secured a serious grip on the UK proximity retail market. The deal blows a huge hole in JS's plans to acquire NISA. The value in that idea seems dead in the water. And it exposes Asda to the challenge of why they didn't see this play and make a move: as their sales continue to dip, there is no obvious path forward.
More reasons to drive with Morrisons
One can see the headline attraction of using the Safeway brand. Words like uniqueness and point of difference come to mind. And certainly one can make the case that it carries greater residual heritage than NISA's Heritage label. A less emotional view might have stressed the shared economic benefits of leveraging the Morrisons brand across the McColl's estate. Safeway may be nicer than NISA; but Morrisons is the safer way.