National brands used to dominate grocery stores; house brands were considered cheap and second rate. Then in 1973 a grocery chain in Toronto introduced a new line of generic products and started a revolution. Clean simple yellow background, Helvetica type, good prices and very good quality, Loblaws No Name products were hot and flew off the shelves. Local suppliers were able to compete with and even displace the national brands. You could open kitchen cabinets and see nothing but wall-to-wall helvetica.
Marketing Hall of Legends
It was one of the clearest demonstrations ever of how design makes a difference. The designer was Don Watt, who started as an illustrator working on airplanes, (his obit says he worked on the cockpit design for the Avro Arrow) then in California worked on Bugs Bunny, but decided he really liked packaging. He tells Canadian Business "I liked the constant turnover...I want to get rid of ugly. Wherever I look I see a bad line, a dumb colour, a dumb shape. It would be so easy just not to have that."
When he was asked to work with Loblaws, a then second rate grocery store, he said "the products had to be superior to the national brands. We couldn't be inferior." They blew everyone else away.
Soon his work caught the eye of Wal-Mart and he was redesigning the house brands there. Watt changed house brands from second rate to front runners, opening up opportunities for local suppliers and a different kind of supply chain. No-name yellow and helvetica started a retailing revolution.
Don Watt, dead at 73.