In midst of sale, Marsh rolling out new slogan: Grocer says it’s the place to ‘Treat your family well’

Executives at Fishers-based Marsh Supermarkets Inc. aren’t sitting on their hands, despite signing an offer a little more than a month ago to sell the grocery chain to a private equity group in Florida.

For the past two years, they’ve been scratching away on flip charts coming up with a new brand. And they figure they might as well put it to use.

They launched the new identity last month with the help of Dallas-based Ivie & Associates Inc., an advertising agency that works primarily with retail clients.

“We want a consistent message on ‘Treat your family well,'” said Charlie Barnard, president of the company’s supermarket division. “Once the whole package is put together, as far as the signage, the TV [ads], the print ads and the radio ads, I think it’ll be a very effective program for us going forward.”

The company settled on the slogan after research revealed 80 percent of Marsh’s customers are females shopping for families, Barnard said.

Marsh will also continue to use “Experts in fresh” and “We value you” in its advertising, two tag lines that have long been associated with the grocer.

Barnard would not reveal how much the company is spending on the campaign. From 2003 to 2005, Marsh spent between $3.9 million and $4.3 million a year on advertising, according to Arlington, Va.-based TNS Media Intelligence.

The new campaign is unrelated to the company’s ongoing sale.

“It’s business as usual,” said company spokeswoman Myra Borshoff Cook. “This would have taken place regardless of what was happening in terms of the strategic alternatives.”

On May 2, Marsh signed a definitive agreement to be purchased by Boca Raton, Fla.-based Sun Capital Partners for $88 million. A second suitor, a partnership between Dallas-based Cardinal Paragon Inc. and New York-based Drawbridge Special Opportunities Advisors LLC, subsequently offered $108 million.

Marsh isn’t saying whether it’s negotiating to accept the offer from Cardinal-Drawbridge, or what the likelihood is of either suitor keeping the new advertising campaign in place. Borshoff Cook would only say that Sun Capital is “aware of Marsh’s marketing efforts.”

In addition to the television, print and radio ads, Marsh has created the position of chief customer officer, underscoring its commitment to treating shoppers, and their families, well.

Danny O’Malia, who also serves as president of the company’s O’Malia Food Markets Inc. division, has been tapped to fill the role. Roughly half his time will now be spent visiting stores and conversing with shoppers.

“My job overall … is to make sure we take the best care of the customers we can,” O’Malia said.

Grocery analysts said it’s a smart move.

“Anytime you get an executive to get out in the stores talking to people, it can’t hurt,” said David Livingston, managing partner of Pewaukee, Wis.-based DJL Research LLC.

The grocer is also stepping up its “grass-roots” philanthropic efforts by encouraging employees to volunteer in the community and starting an employeerecognition program.

“Marsh has been very generous in terms of its corporate giving and it’s great that they’re making a commitment to redouble their efforts,” said Patrick Rooney, research director of the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. He noted the new campaign could have the added benefit of boosting what some say is flagging employee morale in the wake of the sale.

Advertising professionals were split on the campaign’s potential.

“Long term, you can receive really bigger dividends from having a strong brand image and having … the right value … than you can ever get for item-price advertising,” said Bob Gustafson, a Ball State University professor of advertising.

While he hadn’t seen the new ads, Tom Denari, president of the Indianapolis advertising agency Young & Laramore, said: “Oftentimes, a line like [Treat your family well] is what’s dubbed as, ‘Your strategy is showing.’ People are savvy enough to realize that it’s just advertising.”

Chief Customer Officer Danny O’Malia chats with shoppers Betty Anton, left, and Janice Kleinbub. Marsh created the post to reconnect with customers.

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