Saturday, December 31, 2011

Will closing boost brand's profile?

The Calumet Meat Co. for decades operated grocery stores that appealed to the African-American portion of Chicago – so much so that the “Moo & Oink” brand is an icon to that third of the city.

But it also means that it was a complete unknown to the rest of Chicago. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some people had never heard of the cartoon cow or pig that were the symbols of the chain of grocery stores on the South Side and in south suburban Hazel Crest.

SO LEARNING THAT it is now official that the Moo & Oink stores drew no interest, and that the only thing that got any bids at public auction was the cow and pig logo, makes me wonder if this is the chance for the company to get a higher profile.

Which would be the most ironic part – in death, it lives on bigger than in life.

Personally, I didn’t really come into contact with the company until I became a reporter-type person. Back when I worked for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago, I got to see so many of the city’s neighborhoods that I hadn’t paid much attention to previously.

At first, learning of the Calumet Meat Co. stores being the “Home of Moo & Oink” just sounded cute. Although it became apparent that this company had survived for as long as it did because it was one of the few companies willing to do business in the black-oriented neighborhoods of Chicago.

OTHER SUPERMARKETS SEEMED determined then (and still do now) to stay out of those areas of the city. There are times when I think the most common sights one can find in a South Side neighborhood with a sizable black population is a one-time Jewish temple that now houses a Baptist congregation AND a one-time Jewel supermarket that now sits vacant or has been converted into something like one of those generic “dollar” stores.

But even Moo & Oink stores couldn’t compete in such isolation, which is what caused them to declare bankruptcy earlier this year and for no one to express interest in maintaining them as stores.

Which is why it’s fate is to become a “brand name” owned by the Best Chicago Meat company. That West Side meatpacker will now have the rights to use the cow and pig logo and slap them on some of their own products – which they will then offer up for sale in supermarkets.

Who knows? We may now be able to buy Moo & Oink sausages or chitterlings at the local Jewel (although I suspect more Anglo-oriented supermarkets will try to avoid carrying the brand – or will downplay its placement in their stores). But company officials are saying they’re envisioning creating something along the line of Moo & Oink-brand barbecue sauce and other seasonings.

WHICH IS WHY I wonder if Moo & Oink will get a higher profile now that their logo and brand can be found in places other than their three stores that apparently weren’t drawing enough business to remain open on their own.

There also is the talk by Best Chicago officials of using the Moo & Oink brand in places outside of Chicago – such as Birmingham, Memphis or Atlanta (the latter of which has a fast-growing African-American population).

The brand has the potential to get recognition beyond the South and West sides of Chicago – even though the “old-timers” are going to see the vacant storefronts (I stumbled across the suburban location sitting empty just the other day – a one-time Dominicks’ turned Moo & Oink to become who knows what) and think about what has been lost.

And which most of Chicago never knew we had.


EDITOR'S NOTE: These two-decade-old television spots (for all their campy value) show a company that understood perfectly who its customers were.

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