Private Label Buyer: New Value Brands – Are They a Diversion?

Jul 28, 2009

Tom Stephens, founder,
Brand Strategy Consultants

a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of a current article
from Private
Label Buyer
presented here for discussion.

Roaming the
shelves in the Idea Supermarket at PLMA’s World of Private Label in Amsterdam
was an interesting exercise this year. Copycat wellness, green, organic,
convenience, functional, excellent packaging, pet food, HBC and the rest.
All looking great. Doing well and capturing a lot of attention from the

But what I
was really looking for was there in abundance. New discount brands. And
was there a choice – Carrefour, Tesco, Delhaize, Ahold and Sainsbury.
And of course, we have all heard about the re-launch of Walmart’s Great
Value. So what’s a retailer to do?

Tesco, the
best penetrator in the business, always has had the “good, better, best” approach.
They have three brands that cover three distinct quality levels, and
all appeared to have been well covered at the show.

Those great
retailers with only two tiers are facing the same thought about the economy:
What to do about value? Introduce a new tier, or promote the existing
lower tier like crazy. Loblaws in Canada, Woolworths in Australia and
Walmart everywhere are facing that dilemma right now. But the most interesting
approaches to me are those of Carrefour and Tesco. They have three straightforward,
no-nonsense brands that seemingly have all options well served. But did
they always? And, if not, what happened to change that?

Aldi, of course,
had a lot to do with it. The “fantasy brand” (as some call it) approach
has served them really well up until now. A store with limited selection,
most of the mainstream areas covered and quite a few unique destination-type
items for fun (and profit).

Now we hear
Aldi is trimming the number of brands so they can get better customer
recognition for what they are offering. Yet Tesco is launching what appears
to be a whole range of Aldi-style fantasy brands, but with the “Discount
Brands at Tesco” logo clearly identifying them as lower-price alternatives.

When I first
saw this, I thought it might be a diversion from what has clearly been
an extremely successful three-tier strategy. But times change. Where
Aldi competes with Tesco, they are clearly taking some market share.
So in comes a whole series of new brands (e.g., The Curry Leaf, Country
Bran, Snacksters). Carrefour launches them all under one name: Carrefour

So Tesco starts
to make its discount brands look like real brands. Is this bait and switch?
Or is it customer boredom and fatigue with the old plain value line?

Is it a diversion,
or is it sound strategy? Take your pick and watch for the reports. My
guess is that like most diversions, that’s all they are. Once you get
past the sign, it’s smooth driving from there on in.

It’s like they
say in F1 motor racing. Is it a two-stop strategy or a three-stop strategy?
I think we’ll see a few two stoppers go to three and a few three stoppers
go to multiple brands. Let’s all rev our engines and see what happens
because a lot of keen spectators are hoping to see an exciting race.

Discussion Questions:
How should retailers’ private label brands be repositioned to show
more “value” in the current climate? Should they introduce a new lower-priced
tier or aggressively promote the existing lower tier? How does the
use of a three-tier (good, better, best) versus a two-tier private
label strategy affect this decision?

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7 Comments on "Private Label Buyer: New Value Brands – Are They a Diversion?"

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Joan Treistman
11 years 9 months ago

Deciding upon one, two, or three tiers should not be made in the abstract. It is still about the category and consumer wants and needs. Consider the difference in the number of SKUs in hair care products vs. condiments (never confuse them please).

With two brands positioned as more or less quality and associated pricing, it is easy for shoppers to differentiate. As the number of tiers increases the distinctions will easily get muddied. So the question is what will make a relevant difference to consumers? And the next question is how best to convey that difference? It won’t matter if retailers offer the array of brands and products that consumers prefer if the positioning (not to mention the products themselves) are overlooked.

This is a precision business. I am always surprised to read about those marketers who want to achieve success by painting with broad strokes.

Anne Bieler
Anne Bieler
11 years 9 months ago

The lessons from Europe should first be considered in the North American context. In the US, retailers are not consolidated to the extent they are in Europe, offering shoppers a much broader choice of locations and selections, particularly in centers store departments. So it does not necessarily translate that US shoppers are “bored” with PL offerings here. The challenge here is developing recognizable differentiation with PL to develop shopper loyalty.

In many larger stores, “findability” is still an issue, and many organizations are working to simplify. Before introducing more PL, careful analyses of offerings to identify “white spaces” in category or department should guide the decision.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 9 months ago
Over the last 6 months I have been working very closely with Private label initiatives at retail. Some are using the three tier approach to attract customers on price/value others are focused on expanding Private Label (PL) reach into more categories and keeping a two tier model. With either approach a key component that all of the retailers are working on is how to best promote their PL to shoppers. If you can create brand loyalty with your PL, that consumer only has one choice on where to buy that brand. Trader Joe’s is a master at building this brand loyalty around their PL. If you want Trader Joe’s organic bread, you only have one option on where to purchase it. In a recent IRI report called Times & Trends July 2009 IRI they shared a graph that ranked the important factors in product selection for consumers. 92% believed overall quality was the main factor and close behind at 87% was price of item. Both of these data points create opportunity for PL. The real… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
11 years 9 months ago

I remember in the 1970s when Jewel Foods in Chicago had three quality tiers of PL, none of which had the “Jewel” name. (They were “Cherry Valley,” “Bluebrook” and “Mary Dunbar,” the highest level. Interesting, huh?) Today, grocers have the opportunity to license their PL to other companies (“President’s Choice,” Safeway’s “O,” etc.), so the shopper eventually may NOT have to go to Trader Joe’s to get TJ’s PL products.

We should look to the best practices in other segments of retail, like apparel, for instance. PL is treated very differently in specialty stores.

Sandy Miller
Sandy Miller
11 years 9 months ago

In today’s hyper-competitive climate, supermarket retailers must do whatever is required to selectively grow Private Brands and Retailer Brands. Recent Willard Bishop analysis shows Private Brands have a higher margin any way you figure it. And CPGs are focusing on top tier retailers today. From one perspective, Wal-Mart’s activities in this area has settled the issue. Top tier CPGs will continue to grow–their profits per dollar of sales are generally over five times as high as the better supermarket chains.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 9 months ago

Allow me to expand on Ralph Jacobson’s comments about Jewel’s PL program in the ’70s, hoping to shine a light on today’s overall PL development. Jewel encountered a problem during that recessionary period, which was the runaway success of their (supposed) lower-quality PL brands. I write “supposed” to describe the quality because Jewel’s suppliers literally ran out of lower-grade ingredients and began substituting higher grades all the way up to “fancy” in the lower-quality labels. Jewel eventually had to pay more for these products.

Today the quality of PL brands still depends on the quality of their ingredients. And of course, lower-quality ingredients cost less–helping, along with the absence of promotional costs, to enable lower retail prices. What happens if the lower-quality PL brands are so successful that they again dry up the supply of less-expensive ingredients? It will be 70s Jewel all over again.

Shilpa Rao
11 years 9 months ago
As pointed out by Joan Treistman in the comment above, customers need to be in focus while designing a private label strategy. As more and more customers are willing to buy less expensive grocery brands and turn towards private labels to deal with the recession, retailers need to deliver value through these brands to keep customers coming back to the store. While deciding on a private label strategy, retailers need to analyze each category and understand the need in each category for tiers of private label. It does not make sense to introduce more private label tiers in categories which are already flooded with duplicate and “me too” products. Also, not all stores are ready for all tiers of private label products, in all categories. A retailer, after the success of its value ready meals, introduced a premium private label in stores with affluent customers and totally failed, since the retailer missed out on the trend (at that time)–affluent people preferred fresh food to ready meals. Retailers need to understand their customers first and attempt… Read more »

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