Cargills should be Keells and Keells should be Cargills

I remember growing up in Diyatalawa. At a time when essential items were only distributed through the cooperative shops, we had only two places to buy any “luxury” items in the 70’s – the Army & Navy Stores in Diyatalawa and the Cargills in Bandarawela. Cargills Millers, as it was known then, had everything from film rolls to champagne glasses. If my parents bought some chocolates from Cargills whenever we went to the “town,” it was the ultimate treat. Because, Cargills was the ultimate shop.

Keells, on the other hand, became a popular household name not so long ago, with popular products such as Keells meat balls, bacon and the sausages. Keells pork sausages made its way even to the United Arab Emirates, a true testimony to the success of the brand.

Today, both are in retail business. They are in modern trade, own and operate supermarkets island-wide.

Their positioning? Keells is the premium store, that commands a premium price. Cargills aka Food City, is the place for the masses – the place you stop by on your way home. They even challenge that they offer the cheapest price, if not, you get the difference refunded.

In my mind, it was Keells which began as a brand for the masses, and Cargills was the premium brand. Goes back to our understanding of advertising and marketing. Too many marketers with too many qualifications, and just no common sense. One must understand the core values of a brand/product/service and what it stands for, before thinking of its positioning.

Cargills could have easily been the most premium superstore in the country if they didn’t forget where they came from. Cargills was THE name. They could’ve earned billions more, if only they didn’t forget their heritage. Period.

“Food City” could’ve been a brand on its own, for the masses. Easily.


  1. No reason why they cannot do that later if the market devlops.

    At the moment the Cargills supermarket business is profitable, I doubt if the time is right for luxury department stores.

    The Food City modern trade concept was the salvation for the declining Department Store business.

    I do agree that I would like to have seen the grand old department store concept continue, but in these poor conditions it cannot survive.

  2. I think, Cargills' current posititioning of "place for the masses" is not a mistake by their marketing team; but a cleverly planned re-positioning of their brand. They purposely re-positioned (successfully) themselves as a "place for the common man", countering their original positioning (for more than 100 years) of being a "premium brand".

    When they started expanding their retailing business, they had to cope with the "Cargills Ganan!" positioning among the people. (For example, if you feel the price of some item is too high, there tend to be a common expression of "Ammo! Cargills ganan ne!" ). With that positioning in place, they would have never expand their operations so rapidly. That's why they came up with such taglines like "Mulu Ratema Badu Mila Aduma Thana" (Cheapest place to buy goods in the whole country). They wanted to give high prominance to "Food City" part of their brand, and low prominance to Cargills (so that, people won't be reminded about "Cargills Ganan") And I believe that worked really well for them, and they are happy about it. I don't see any reason for them to think of positioning as a premium store once again.

    I'm not too sure about what the desired positioning of Keels Super. may be they want to skim the premium market within the Colombo and sub-urbs.

    Anyways, nice to see someone in Sri Lanka, writing about these topics on the blogosphere. We have enough pundits writing about the war and politics, and I was so worried not to see any "marketing bloggers" in Sri Lanka. Nice to meet you! Keep it up.

  3. interesting. I'm guessing it's too late for cargills to target the premiun customers since the brand goes hand in hand with food city...