The old guard remains more or less on top in our 10th annual ranking, despite inflation and financial pressures
If you thought the rising costs of just about everything might shake up our annual Most Loved Brands list—based on a survey that measures Brand Love by research partner Ipsos in January and February—you might be a tad disappointed.
Perhaps there’s an argument that the exact opposite makes more sense—that consumers would stick with the brands they trust most during hard times. Of course, there were some meaningful changes on the list as some brands rocketed up the list and others fell hard.
But at the very top of our list are some of the same names you’ve been seeing for a few years, albeit in a different order.
After briefly settling for No. 2 last year, Save-On-Foods is back in the top spot for the third time in four years. That comes even as inflation seems to have given customers the most grief at the grocery store.
READ MORE: Entrepreneur of the Year winner Darrell Jones puts Save-On-Foods at the top of the grocery food chain
“One of the conclusions we made when we first started doing this a long time ago was that, to a certain extent, the frequency with which you do business with a brand, generally speaking, provides you with a better opportunity to build strong brand equity with your consumer,” says Michael Rodenburgh, executive vice-president for Western Canada at Ipsos.
“That’s why Save-on-Foods, London Drugs and A&W are all at the top and businesses like Herschel Supply or Nude are at the bottom—because they’re less frequently purchased brands or less purchased categories.”
Joining those three in the top five are mainstays BC Hydro and YVR, while Purdy’s, BCAA, Telus, White Spot and Best Buy round out the top 10.
Wearing the crown
BC Ferries was the only company to fall out of the top 10 year-over-year, moving down five spots to No. 11. Rodenburgh says that slide and BCAA’s six-spot rise to No. 7 are two sides of the same coin.
“Crown corporations are generally influenced by whatever public policy issue they’re facing at the time,” says Rodenburgh. “We’ve seen ICBC go through tough times, now we’re seeing it with BC Ferries, which isn’t terribly surprising to me, considering the amount of press they’ve had with regard to schedules and staffing challenges.”
Rodenburgh says he wouldn’t be surprised to see BC Ferries climb back up the list next year, and he points to ICBC being ranked No. 43 in 2020 before slowly making its way to No.15 last year. The insurance provider was No. 21 this time around.
“Interestingly, BC Hydro has done quite well over the years, with the exception of 2018,” says Rodenburgh, referring to BC Hydro being ranked No. 8 back then. “If I went back to 2018, I’d be willing to bet that was when there was a lot of battle around Site C. They’ve been in the top three ever since.”
On the way up
Rodenburgh calls some of the gainers and losers in terms of rank “a little challenging to understand.” Chief among those is Coast Capital, which jumped 29 spots to No. 33—the highest ranking the credit union has ever had.
Asked whether Coast Capital and Vancity (which shot up 18 spots to 29) are major risers because they’ve been able to provide an island of financial security in an inflationary maelstrom, Rodenburgh agrees: “It’s certainly possible. There might be a reason why the messages they’re putting out right now are resonating.”
A tad easier to understand is the 25-spot rise from rail-tour operator Rocky Mountaineer (No. 42). “That’s a no-brainer,” says Rodenburgh. “They were essentially shut down in COVID, now the business is back up and running.”
The same goes for the fifth-highest riser on the list in TransLink, which jumped 11 spots to No. 22. Though maybe it’s a positive that TransLink isn’t all the way back quite yet. “TransLink’s ridership has gone up, but not to pre-pandemic levels,” says Rodenburgh. “One of the things we know to be true is that empty SkyTrains or busses make for happy customers. If you’re taking transit and you don’t have to fight to get on or wait for three or four B-Lines, that makes for a great experience.”
READ MORE: 5 Questions with TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn
Another big riser is Browns Socialhouse, which went from No. 44 to No. 32 and has continued to make investments in new locations. “You’re only as good as your latest, greatest renovation,” says Rodenburgh.
Moving on down
In terms of the brands that have seen the biggest fall, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the Vancouver Canucks lead the pack. (Which might be the only time someone has written that phrase in the last several years.) The Canucks fell 17 spots to No. 36. After finishing relatively high in 2021 thanks to the COVID playoff run and in 2022 due to a hot end of the season and the firing of Jim Benning, there wasn’t much on or off the ice to save the Canucks from a drop this year.
“If they’re playing well, people hop on the bandwagon, and if they're not doing well, [its Brand Love score] tanks,” says Rodenburgh plainly.
A little harder to explain is Lululemon’s 16-point drop, other than it potentially being a return to the mean after the clothier was the biggest riser last year. “The business performance is remarkable, the latest financials are really good,” says Rodenburgh. “Perhaps Lululemon benefited a bit from the casual work environment and the movement toward leisurewear and is now down in the post-pandemic world.”
There also could be an issue of perhaps not resonating with a wide customer base. “More niche brands struggle to get further up into the rankings,” Rodenburgh argues. “That could be said for Arc’teryx (fell 14 spots to No. 51), Herschel (fell eight spots to No. 69), Whistler Blackcomb (fell 12 spots to No. 46) and even Granville Island Brewing (fell 13 spots to No. 48).”
Another big faller this year is the PNE, which tumbled 13 spots to No. 34. It's the first time the nonprofit has been outside the top 25 in seven years. “They’ve been slipping a bit in relevancy,” says Rodenburgh. “I think they’re going to have to make some investments in product if they want to grow beyond where they’ve been in the past. Some enhancements to the park they’re planning could get them there, but that’s a multi-year process.” Hey, the recent announcement of a $65-million ampitheatre renovation won’t hurt.
When asked if anything surprised him, Rodenburgh cites Dollar Tree not moving up much in a recession. “You would expect brands that focus on a value offer to perform well,” he says. “We don’t see that happening with Dollar Tree, which is a bit of a surprise.”
It’s been a few tough years for MEC, which has the same audience dilemma as Lululemon and Arc’teryx, but has also been dealing with the fallout of a sale and no longer being a co-op. MEC was No. 14 in 2017 but has dropped every year except one in that time and now sits as No. 37.
Rodenburgh notes that industries he thought may take sizeable hits, like oil and gas, print media and consumer packaged goods, have stayed relatively steady. He does have one message for brands that are trying to climb their way up the list, though.
“If you’re a niche brand, one of the ways to grow your Brand Love is to find new products or new innovations in your portfolio that will help you resonate with a broader group of consumers,” Rodenburgh says.
“That’s why, year-over-year, Nature’s Path does better than Earth’s Own. What would be the message to the brand managers at Earth’s Own? Try to find the products that resonate with a broader base of consumers than just people who care about dairy-free alternatives. Happy Planet used to be in the juice category—they have soups now and all sorts of different things.”