Iowa State design students help Fareway Stores launch a new venture

When Fareway Stores Inc. looked to expand its reach from retail stores to a new wholesale business, company representatives sought help from the Iowa State University College of Design in creating a new corporate identity.

Graduate students Jingyu Liu, industrial engineering/human computer interaction, and Julian Osorio, graphic design, were part of the design studio class that helped Fareway create a brand identity for Midwest Quality Wholesale. (Photo by Christopher Gannon.)
Graduate students Jingyu Liu, industrial engineering/human computer interaction, and Julian Osorio, graphic design, were part of the design studio class that helped Fareway create a brand identity for Midwest Quality Wholesale. (Photo by Christopher Gannon.)

The Iowa-based grocery company — with more than 100 stores in five states — named its new venture Midwest Quality Wholesale Inc. (MQW). It grew out of an effort to use existing infrastructure to better serve current stores, prepare for company growth and engage a new customer — other businesses that need safe, non-toxic cleaning products.

“Over the past several years we’ve developed a great partnership with the supplier of the cleaning products we use throughout our stores. We stand by the efficacy and safety of these products and wanted to make them accessible to others,” said Kelly Moomaw, purchasing manager for Fareway and the primary company liaison with Iowa State.

“In examining how best to do this, it became clear that distributing these products through MQW would help meet our goals,” she said. “We started thinking about branding — a new logo and a website and those kinds of things.”

She connected with Bernard Canniffe, professor and chair of the graphic design department.

More than a website

“When Kelly asked if we could design a logo and a website for this new company, I actually told her no,” Canniffe said. “Instead I asked why she thought they needed these things. She said they want to grow the reach of the corporation and connect better with consumers. Now that’s a much more interesting challenge, and something we could help with.”

Canniffe’s fall 2014 graduate studio, “Design for Behavioral Change,” was a good fit for the project because it “offered a way to test the possibility of behavior change within a corporation,” he said.

“It allowed students and Midwest Quality Wholesale/Fareway to understand design as much more than providing a service. I believe design has an obligation to engage with and in the local community and to view these engagements as catalysts that will affect the global community,” Canniffe said.

Early last fall his students met with the MQW “launch team” to identify the project’s scope and goals. They shared progress and feedback in meetings and emails throughout the semester.

“We saw our role as providing ideas for ways both to reach current customers and to engage new ones,” said Michael Spory, Boswell, Pennsylvania, an architecture graduate student. “We examined how Fareway’s story is being told and looked at ways we could integrate this new business with the existing narrative.”

“They wanted the values of their company to be reflected in this new venture, but not through traditional Fareway-looking materials because they want to stand out against competitors in this new market,” said Samantha Barbour, a graphic design graduate student from Slater.

“For MQW, we sought to create a more personal interface, a sense of direct communication with individuals even though it’s at a business-to-business level,” Barbour said.

A landscape of values

The class identified a set of Fareway values — tradition, integrity, providing high-quality products at economical prices and treating customers like family — as well as Midwestern values like hard work and the spirit of neighborliness — which guided their development of vision and mission statements for MQW.

“We were impressed that they were able to capture what we were looking for so well. They were really able to understand the Fareway culture and the values we want to associate with Midwest Quality Wholesale,” Moomaw said.

Students then researched and developed a visual language to complement and communicate those values.

“We kept going back to the idea of the story: What is Fareway’s story? What is Midwest Quality Wholesale’s story? What does it mean to be from the Midwest and what does that look like?” said Debbie Trout, a graphic design graduate student from Monett, Missouri. “We tried to make the brand feel less corporate, more personal, with images, colors and typefaces that represent the Midwest and convey a sense of community.”

The “M,” “Q” and “W” of the Midwest Quality Wholesale logo are constructed of lines resembling the rows in tilled fields. The class developed a palette of primary and secondary colors that incorporates red and gold — an indirect reference to parent company Fareway — and a set of glyphs, that can help create “a landscape of values,” Trout said.

At the final presentation in December, students shared the branding narrative and demonstrated how the new identity system could be applied to the products, box labels, letterhead, semi trailers and other materials. And they unveiled the website, which will be the primary point of contact with customers.

The website, which was launched on Jan. 1, “is a way to facilitate human interaction, to represent the brand in a friendly way. It says ‘these products are great and these people are great to work with,’” Spory said.

Beyond expectations

Fareway leadership was more than pleased with the final outcomes. “The students have done a fantastic job; the project has exceeded our expectations,” Moomaw said. “We can go out and really market this now and share the story the students have helped us learn how to tell.”

“I can really tell you did your research about Fareway and tied that into the new company,” Fareway President Fred Greiner told students at the presentation. “I’m impressed with how much thought you put into this. I can envision that logo on the side of a trailer. I think it fits the Midwest.”

For Canniffe, the project confirmed his belief that design could help change perceptions, and eventually behaviors, within a company.

Through this project, “Fareway began to see its values and Midwestern values as one and the same, and to recognize that these values could be applied to anything it wanted to accomplish,” Canniffe said. “For instance, it could expand its community outreach to issues of rural poverty, nutrition and education.”

The project proved to be a great educational opportunity for the students, too.

“Working with Fareway opened my eyes to how design interacts with business — how to pitch and synthesize ideas and think about deliverables, as well as what would add value outside of what you’re being asked for,” Spory said. “For me it’s been much more than I was expecting. It’s been an amazing experience.”

This story was originally published by the Iowa State News Service.