Merchandising Features / Discount / Categories / Channels / Private Label vs. National Brands / Grocery / Dairy / Tactics
Private Eye

Store Brand Dairy Delights

Our secret shoppers head to their local retailers to discover new dairy details, pitting private label vs. national brands.

May 30, 2014

Private label dairy products like whole milk and natural shredded cheese remain behemoths of the industry, with options easily found in almost any store. Both

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Private Eye Dairy PLB

products are up in sales, with private label whole milk experiencing a 2.81 percent increase to $2.42 billion with a 15 percent share, while natural shredded cheese brought in $2.47 billion, up 2 percent, with 22 percent share, according to IRI data for the latest 52 weeks ending March, 23, 2014.

While smaller in scope, yogurt is a rising star in private label dairy, up 3 percent to $675 million. And private label maintains over 13 percent share.

Meanwhile, smaller dairy categories offer growth and the opportunity to incrementally capture a greater share of the market.  The refrigerated kefir, soymilk, or milk substitutes category, for example, is up 16 percent to $114 million—but still with less than a 1 percent share.

To access in-store trends related to these products, PLBuyer sent five of its secret shoppers to investigate dairy products at a Cosentino’s Price Chopper, an Associated Wholesale Grocers co-op member, in Kansas City, Mo.; an Ingles Markets in Asheville, N.C.; a Walmart Supercenter in Colorado Springs, Colo.; a Giant Eagle in North Royalton, Ohio; and a Bashas’ in Mesa, Ariz.

We asked them to evaluate how their local retailers market and merchandise their dairy products.

In addition to looking for in-store promotions and advertising, shoppers recorded prices of comparable private label and national brand whole milk, yogurt and natural shredded cheese, as well as refrigerated kefir, soymilk or a milk substitute. They then conducted their own product tests in one of these categories.

Shelving Strategies

Private label promotions seem were minimal in the dairy aisles, with only Sarah C. reporting that she saw in-store private label ads at Bashas’. Only Bill K. saw shelf tags pointing out price comparisons between store brands and national brands at his local Ingles Markets store.

However, the shoppers saw store brand dairy products shelved side-by-side with national brands at least some of the time—with the notable exception of Christina R. at Walmart.

The refrigerated kefir, soymilk or milk substitutes category turned up some interesting store brands. All of the stores visited had a private label option, including soymilk, almond milk and lactose-free milk. However, they weren’t all great deals. In one example, a sale at Giant Eagle on national brand Almond Breeze made it the same price as the store brand Nature’s Basket Vanilla option.

The shoppers had better luck in soymilk savings. Compared to a half gallon of Silk soymilk, Christina found a $0.61 savings with Great Value soymilk at Walmart, and Michael G. found a $0.70 savings with Best Choice original soymilk at Cosentino’s Price Chopper. Sarah C. reported Bashas’ Food Club 100% lactose-free milk saved $0.49 over Lactaid Milk 100% lactose-free.

As might be expected, some of the strongest values were seen in milk. The best savings in private label whole milk were observed at Ingles Markets and Walmart. Bill saw a $1.19 savings on Laura Lynn milk over Pet, and Christina saw $1.14 savings on Great Value over Borden.

Michael noted the Price Chopper brand milk is produced at a dairy in Kansas City with the same dairy code as the local dairy brand, Belfonte. Price Chopper milk is usually a few cents cheaper per gallon than Belfonte, he said, and several cents cheaper than the national brand, Anderson Erickson, which was bottled at a dairy in Des Moines, Iowa, according to the label code.

These are details that factor into purchase decisions for Michael: “When I shop, an important consideration for most dairy products is proximity of the dairy. Most dairy products are required by law to include this information in a label code. Using the Where Is My Milk From? website (, I often will choose the product from the nearest dairy regardless of the brand, or even the price.”

In yogurt, Laura Lynn plain Greek at Ingles Markets had a 10/$10 sale, bringing it down to $0.19 cheaper than Fage. Walmart’s Great Value Greek yogurt saved $0.30 over a four-pack of national brand Dannon Greek. Dannon Plain Yogurt cost $0.80 more than the 32-oz. Giant Eagle Plain Yogurt.

The shoppers found that private label cheese isn’t always the better deal. At Price Chopper, Best Choice part-skim mozzarella was reported to cost more than national brand Kraft Mozzarella. Likewise, Food Club mild Cheddar at Bashas’ cost $3.29, while national brand Sargento mild Cheddar was just $2.50. At Giant Eagle, a promotion brought Kraft mild Cheddar down to a lower price than the store brand. At Ingles Markets, Laura Lynn mozzarella was about the same price as Kraft thanks to a sale, but offered 4 oz. more than the national brand. The Great Value Real California cheese from Walmart was the only instance that offered a simple savings of $0.40 over the same size Kraft Natural mild Cheddar.

Product Tests

Bill tried Ingles Markets’ Laura Lynn mozzarella and thought the cheese was fine and worked well in lasagna.

Amy tried Giant Eagle’s Nature’s Basket Vanilla Almond Milk with her family. She thought the product tasted “like a vanilla milkshake ... it tasted good, and we plan on using it for cereals.”

Christina tried Walmart’s Great Value Greek yogurt and commented, “It was tasty, but it needed more fruit in it.”

 Sarah liked both the Bashas’ and Shamrock Farms milk. “The store brand tastes similar to the national brand at this store in particular,” she noted. “I have noticed at other stores, it doesn’t taste as similar.”  

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