Retail

Life after Ooshies: Is Woolworths’ new promotion too little, too late?

Priscilla Pho /

Woolworths today launched its Discovery Garden promotion, replacing the controversial Ooshies collectibles with more sustainable — and arguably marketable — seedling packs.

The change in promotional tactics was announced in August, but the details of how this new set of collectibles hopes to “empower Aussies of all ages to understand how their food grows” was only released yesterday.

An extension of the Fresh Food Kids program which currently sees free fruit available in-store, the promotion has been in the works “for the past year”, Woolworths Fresh Food Kids programs manager Sarah De La Mare said in a statement.

“Learning about fresh food, where it comes from, how it grows, how long it takes to grow, whether it’s easy or challenging are all questions that will encourage meaningful discussions at home, at school and even at work.”

In an extra bid to promote broader nutritional education, Woolworths is also rolling out tie-in programs across schools and offers information packets with the seedlings.

Retail Doctor Group’s chief executive officer Brian Walker calls the strong environmental message “clever” for two standout reasons: it speaks to the “brand cues of Woolworths’” and it appeals to growing consumer awareness of company practices.

“Up to 20% of Australians are looking for environmentally sound practices from their retailers,” he tells SmartCompany.

“They’re looking for ecological messaging, they’re looking for sustainability, and they’re certainly looking for a very strong message about protecting the environment.”

The Lion King-themed Ooshies achieved commercial success with customers even amid a storm of controversy.

Despite De La Mare’s claims Discovery Garden has been in the works for a year, the launch does come after several months of public backlash over both the Ooshies range and Coles’ Little Shop promotion.

Both major supermarket chains were called out for the negative environmental impact of the toys and for marketing towards children. The new promotion is undoubtedly intended to counter much of this criticism.

Walker predicts a longer shelf life for this campaign thanks to the rising consciousness about customers’ environmental concerns.

Woolworths seems to be anticipating the same. The program was released with a Google Home integration and an accompanying website to help produce growers.

On the other hand, University of Tasmania retail expert Louise Grimmer tells SmartCompany “promotion fatigue” over yet another collectible campaign may sully the measures of success.

“This new promotion comes right on the back of the Ooshies campaign.

“In terms of showing customers their green credentials, I think supermarkets could make a greater effort around reducing plastic and other types of packing.

“Whilst this new promotion is not based on plastic and does promote gardening and growing food, it still involves producing thousands of ‘collectible’ items and we all know that recycling is not the ‘silver bullet’,” she says.

Grimmer does, however, commend Woolworths for being ahead of Coles.

“Woolworths have been clever in ‘getting out’ with their next promotion first, particularly as it is so different from previous campaigns from both major supermarkets,” she says.

Whether or not consumers embrace Discovery Garden will affect how Coles and other retailers create promotions in the future.

“If it’s done well, it will be challenging to compete with, because other competition will be seen as ‘me too’,” Walker says.

Ultimately, Grimmer says supermarkets will need to walk a “tricky path” of catering to “a diverse market” and satisfying their “many stakeholders” to get the timing and success right.

“The reality is that many of Coles’ and Woolworths’ customers really liked the recent plastic promotions,” Grimmer says.

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Priscilla Pho

Priscilla is a reporter at SmartCompany. You can contact her at [email protected].