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Sweetbay Supermarket switches to boutique Tampa ad agency

When you're chasing powerhouses like Publix and Wal-Mart and when newcomer Aldi is expanding with no-nonsense prices …

Who ya gonna call?

Tampa-based Sweetbay Supermarket, a distant No. 3 in the broader Tampa Bay grocery market, recently decided it needed to refreshen its marketing message. So it went searching for new blood to see if anybody could outdo its very capable ad agency of five years, Tampa's Pyper Paul + Kenney.

This was the same agency that had helped Sweetbay through its branding metamorphosis from Kash n' Karry to Sweetbay, a process that included overhauling its 104 stores from Gainesville, through Tampa Bay down to the Fort Myers area.

Four ad agencies — one from Fort Lauderdale, another from Orlando, Pyper Paul + Kenney and another small firm from Tampa — competed in the final round for Sweetbay's business. The unlikely winner: Tampa's Spark, a 20-person boutique ad shop that's starting to gain some higher-profile accounts.

I do my fair share of food shopping and gathered distinct impressions of some of the grocery chains and food retailers serving the Tampa Bay consumer. It's hard to avoid Publix, given its dominating market share, its heavy advertising and, frankly, the generally good job the chain does serving customers. It's No. 1 in Florida for good reasons, though bargain prices is not one of them.

Wal-Mart offers low prices but, like membership warehouses Costco and Sam's Club, it is not around the corner from me, so it's a hard to make it my main shopping choice. Winn-Dixie's still off my radar since it emerged from Chapter 11. I should take a new look.

I'm least familiar but fascinated by Germany's Aldi, which landed here several years ago and now plans to expand low-priced stores.

This brings us back to Sweetbay, which will call on Spark as its new advertising agency of record, to distinguish the brand anew.

Sweetbay marketing manager Amy Standard says that during the review of ad agencies, Spark "blew us away in terms of understanding our brand in a very short period of time." She likes how Spark not only addressed how Sweetbay should talk to customers inside and outside the stores, but how Sweetbay should communicate with its own employees. Sweetbay's part of Belgium's Delhaize Group.

Sweetbay, Standard explains, is a full-service supermarket based on quality, variety and value.

So, I ask, any pressure on Spark to make the brand stand out more than ever?

"Not at all," Standard says, laughing.

At Spark, managing partner Tony Miller says his firm likes to be progressive and will push Sweetbay into social media networks to pursue consumers it might not have as aggressively in the past.

"We understand Publix is the 600-pound gorilla in this market, and we realize Publix is very different from Wal-Mart," says Miller, whose agency won Lifestyle Fitness as a client before scoring Sweetbay as its biggest agency of record account yet.

"But we can make significant traction toward Sweetbay's overall objective: owning more market share."

Tough mission. Watch for the Spark touch at Sweetbay in the coming weeks.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Sweetbay Supermarket switches to boutique Tampa ad agency 01/11/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 11, 2010 7:01pm]
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