Coop Italia: the brand of value

With a turnover of _ 10.970 mil. in 2003 and 1260 outlets in Italy, Coop is the main Italian retailer and represents an atypical distribution chain with respect to others present on the market.

Maura Leonardi

In a context in which private labels are progressively taking market share away from branded products, Coop Italia products differ from other private labels present on the shelves. Ethics and product quality are for Coop two important factors for brand recognition, and the project for health and environmental conservation is part of its institutional strategy.

It is an aim which Coop pursues with determination with the purpose of defending consumers’ rights: it is realised through a wide-ranging program including Coop labelled products, Coop outlets, packaging, waste collection and recycling, environmental education, formation and communication.

ALSO THE WIDE RANGE OF TISSUE PRODUCTS INTRODUCED ON THE MARKET - toilet rolls, kitchen towels, table napkins, handkerchiefs - has been conceived according to environmental criteria, as the FSC certification demonstrates. The FSC - Forest Stewardship Council - is an important certification that takes into account environmental, economic and social aspects guaranteeing that the cellulose used is not a result of deforestation practises.

Besides FSC, Coop has also chosen another certification, i.e., Ecolabel. Coop’s products guarantee an excellent price-quality ratio; convenience and quality must be uaranteed in order to promote consumption and not reduce it to mere niche consumption.

HOW HAS COOP CHANGED AND WHAT IS ITS SECRET? The structure of the cooperative has allowed Coop to pursue a commercial policy aimed at the safeguard of its associates; this is possible through the offer of safe products that observe ethic, moral and environmental values, and through the attentive selection and control of suppliers. This has turned out to be a winning policy that has allowed Coop to acquire credibility and foster the loyalty of even the most “traditional” customers; this is confirmed by the 17.5% share of Coop labelled products in the Italian market. It is a noticeable result, also considering the fact that in the Italian context private labels are not yet as diffused as in Northern European countries.

The nature of a cooperative company is that of a social enterprise: for Coop, generating wealth means creating solutions able to generate welfare, also through the promotion of environmental protection.

RETAILERS’ PRODUCTS HAVE NOWADAYS ACQUIRED SUCH AN IMPORTANCE THAT GREATER ATTENTION IS PAID TO THEM IN TERMS OF INNOVATION, both in packaging and in product management. Marketing tools such as segmentation, positioning and innovation, which have so far been typical of brand products, are now strategic tools also for Coop.

The articulation of the product range into “worlds” (for example, the world of solutions, the world of solidarity - Solidal, growing-up - Crescendo, “being” - Essere, etc.) stems from an attentive study of the demand and represents a new way to satisfy the many consumer requests.

A NEW WAY OF COMMUNICATING WITH WHICH THE COOP BRAND IS IDENTIFIED NOT AS A MERE REFERENCE BUT AS A VERITABLE PRODUCT CATEGORY. A revolution that highlights the growing power of modern distribution. In the current scenario, competitiveness, courtesy, a wide offer of products, prices and services are no longer enough: consumers, increasingly exigent and careful about the products in their trolley, now demand guaranteed products. Large-scale retailing is now more conscious of the degree of reliability that consumers - citizens that live in a certain social and economic context - attribute to it.

The environmental disasters of the recent years have resulted in consumers’ greater attention in purchasing, and in a demand for guaranteed products.

Coop has answered to these issues by increasing the value of customer satisfaction, thus confirming the ethics and quality policy so far pursued.

CREATING VALUE FOR SOCIETY IS A MUST FOR A COOPERATIVE COMPANY; so, embracing the criteria of the respect of human rights, social benefit and low environmental impact is a duty. Tissue products are an example of this, where two important choices have been made: the FSC certification and the Ecolabel certification.

COOP PRODUCTS MUST BE GOOD QUALITY, safe, ethically guaranteed, ecological and convenient: suppliers are selected according to these criteria and following an attentive control of the product and of the production process.

Like all suppliers, tissue products suppliers are examined by Coop through checking the documentation requested, or through inspections at their production sites.

THE PRESENCE OF CERTAIN PREREQUISITES ALLOW TO SUBMIT TO THE POTENTIAL SUPPLIER THE “PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS”, a very restrictive protocol containing all the characteristics of the product: quality, size, paper type, printing and embossing characteristics, quantity, raw material, packaging weight, number of plies, sheet count, etc.

To check all such requirements, inspections are carried out on samples taken from the production sites or directly from the market shelves.

This process allows to protect consumers according to Coop’s philosophy, i.e., “not profit, but rather customer satisfaction”, without any cost reloading.

The Ecolabel certification guarantees an ecological product and the control of the entire production process, which must respect the environmental norms; the FSC allows the complete tracking of raw materials, which has a great importance not only from an environmental point of view, but also under the ethical and social aspects of production.

The FSC certification is part of a project ideated together with Green Peace. Coop is the environmentalists’ vehicle to promote the need of guaranteeing fair purchasing and production processes, which are respectful of the environment and of people.

ETHICS, SOCIAL BENEFIT AND QUALITY are the values that has enabled the cooperative to attain good economic results as well as to adopt the social balance sheet report, in which economic, environmental, social factors are integrated.

All indispensable factors are in the activity of a socially responsible, value-creating company like Coop. •

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