The Brand Move Roundup – June 17, 2020

We’re tracking the notable brand moves & highlighting the companies who are tackling this challenge successfully.

Sixteen weeks ago, when the gravity of the situation became clear, we started daily reporting on how brands were dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. What’s now becoming clear is that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption. So we made the decision to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal remains the same: to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.

PepsiCo has said it will drop the image of Aunt Jemima and rebrand the line of pancake mix and syrup that has borne the name since 1889. The parent of Quaker Oats Company, which has owned the brand since 1926, did not specify what the new name will be or what the updated packaging will look like. “We are starting by removing the image and changing the name,” said Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America. “We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand and make it one everyone can be proud to have in their pantry.” PepsiCo said consumers will start to see the packaging changes without the Aunt Jemima image in the fourth quarter this year and that the name change will be announced at a later date. The decision comes at a time of reckoning for many brands in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 and the ensuing protests against police brutality and racial injustice. “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kroepfl added. “While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.” The news follows PepsiCo CEO and chairman Ramon Laguarta’s announcement that the CPG giant is pledging $400 million for initiatives on racial justice and equality. It also follows dairy brand Land O’Lakes’ decision to eliminate another longtime mascot based on a racial stereotype earlier this year. Laguarta announced on Twitter that the CPG conglomerate would be committing $400 million to fund several initiatives centered around racial justice and equality. The $400 million will be spent over the next five years as part of an effort to “to lift up Black communities and increase Black representation at PepsiCo,” he said. In recent weeks, Laguarta said that he and the company’s senior leadership team had met with Black community leaders and members of Mosaic, PepsiCo’s African American employee resource group, to discuss what sort of action the company could take to improve not only within its own walls but also externally.

Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow has announced that the university will close to observe Juneteenth. All faculty and staff will receive a full day of paid time off.

Juneteenth ­– celebrated annually on June 19 – commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the Confederacy. Though the proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863, it took until June 19, 1865 for the news to reach Texas. Bacow wrote in an email to faculty and staff that the holiday offers a “moment to acknowledge and celebrate the promise of a new beginning… I cannot imagine a better year for Harvard to begin recognizing its significance.” This Friday will mark the 155th Juneteenth celebration in the United States. The announcement comes after weeks of protests over anti-Black racism after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade by police.

The pandemic is heralding a “permanent” shift in consumer spending, with increases in debit card and domestic transactions here to stay, according to Visa’s European chief executive. Charlotte Hogg, who has led the payments group’s European arm since 2017, said that lockdowns around the world had caused a boom in online shopping and precipitous declines in cash usage: “Behaviours have fundamentally changed.” Speaking as global economies begin to emerge from these lockdowns, she added: “It’s hard to say exactly what the [economic recovery] is going to look like, but we think it’s going to be digital, domestic spending is going to be important, and debit cards [rather than credit] are going to be important.” A report by Accenture published on Wednesday predicted that cash usage would fall by an average of 30 per cent across Europe this year. Campaigners have raised concerns that rapid changes in cash usage risk excluding older and more vulnerable customers. However, Ms Hogg argued that digital payments could help vulnerable customers who need to continue shielding themselves from the virus for an extended period.  She also noted that small businesses in particular would need to do more to plan for the new normal. She said Visa was working with banks and other partners to help SMEs adjust. “Many of their business models aren’t geared for a digital world — that’s not what they’ve had to do in the past, but now consumers are really calling for that.”

Chinese tech company Tencent is building Net City, a car-free neighborhood in Shenzhen, that is around the size of Midtown Manhattan. The plans for the two-million-square-meter neighborhood include parks, homes, entertainment venues and offices but zero roads for cars; instead, pedestrians must travel by foot, bicycle, or ferry. Net City is intended to have a “human-focused” design, as more space will be available for activities and amenities (rather than cars), and will rely on solar panels for energy. The parent company behind WeChat plans to complete Net City over the next seven years. Google and Facebook have been using land they own for affordable housing projects, while Amazon built a homeless shelter. But Tencent is one-upping them all by trying their hand at urban planning. Net City taps into a rising consumer expectation: that progressive brands step up and become agents of local transformation – particularly in areas governments are trying (and perhaps struggling) to address. In Shenzhen, the future home of Net City, local authorities have worked to rid the city of pollution. Tencent’s initiative demonstrates a long-term commitment towards this mission, as it makes its neighborhood car-free and prioritizes residents’ wellbeing needs. Thanks to the pandemic, 90% of consumers hope to see brands partner with governments, while 86% want companies to act as a safety net to fill in gaps in governments’ responses to the virus – and this consumer outlook is likely to extend far beyond COVID-19.

Emma Watson, the actor and activist who made her name as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, has joined the board of the French fashion giant Kering, in a major coup for the world’s second-biggest luxury group. The British star, who was born in Paris, is the face of the Good On You app, which rates fashion brands on their ethical and sustainability credentials. Watson is also known for her work with Eco Age’s Green Carpet Challenge. She wears sustainable red carpet looks, frequently custom-made by top-tier designers, for most public appearances. Although Kering is seen to have the environmental edge on its rival LVMH, its top labels Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga are only rated “Not good enough” or “It’s a start” by Good On You. She was nominated on to the board by shareholders at Kering’s AGM alongside the Ivory Coast-born former CEO of Credit Suisse Group Tidjane Thiam, as well as Jean Liu, the president of “the Chinese Uber” Didi Chuxing.

“Like many in the sector, our business has been impacted by the challenges of Covid-19,” says Claire Clough, UK managing director of food-to-go chain Pret a Manger. “Given that most people have been staying at home during lockdown, and our shops were temporarily closed, Covid has had a severe impact on sales in line with declining footfall.” The chain has appointed retail property consultants to renegotiate its rents, as it struggles to right itself after the pandemic. “We anticipate it will be a long time before consumer demand returns to pre-Covid levels,” Clough concedes. Pret stores began reopening in mid-May, although footfall remains low, at a fifth of pre-pandemic levels. The lunch giant is pivoting to delivery to address this shortfall: the company’s successful Veggie Pret spinoff is now available for the first time exclusively on Deliveroo, and sales via Pret’s delivery platform partnerships are up 15 per cent over the last two months. Clough sounds a cautiously optimistic note. “While sales overall have been slow in some of our shops,” she says, “we know our customers have certainly missed our Chicken Ceasar and Tuna and Cucumber baguettes, which has been great to see.” People who decide to flock back to buy up sandwiches will have less choice than before: streamlining Pret’s in-store offering to facilitate social distancing in their on-site kitchens has meant that not all Pret classics have made the cut. Stalwarts such as the cheese and bacon croissant and egg and bacon breakfast baguette have been brought back, as has long-time favorite the Swedish meatball wrap. However less well-selling items such as the recently-introduced avocado toast and Asian-style veggie box are no more.

A new digital “health passport” created by the company behind the UK soccer Premier League’s Covid-19 testing could open a pathway for supporters to return to stadiums.

Top flight football is resuming for the first time in two-and-a-half months after it was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak. Players and staff at Manchester City, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Sheffield United will use the system, which creates a unique code on a player’s smartphone linked to test results which is scanned on entry, to enter stadiums when they play on Wednesday evening and it will be used throughout the next six weeks while the 2019-20 season is concluded. Hong Kong-based biotechnology company, Prenetics, who agreed a £4million deal with the Premier League to provide their testing system, has spent months developing the health passport for use across sport and other industries. Prenetics’ chief executive Avi Lasarow has said that it could also be linked to government testing and antibody data so that fans could have their own individual health passport to ensure they were not carrying the virus and could therefore potentially attend games. “This is the first time it’s being used in sports,” Lasarow said. “It has the possibilities for scaling it up in a sport context to stadiums and fans in a much bigger capacity. I think that’s where the future is in terms of Covid-19. Today it’s being used for access control, it can link to accreditation and biometrics. Ultimately the capability is there for us to facilitate the safe return of fans to stadiums.”

Airlines including Easyjet and KLM in Europe, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines in the United States, and Asia’s Virgin Australia are suspending all or part of their alcoholic drinks service in response to Covid-19.  It’s part of a widespread revision of the industry’s food and drink service to minimize interaction between crew and passengers and to ensure a safer journey for all. With face masks already mandatory on pretty much all flights around the world, and new legislation introduced in January 2020 to curb anti-social behavior on flights, it’s another in a line of barriers – literal and legal – to getting high in the sky. Many airlines are limiting drink options to water only. As face masks must be kept on other than when passengers are eating and drinking, it’s a way of ensuring passengers are lingering over their refreshments for no longer than necessary.

The lockdown has spurred many to seek out new hobbies in recent weeks, and sales for UK-based lifestyle and motoring manuals publisher Haynes have soared as DIYers and hobbyists look to learn new skills or complete essential repairs on cars and motorcycles while garages have been closed. But it’s information on chicken keeping that has proved most popular at Haynes, with sales of its Chicken Manual up by 1,600%. It is currently the company’s best-seller on haynes.com, ahead of car and motorcycle workshop manuals. Second to chickens in the lockdown chart is Haynes’ Bike Book cycling manual, whose sales have been boosted since the Government’s announcement that cycling and cycle repairs are to be encouraged. Also riding high was the Haynes Bike Repair Guide app, which hit the #1 spot in the App Store’s Sports category.