Brand Strategy

The Migros child doesn’t drink alcohol.

The fact that Migros wants to include alcohol in its product range is entirely consistent. From the point of view of brand management, however, it should consider this step carefully.

Of course, Migros should constantly work on creating added value for the customer and additional sales for the company by expanding convenience. It is practical for customers to find as much as possible in Migros – including a good wine assortment. Nevertheless, it could have a counterproductive effect if this taboo of its founder “Dutti” is broken.

Here’s an example from another industry that I witnessed many years ago: An airline in the premium segment was seriously considering closing its First Class. The finance department had done the math: These luxury seats were costing the company a small fortune. And finally, the airline had an excellent Business Class, which could even be expanded in the space freed up by First Class. The numbers spoke for themselves. However, the marketing department panicked. They argued that the loss of image would be gigantic and that upgrading business class passengers to first class was an important means of cultivating and retaining well-paying customers. These arguments fell flat in view of the potentially huge savings. But the marketing department didn’t give up and made a clever move: they commissioned their agency to collect votes from First Class passengers. So, I was commissioned to interview some chairmen of global companies – customers of this airline who traveled First Class exclusively when they were not using their own corporate jet. They didn’t think the elimination of First Class was a good idea, to say the least. All of them would no longer fly with this airline. The video-recorded raised voices and red heads of these opinion leaders immediately brought down the finance department’s proposal. Everyone realized that the calculation was not complete: closing First Class would not only cause major reputational damage but would also make it impossible to position the airline as a premium airline and result in losses in Business Class. What the finance department had assessed as a pure expense item was once again seen as an investment. This airline still offers a comfortable First Class today.

The question that now arises about Migros: Wouldn’t the decision in favor of alcohol, which makes sense at first glance from a commercial point of view, ultimately be counterproductive? Is it no longer worthwhile for Migros to differentiate itself through its unique history? In a conversation with a Migros marketing man – that is, not a Migros finance man – he questioned the relevance of Migros differentiation via the founder values when I told him about growing up as a Migros child. About the unique shopping moments in the Migros bus and the beloved Migros “Bireweggli“, which fortunately have remained the same to this day. And about how the attractiveness of Migros for me always had something to do with the ingenious founder and his values, and how even today I still have a Migros child inside me. The Migros marketing man was not very impressed. “These are definitely nice memories, but the Migros child no longer has any meaning today.“ The history of Migros no longer offers an advantage in the competition with Coop and other suppliers. The only things that count are supply, price, and convenience. In this mindset, it is only logical to include wine in the assortment.

At the time, I was somewhat disillusioned by the assessment of the Migros representative and must admit that since then I have also shopped more often at the Coop and cannot see any significant difference. Looking at the corporate brand, however, one wonders whether Migros should really give away the differentiation via founder values. This at a time when reference groups view companies much more holistically, observe them intensively and evaluate them continuously. Other companies invest a lot to further increase their attractiveness for employees, customers, and society through a differentiating sense of purpose. Playing off the differentiating Migros origin, and thus also via the alcohol-free offer important to the founder as an addiction prevention contribution, would have potential to make the essential difference that can increase corporate reputation and customer loyalty. But Migros seems to be following a different logic: alcohol is not a threat to the Migros child – because it no longer exists.

Addendum: On June 16, 2022, three weeks after this article appeared, Migros communicated how its cooperatives voted on the issue. None of the ten cooperatives voted in favor of lifting the alcohol ban. This with an average No percentage of 71%. 630,000 cooperative members voted. The issue is thus off the table. Migros was prepared for a yes and a no; there will be no alcoholic Migros beer “Oui“, but the alcohol-free Migros beer “Non“ will probably be on the shelves in Migros stores from 2023. And the Migros child seems to be alive!

— Ralph Hermann / 24 May 2022