You and your own label. Why are we returning to this now?
I’m not being rude, but it’s all about the economy, stupid. Yes, own label, private brands, exclusive labels, call it what you will, have been enormously important for supermarkets and retailers over the last 30 years. The big difference now is that private label is not just being driven by retailers, but consumers are increasingly changing their shopping habits and voluntarily deserting household brands for a cheaper own label alternative. Average household budgets are being squeezed. Families are having to live with lower than inflation salary rises and increased utility bills and are becoming ever more knowledgeable about how they can cut their basic food and drink bills. Starting with switching more to own label.
Where’s the proof for that?
Everywhere. Analyse the latest end of year trading statements for the major grocers and whilst their headline growth figures are nothing compared to what they were 10 years ago, where they are all doing particularly well is their increase in own-label sales. Tesco’s overall sales might be up 1.9% but they are being driven by a 6% increase in own label. Morrisons says its new ‘The Best’ premium own label line is behind its recent return to form. If you drill down in to individual categories, like wine, then the growth in own label is even more marked.
Any specific figures?
Recent research from Retail Economic shows that 48% of consumers would switch even more to own label if weekly food shopping bills go up by 3%. Kantar Worldpanel has average food bills up by 2.3% on this last time last year and some analysts are predicting average 8% price rises for products from the EU over the next two years.
So what’s fuelling this?
Well, a number of factors are at play here. Firstly, the fact own label has been a stable part of our dinner table for the last 30 years means we are all quite comfortable with the idea of buying retailer own brands. Particularly now there are such well defined economy, mid-price and premium ranges to suit all needs and tastes. Then there is the discounter factor. The vast majority of shoppers, regardless of their background, are now familiar with the Aldi and Lidl offer. Ranges that are almost exclusively dominated by own label. Discounter brands benchmarked to be as good if not better than their branded alternatives. They have helped raise the bar of what we now expect from own label. And the fact their respective sales growths (Aldi 18.3% and Lidl 17.8%) far outstrip what the multiples are doing will drive the push to own label even more. What’s more major retailers are now far more confident about taking out even the best selling brands (noticeably Sainsbury’s) as they increasingly believe their customers don't mind.
The other major driving factor is price. We might not have left the EU yet, but already food and drink prices are going up and with sterling showing no sign of improving they’re likely to go up further still. So it’s only to be expected that the average shopper will turn more to those retailers that have spent the last 20 years continuously telling us they are there to make our lives easier - and cheaper. They have gone out of their way to be part of our lives way beyond our kitchen table. Trust us, they say, to find you the best value holiday, look after your household and car insurance, offer you the best rate credit card or loan deals. If you are prepared to have effectively an own label bank account then any negative perception of a retailer brand is over. If food and drink prices go up further still post-Brexit, then we will expect our retailers to look after us and protect our family spending. Because that’s what they tell us they’re there to do.
Is this just a supermarket phenomenon?
Not at all. Yes, they will benefit the most, but shoppers we are now quite happy accepting or even voluntarily choosing the own label equivalent in all areas of our life. Providing we think it is good quality and good value. It is opening the door for national and local wine specialists to develop their own ranges like never before. Step forward the new “Majestic Loves” £5.99 range. Similarly the on-trade now has the opportunity to really cash in on own label from pubs, through to wine bars, or Michelin-star restaurants.
What are brands doing?
Not a lot. There isn’t much they can do faced with the overall economic picture. Instead they are switching their promotional strategy away from big expensive above the line advertising campaigns to more targeted, consumer specific, online and social media campaigns where they can build that individual relationship with their core audience. The big trouble for the major household brands isthat option is not really open to them. So they’re having go toe to toe with the major retailers just to get any of the shelf space that used to be theirs by right. The big winner in all this? The consumer. So when you’ve finished the day job, cash in and get your hands on your favourite retailer’s privates.
* This article was first published as part of the Grapevine publication I produce for the London Wine Fair.