The great British, private brand, bake off

Growing up, private brands to me meant that my parents were having a particularly tough week and we had to make a few cut backs in the supermarket. No Mr. Kipling that week, it was Kwik Save, "no frills" generic cake. As I got older, things changed. M&S changed the way I thought about private brand produce. Eating a delicious M&S Victoria sponge meant that my Mum was feeling a little flush with money that week. This was a private brand I looked forward to. So how did that happen? What changed during my childhood?

Let’s put my last question to bed. It didn’t happen during my childhood, that’s just the way I remember it. Private brands have been around for a long time, offering affordable alternatives to major brand products, that are only available in that store. Not only does that create a whole new market for the retailer, they now had a captive audience. 

Since then supermarkets have made great strides in moving their own private brands away from just being the “cheaper option”, and instead have gained a much wider consumer audience by creating products that offer value, quality and are relevant to the current marketplace. Supermarkets now offer genuine alternative to major brand products, and not just at the lower end. My “no frills” cake suddenly had as many frills as I could desire!

Over recent years, supermarkets are having to overcome a major hurdle, brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is still one of the major reasons shoppers purchase the same beans or cola year in, year out. They grew up with it, they recognise it, they trust it. Supermarkets had to also create a brand you can relate to. I no longer purchase a value lasagne from Tesco, I purchase Tesco Finest al Forno lasagne. If I go to Costco, I buy Kirkland products. I go to Sam’s Club and buy Members Mark, and so on.

Great, now supermarkets have their own brands, so what? Tesco Finest cheesecake keeps “improving” every year, with new packaging, local ingredients and the occasional health benefit. How can I relate to that when my Mr. Kipling cheesecake looks and tastes pretty much like it did 20 years ago? So now the new challenges begin. 

How do supermarkets continue to be innovative to keep the edge in such a competitive market? How are they going to maintain quality vs profitability, with consumers looking for locally sourced ingredients? How do they build brand loyalty, and appeal to the next generation of shoppers if they keep changing the actual contents of the products? So many challenges to overcome…

Supermarkets can’t do this alone. The products we see on the shelves are not made in some magical kingdom run by Santa during his summer months off. No, believe it or not they are designed, created and produced in real manufacturing facilities by real suppliers. This means that it’s not just down to the supermarkets to rise to these challenges, it’s a team effort that is only as successful as its weakest link. In many cases that weakest link is the relationship with the suppliers.

Future success relies on engagement. Engagement with customers, engagement with suppliers, and ultimately transparent engagement between the suppliers and customers themselves. Suppliers and supermarkets must work together as partners, sharing feedback, test results and innovative thoughts to bring the best products to market.
So, what’s changed with private brands since my "no frills" cake days? Everything, and it will continue to do so in a positive manor as long supermarkets and suppliers work as One Team, with One View of how their products are performing and share One Vision of the brand experience they are crafting. Creating customer loyalty through excellent products and service (and a really good cake, I like cake).

Tags: Product development

Robert Neill

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