PL Buyer: Is Everything All White?

Discussion
Sep 16, 2011
Paula Rosenblum

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt from a current article from Private Label Buyer, presented here for discussion.

When it comes to private label packaging, white is the new white. White is also the new black, and the new yellow.

In short, white is everywhere on new private label packages. Retailer after retailer has been rolling out new lines and new products in packaging that is either all white, predominately white or includes white accent areas. The trend has become so pronounced that some are concerned private label may be entering a new generic era, a time when all private label packaging is so similar that consumers feel no particular brand affinity for one retailer’s offering compared with how they feel about national brands.

Not only packaging, but naming of new private label is echoing a certain sameness as well, adds one industry watcher.

“We are on the precipice of entering a new age of generics — Essential Everyday [Supervalu], My Essentials [Delhaize] — there’s no personality to these brands,” complained Christopher Durham, creator of the mypbrand.com blog and a member of PLBuyer’s editorial advisory board.

Others, however, point out that there is method behind the white wave sweeping over private label packaging.

“You’re seeing more and more white, I think, because it’s recognizable,” said Todd Maute, senior vice president/partner with New York design firm CBX Retail, and a judge for PLBuyer’s Design Excellence Awards. “It just merchandises better.”

Paula Rosenblum, managing partner with RSR Research, agreed.

“Retailers believe consumers are more price sensitive than ever, so they [retailers] are going to try to focus on more value messages than ever,” and white says value.

Walmart with its Great Value private label redesign in 2009 and Publix with its Publix brand in 2003 generally get kudos as the originators of the white movement. When they did it, it was novel.

Walmart’s Great Value went from “being somewhat invisible to screaming on the shelf,” recalled Maute. Ironically, now, Walmart is bringing more colors into the Great Value line.

Indeed, some retailers are using colors to stand out from the white movement. “Use of vivid color continues to be a critical design element for us,” Mary Rachide, divisional vice president for private brand at Family Dollar, told PLBuyer. “Despite the whitening trend across many other retailers, and in our national brand equivalent quality products, leveraging the Family equity is critical to helping our shoppers connect the product back to Family Dollar.”

Still, experts expect to see more white packaging before there’s less.

“A certain amount of it is ‘oh, isn’t that sheik. Isn’t that contemporary,'” commented Jonathan Asher, senior vice president at Perception Research Services. “But no matter what you did, to some degree it harkens back to the old generics. You can use white but you have to use it the right way.”

Discussion Questions: Is the trend toward white in private label packaging a positive or negative for brands’ positioning? Is signaling value over attributes such as quality becoming more important for private label brands?

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17 Comments on "PL Buyer: Is Everything All White?"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

In and of itself, I don’t think white packaging is signaling anything. I think it’s what you do with it. I agree with Mr. Maute that what makes it work is that the product stands out on the shelf. Campbell’s does it with Red/White, Tide with Orange, etc. You can make generic looking white packaging or you can make great looking white packaging (IMHO, see Great Value).

Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

White can signal value, but can also suggest lower quality. The balance has to be exact for the package to create the sale. Knowing what will be appropriate for the product is part of the puzzle (if the retailer is interested in putting the pieces together).

Consumers may be satisfied with any cottage cheese — private label or national brand — and make their decision on price. Cleaning clothes or topping lettuce with a salad dressing may generate more thought on the part of the shopper.

I’ve conducted marketing research on a litany of pet food packages so that the national brand marketer/manufacturer could recommend to its retailers what to include on their dog food packages to promote private label products. Dog owners’ concerns trump dog food prices.

You can’t just paint the world white and expect consumers to be blinded by the lure of cheap.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

I think the quote that was attributed to me was just slightly out of context. Value, in my mind equals quality AND a better price. So the white label is trying to say “No frills…just really good stuff.” At least that’s the message I get from Publix’ brand.

It’s not the same as ‘generic’…it’s just ‘no frills’.

Oddly, the “black label” is being used increasingly to designate high quality/premium store brands. That logic eludes me some, but it seems to be effective.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Private label has taken almost every possible twist and turn over these past 20 years but here is the irony; it has come almost all the way back to its plain label value days. The white boxes do indeed reflect value, however, unless the retailer treats the white box as a brand, the white box will also reflect inferiority. I do not feel that many retailers are doing as good as a job right now as they did even 5 years ago to sell their own “brand.” However, the white box is a better alternative to the blatant knock-off of the national brand. As I said, we have now come full circle.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

White screams “cheap” to all of us “mature” enough to remember the bad old days of “black and white generics” but it may do better with younger shoppers.

Fashions come and fashions go. Colors are “in” and colors are “out.”

My bet? White will have its time and then … well … fade to black.

As to whether its more important to signal value over attributes, I think that’s a very “old think” question. Private label and customers have both evolved to the point that retailer controlled brands (I hate the phrase “private label”) need to offer appreciable value to the consumer without sacrificing either attributes or quality. If you can’t do that it won’t make much difference what color the label is.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

One more time….

Until we break out of the foolish insistence that “VALUE” = “CHEAP” we’ll once again follow each other like lemmings over the cliff into the Sea of Sameness. That “white wave sweeping over private label packaging?” It’s going to drown you.

Dan Raftery
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

I don’t think consumers need more reminders about store brand pricing versus national brands. They do need to be able to find store brands among the visual assault from the shelf. White is the only choice that is not difficult to pull off across the stable of suppliers that a retailer uses for the full range of products.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Well, white sure beats copycatting the leading brand in trade dress. A few justifiable lawsuits turned that around some. Publix and Walmart both went with white on PL so long ago that I would expect this trend has peaked, as we ready for whatever’s next. I sure don’t see this as a return to generics by any stretch of the imagination. Lots of retailers have two-tier private label programs, with white being the more upscale. So I can’t say that value is becoming more important than quality — it all depends on the tier you are talking about. From what I’ve heard, about an equal number of retailers are focusing on upscale as on downscale in the year ahead for their PL programs. Most are staying the course, for now, with what they have.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

I fully agree with the comment in the article about sameness and the lack of personality. Private label should reflect and reinforce the positioning of the retailer. If that is white, so be it. However, this industry seems to subscribe to the mantra of wanting to be “first at being second.” Thus the channel movement toward white packaging.

Private label strategy (and tactics) should be consistent with and reinforce the desired position in the mind of the target market. Everyone doing “white” would appear to undermine this objective.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

The question isn’t the color. The question is the communication. White can be as rich as any color. It matters more the quality of the graphics and the words used.

Those who will be successful with PL in the future will communicate quality in every way. Consumers aren’t dumb. If they know that they can get as good or sometimes even better quality (try Kirkland Greek Style Yogurt) they won’t mind paying 10% or 20% less.

The cache of branded products is quickly waning and the demographic trends do not favor a return to the Golden Years of CPG marketing.

The Sustainable Competitive Advantage PL has is that they can put a product that is as good as or better than the branded product on the shelf at a lower price than the brands. And the brands can’t touch them. If PL takes a value tact, they lose the Sustainable Competitive Advantage.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 7 months ago

As da Vinci might have said, “All of the comments by knowledgeable consulting artists that have preceded mine are quite colorful.” We artists can color the private label sky red because we know it is blue. Those marketing PL who aren’t “artists” seem restricted to coloring things as they really are or people might think they’re stupid … and that seems a pity.

Bottom line: Private label should put the very best affordable quality in its products and also design its packaging as fashionably as possible to compete with other brands. Private label is a strong reflection of the store’s brand and bland dullness is hardly desirable to buyers.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
9 years 7 months ago

Anyone see the Great Value line from Walmart? I swear, it’s like a scene out of 1984. Sterile, boring and redundant packaging. Even my favorite President’s Choice products are using white more often (and becoming boring as well). Just recently, PC products had the upper hand by busting categories and entirely differentiating itself from the majors in terms of labeling. Private Label needs a shot in the arm. Where are all the unemployed graphic designers when you need them?

Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

I say spend the money on a premium private label package, because a great visual to go along with a great quality private label is definitely worth the money in the long run. All white only looks good on a Penn State football team.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
9 years 7 months ago

The trend to white packaging can diminish the retailers shelf impact. Stores are harder to shop, and similar white labels say little about the retailer brand equity.

When the shopper sees rows of white cartons on the shelf, it is hard to find a products. From the aisle, seeing the subtle differences in types of cookies – -2 or 3 facings times per flavor, times 5 or more flavors — hard to find the one you want. Yes, white is the store brand, but against well designed national brands that showcase the products, the message is confused.

Yes, more stores are using white for their value brands, but brands like Kashi are also on white backgrounds. Companies like Tesco are using strong, bold colors on items like ice cream to stand out and deliver the intended message. While Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Target and a few others use packaging to differentiate on the shelf, too many are in the rush to “value” — lower cost products to stay “competitive,” at a price of lost opportunity.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Food looks best, and most appetizing on white. White labels. White dinner plates (check the Food Network), White table cloths.

Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

White is great for a lot of things in terms of packaging and even store design, including making text easier to read so, that and a trend towards simplicity brings us to this result. To me, it’s better than the cluttered alternatives of past years.

Loblaw has the best private label strategy in my book, with their ‘value’ brand being “no name” and yellow. If that’s what you’re looking for, you certainly can’t miss it, especially amongst all that white.

Carol Best
Guest
Carol Best
9 years 7 months ago

People are disclaiming the use of white…however, for multi-category brands where retailers need to consider category design cues across 30+ categories — and yet still create consistency — I ask…how do you achieve that without using white? We all know beige (another neutral color) looks dirty. I think, perhaps, that it’s the poor choices in the other design elements ON that field of white that drives our dissatisfaction.

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