The London based magazine for visual communication Creative Review has a great article featuring a new book on Private Brands Own Label. The book takes a look the English grocer Sainsbury’s former in-house package design team and their work from the 60s + 70s. The designs are featured prominently and reflect a long gone era, but there is a clarity and honesty to the work that is absent in much of today’s Private Brand work and an obvious connection between the early designs and the modern white packaging of American Private Brands.
Featured in the September issue of CR, Own Label tells the story of the Sainsbury’s in-house packaging design team of the 60s and 70s.
For British people of a certain age, Fuel’s new book, Own Label, will prompt waves of nostalgia. In fact, nostalgia was what tempted its editor Jonny Trunk to propose the book in the first place after a visit to the Sainsbury’s archive. The supermarket’s lovingly preserved packaging samples stirred Proustian memories in Trunk of a time when no Abigail’s Party was complete without a few taramosalata-topped Snax biscuits.
The Modernist-inspired work produced by the Sainsbury’s Design Studio between 1962 and 1977 that features in the book is extraordinary in its consistency and simplicity of approach: most was printed in three colours with typeface choices left to the individual designers and illustration predominant.
In an essay from the book, reprinted in CR, Emily King describes the strong working relationship between Sainsbury’s then-chairman John Sainsbury (known to everyone as MrJD) and its head of design Peter Dixon. Both were committed to modern, distinctive design delivered at a time when Sainsbury’s was in the vanguard of a revolution in British shopping and eating.
“If you have a big batch of red labels one side and a big batch of green labels the other, then it’s best to design a white label with stark typography, which would then stand out from the other brands,” says Dixon of his approach to making sure shoppers noticed the own label goods on the shelves of its newly-opened ‘supermarkets’.
What comes through is how deeply committed both men were to a family-run company which they felt actually stood for something other than just ‘maximising shareholder value’. Dixon stayed with Sainsbury’s until he retired in 1989. “People ask me why I stayed so long, and I tell them it was because the company had a moral code I agreed with,” Dixon says in the book. A supermarket being credited with a ‘moral code’? Hard to imagine now. As is Sainsbury’s attitude to advertising: “We thought it was rather disreputable to spend money on heavy advertising,” says Mr JD. ‘Good food costs less at Sainsbury’s’, a slogan devised by agency Colemen, Prentis and Varley in 1959 was used for some 30 years.