The 172 year-old organisation is returning to its classic clover-leaf design which first appeared across shops, produce and dividend stamps in the late 1960s.
Announced alongside a series of new membership benefits which will come into place this autumn was the news that seven Co-op shops and three of the brand’s funeral homes will sport the new identity from Monday, as well as some 600 own-brand products. Over 2,000 Co-op stores are expected to have adopted the identity by 2018, with the new design in use across the group by May 2019.
The project has been overseen by the Co-op’s Head of Brand, Helen Carroll, and Group Design Director, Ben Terrett, who along with Mike Bracken, Mat Wall, Russell Davies and Tom Loosemore came to the organisation from the Government Digital Service in 2015.
North were asked to work on the redesign project in 2014 and, after considering a new identity and researching the company’s visual history, they pitched the idea of reinstating the 1968 logo. Returning to a previous identity is certainly an unusual move for a company, let alone going back to one that is nearly 50 years old.
“It’s a symbol and a wordmark and that’s impossible to beat for a graphic designer. It’s never dated,” says Perkins.
He suggests that the current interest in identity manuals, where reprints of the NYCTA and NASA graphics standards manuals and Unit Editions’ recent Manuals 1 anthology have been successfully funded via Kickstarter, made the studio think about the potential in revisiting a classic design.
The Co-op’s most recent identity was designed by Pentagram in 2007 and made use of the organisation’s expanded name: ‘The co-operative’ – with ‘food’, ‘funeralcare’ ‘bank’ and so on added as a suffix. (The banking arm of the business, which is now only 20% owned by The Co-op Group, will retain this name and branding going forward.)
But Perkins believes that the company already had a “trust mark, a passion brand, a timeless classic” in the form of its original clover-leaf logo, designed, he understands, by an in-house team in collaboration with US agency Lippincott & Margulies. The mark itself was updated in 1993 incorporating thinner, more rounded counters and a baseline bar.
“When the first one was created in 1968, it was designed to bring the businesses together under one identity. And it was originally drawn by hand,” says Perkins. “We created some geometry for it and presented it to the board in 2014. [For that] we brought in a poster campaign with ‘Remember me?’ and the logo on a blue background. It was all about building on what they had”.
For Perkins, the Co-op had struggled to define itself as the very thing it was originally founded as: a consumer cooperative where members can benefit from a share of the company’s profits and have involvement in strategic concerns. In the mid-1980s, the Co-op pioneered the use of the ‘traffic light’ system of food labelling; while in 1992 it was also the first major retailer in the UK to sell Fairtrade produce.
John Lewis and Waitrose have communicated the idea of a ‘partnership’ successfully, Perkins believes, while, over the years, the Co-op’s message had become unclear.
In fact, the Co-op Group has only very recently come through the worst period in its history. According to The Guardian, in 2013-14 the Group lost £2.5bn, the bank alone reporting a loss of £1.3bn. In April 2015, CEO Richard Pennycook announced the end of the Group’s rescue phase as it returned to profit.
In working on reinstating the 1968 design, North spent time in the Co-op’s archives in Manchester and looked at the original identity manual for the brand, as well as old advertisements and communications material.
From there they redrew the logo and developed it across uniforms, packaging, vehicles, building fascias, linking all of the organisation’s concerns together.
Where possible, the design of the new shop fascias will reflect the local environment, Perkins says, and be built from more appropriate materials such as wood instead of plastic. Some of the shops will also incorporate benches, bike racks and bins.
“We’ve been astonished by the positive reactions this logo has received in research groups,” adds the studio’s Louis Mikolay. “In older generations it evokes nostalgic memories of local shops and ‘divi’ [dividend] stamps, whilst to younger generations it suggests a modern brand of the future, ready to live and breathe in the digital world.”
“The great thing is that the Co-op started in 1844 – all other cooperative’s, even through to FC Barcelona, come from this one organisation in Rochdale,” says Perkins.
“They did something different and brave and gave people a reason to believe in something. In two years of working on this project, we’ve been trying to get back to that.”
Head of Brand: Helen Carroll. Group Design Director: Ben Terrett. Design: North. The membership benefits announced at the Co-op’s AGM today include a 5% reward for any own-brand purchases members make with a further 1% benefiting communities and going directly to local causes – estimated to be more than £100m a year. In a press release, the Co-op stated: “As part of the changes, 70,000 Co-op employees across the UK are taking part in a ‘Back to being Co-op’ programme, which will inform them about the new membership and rebrand. The ambitious plans involve 5,000 colleague events and will enable the mutual to tell the new ‘Being Co-op’ story to its entire workforce, present in every postcode area across Britain”.