The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #15: Safeway

Where Harry Met Molly

The Ad of Christmas Past

The mid-1990s: a good period for British superstore chains, one of self-confidence and innovation. Also one of memorable advertising campaigns, intentionally or otherwise. TESCO had Prunella Scales and Jane Horrocks in a memorable series of adverts; the ASDA Price bottom slap returned to our screens; Morrisons still had David Jason and a dancing Morrisons logo. The voice of Somerfield was Lesley Joseph – Dorian from Birds of a Feather.

Safeway’s ads – largely forgotten in time – featured Caroline Quentin and Martin Clunes in voiceover form. The two featured in the popular Thames Television – later BBC One – comedy series Men Behaving Badly. The winsome antics of Molly and Harry (voiced by Caroline and Martin) were a contrast to the laddish behaviour in Simon Nye’s series.

Instead, their witticisms would see the two musing over their mother’s orders. Other adverts would see them at Christmas and birthday parties. Some, even packing the shopping. This would be accompanied by a female voiceover and their slogan “Lightening the Load“.

The Shop of Christmas Past

Before Morrisons took over the UK version of Safeway in 2004, Safeway was a credible fourth force in supermarket retailing. Their presence was mainly in Southern England and some parts of the North. Founded in 1962, the U.S company began operations in the South of England and the Home Counties. By 1974, they had a unit in Manchester’s Market Place on the corner of Deansgate and St. Mary’s Gate (Harvey Nicholls in on the site today).

Expansion came when Safeway Inc.’s stores transferred to Argyll Foods’ ownership, whose interests included the Presto chain. Oldham’s and Ashton’s Presto stores changed to the Safeway format before both stores closed in 1992 (Oldham to TJ Hughes; Ashton to Wilkinson – ground floor of the TAC Building now being demolished). In 1995, the ABC loyalty scheme (the Added Bonus Card) was launched.

1997 saw a change of ownership after merger talks with ASDA broke down. Eventually, their fourth place position looked parlous thanks to a resurgent TESCO (aping the ABC scheme with their Clubcard). ASDA, under Walmart’s control would affect budget-conscious shopper who may have frequented Safeway, or Presto before then. With Morrisons struggling to increase their presence in Southern England through organic growth, they bought Safeway’s UK stores in 2004.

S.V., 15 December 2015.

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