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Wayfinding: Case study on M&M Food Market

Photos courtesy Shikatani Lacroix

By Peter Saunders
When Canadian frozen-food retailer M&M Meat Shops was recently rebranded as M&M Food Market, one major component of this transformation was implementing a ‘self-serve’ shopping model for its stores. Where customers had previously placed their orders with staff at a counter, now they would instead retrieve the products from the freezers on their own. As such, wayfinding graphics became important elements of the retailer’s interior decor for the first time.

Time for a change
M&M was acquired by Search Light Capital in 2014. Along with this change in ownership, it became clear the organization would have to make some other changes to continue to remain relevant in the marketplace by attracting and meeting the needs of a new generation of customers.

M&M’s brand was new and innovative when it was launched in 1980. Nearly 35 years later, it had certainly become well-entrenched across the country, with more than 340 locations and eight million loyalty club members, but it had not changed much and was seeing a decline in traffic.

The notion of the ‘castle wall’ between the staff and the customers was outdated, long since abandoned by many other retailers, and the plain ‘no-name’ packaging—all white, with blue type—was a missed opportunity in terms of visual branding.

“Our research found M&M wasn’t top-of-mind for Canadians when it came to everyday foods,” says Andy O’Brien, the retailer’s president and CEO.

Interactive digital signage did not make it past the prototype store phase, but led the way for the redesigned website.

Market disruption
Toronto-based graphic design firm Shikatani Lacroix was brought on-board to work alongside market research agency Sklar Wilton & Associates, advertising firm Riddoch Communications and customer experience (CX) agency Fifth P to support M&M’s transformative reinvention. Their research and development (R&D) efforts included designing a new logo and website, creating new staff uniforms, reimagining the frozen food packaging and, as mentioned, devising a modernized store concept.

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“We began working with their senior management team in early 2015, reviewing what was going on in the food retail market,” says Richard Dirstein, principal and executive vice-president (EVP) of design and innovation for Shikatani Lacroix. “This involved looking at how frozen food was sold elsewhere. The market had evolved significantly and, while M&M was still adding great new products, the CX was lacking. They wanted to be disruptive in this respect.”

“The longstanding practice of over-the-counter service did not allow customers to explore the full range of products,” adds Jean-Pierre Lacroix, president of Shikatani Lacroix. “It was time to put control in their hands.”

The challenge, however, was to modernize the stores without alienating the significant existing customer base, while meeting the needs of the franchisees and other stakeholders.

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