When brand development also includes simultaneous management of production, marketing and shelf place, really outstanding projects can be carried off successfully. Sarafanovo is one of such projects.


X5 Retail Group operates Russia’s largest chains of grocery stores and supermarkets: Pyaterochka, Perekrestok and Carousel, which together run over than 11,000 stores across Russia. The Nesvizh baby food plant is a modern high tech company specialising in dairy products. The two companies teamed up with Mildberry to develop and launch the new Sarafanovo brand that the plant and the retail group own together.


Sarafanovo is not just another private brand, it’s a full-fledged brand with all the requisite attributes: a well-thought-out range and high quality products, a unique design and large-scale marketing communications. This represents a very unusual approach for the Russian market where the share of private labels in the total sales of retail chains is just 10–15%, even though they are usually offered as the cheapest option on the shelf or as copies of the market leading brands. The situation in the rest of the world is quite different: the share of private labels offered by retail chains reaches 40–60% of total sales with private label being offered across all price points, including full-fledged retail brands.


What makes the Sarafanovo project different is that in the traditional retail model food stuff manufacturers never have direct contact with the target audience while retailers never have direct control over product quality and production. In this project we got to manage everything from production to brand and shelf space at the same time and that represents a significant change in the market and creates plenty of new opportunities.


In our strategies we did not want to achieve absolute uniqueness and differentiation for the brand: oftentimes it makes more sense to find an underutilised niche in the market and turn it into a prospective growth point. As we developed Sarafanovo, we first of all decided where we wanted to go and who our competitors were, who we were playing against.

The platform for the Sarafanovo brand is a Russian folk code. The consumers long for fairy tales. The real world has become too complicated and too dangerous and so people are trying to find refuge in tradition, in an imaginary world where things are easy and beautiful and playful, and where people live the Russian way, with feeling and pleasure, with lots of heart, honesty and humour in any situation. The visuals designed for the brand flesh out this idea: in today’s environment of constant information overload people are tired of long texts and that makes Russian folk prints especially valuable as they can act as a kind of a folk cartoon strip!


The fairytale world that Mildberry developed in minute detail commands everything in the Sarafanovo brand communications, from the slogans to the anthropomorphic (human-like) animal characters: There is Goat representing a young man full of energy and cheer, there’s Dog that represents a stout man, a jack of all trades who likes to work hard, doesn’t talk much but is always straightforward and a bit nagging, there’s Cat representing a woman in her 40s, a charming matron, hospitable, caring but also tongue-in-cheek, there’s Stork representing a romantic village intellectual and Owl that represents an absent-minded old lady that loves to tell Russian folk tales.

The key character of the brand is Cat. Cat serves as a visual anchor that was put on the front of the packaging of all the products offered under the brand while the brand was being introduced to the market and also remains dominant in all communication materials for the brand. The secondary characters are used to call even more public attention to the brand while the new products and flavours are being introduced or during seasonal promotional offers, campaigns and special projects.


Thanks to the strategy behind the Sarafanovo brand X5 Retail Group managed to quickly achieve all of its key communication objectives related to the new brand: create initial brand awareness and call public attention to the brand, introduce the target audience to the brand and its product offer, encourage buyers to start buying the brand and test its good quality.


In the 9 months since its launch the Sarafanovo brand has made it into the Top 5 milk brands offered by X5 Retail Group.


“For us it’s really important that as brand creators we were involved in the project from very early on, when work was just beginning on the partnership, product concepts were being developed and the new business model was just taking shape,” Oleg Beriev explains. “The Sarafanovo case is unique in a lot of ways. The Nesvizh plant and X5 Retail Group have created a new type of business consolidating the resources of both partners and allowing them to implement the most daring strategies. As a result, the consumers got to buy premium quality products at affordable prices. As for us as an advertising agency, we didn’t simply act as contractors, but we were rather part of the team, which allowed us to develop an interactive brand that took us to a whole new level of communication with target audiences.”


Here’s some real feedback from customers (quoted from social media posts with minor reductions): “I don’t know about you but I got some good news here. My Sonya is an expert when it comes to milk and dairy products. She drinks between 1.5 and 2 litres of milk per day. Milk is her thing and she can detect even the most minute difference in all things dairy. So this kid told me to forget all the <other brands> and buy only Sarafanovo. I don’t know who these guys are but the sour cream they make is the same as the kind that you get from the old ladies in the farmers market. Delicious.”

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