Merchandising Features / Bakery/Baked Goods / Categories / Channels / Grocery / Private Label vs. National Brands / Mass Merchandisers / Tactics

Private Eye: Freshly Baked Private Brands

Our secret shoppers seek to find if their local retailers' private label bakery products are a great value - or half-baked ideas.

August 29, 2014
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Each month, we send our secret shoppers out to investigate the prices and promotions of several U.S. retailers and report how each store’s private label brands

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hold up. This month, PLBuyer sent three of its secret shoppers to check out trends in Bakery/Baked Goods.

The grocery and mass merchandiser stores visited in July consisted of: a Walmart Supercenter in Colorado Springs, Colo.; a Hy-Vee in Prairie Village, Kans.; and an Albertsons in Mesa, Ariz.

The shoppers recorded prices of comparable private label and national brand white bread, doughnuts, fresh rolls and hamburger buns. They also conducted their own product test in one of these categories. Here, we provide you with our gathered insight.

Store Brand Sightings

According to IRI, private label bakery snacks were down 5.18 percent in dollar sales for the 52 weeks ending June 15, 2014, while fresh rolls were up 5.42. Private label hamburger and hot dog buns saw almost 4 percent growth, while doughnuts shot up 12.47 percent. Dollar sales of private label fresh bread were marginally up, yet brought in more than $2 billion and maintain a 16 percent share of the market.

All three shoppers this month saw at least some of the private label baked goods surveyed shelved side-by-side national brands. Christina R. noted at Walmart there were not many name brand competitors.

However, in the baked goods aisle, private label promotions seemed lacking, with only Sarah C. seeing in-store signage at Albertsons in Mesa, Ariz. Likewise, none of the shoppers saw tags on-shelf promoting price comparisons between the national and store brands.

A Question of Quality

Of course, in the bakery department there isn’t much need for private label promotion, except maybe to draw attention to the stores’ unique offerings, as none of the shoppers saw national brand bakery goods. But considering the rapid turnover of fresh products in the in-store bakery, promoting the store’s unique creations could prove useful.

This could prove particularly powerful if a store’s bakery is turning out any products considered of “artisan” quality. “We avoid breads generally (carbohydrate concerns), so when we buy in this category, we ‘splurge’ with one of the local boutique bakeries,” said Michael G., who visited a Hy-Vee in Prairie Village, Kans. “Any feature of the product to make the store brand seem boutique/unique might prompt us to give it a try.”

Michael said that in this product category, he might purchase store brand bagels or the specialized “sandwich thins” bread products, but never hot dog or hamburger buns.

“We sometimes—but not often—might purchase the grocer’s bakery breads in this category,” said Michael. For this month’s taste test, he tried the Hy-Vee white enriched bread and found it “perfectly serviceable and tasty.” The bread offered a $0.33 savings over national brand Sara Lee and a 4-oz. larger loaf size.

“It held up well when spreading cold margarine,” he said. “We also toasted it for BLT sandwiches and found that it had enough body to avoid crumbling. We noticed nothing special about the taste, but it seemed to be a good, basic pantry shelf product that we would probably purchase again.”

Unfortunately, the other shoppers didn’t have the same experience with their trials.

“There is a difference between the national brand bread and the store brand,” Sarah concluded of the Albertson’s brand. “The national brand tastes better, looks better, and seems denser. The store brand seemed flimsy and fell apart when I buttered it.”

Christina R. tried Walmart’s Great Value white bread for a sandwich and said she was not impressed, finding the national brand to have better quality. She concluded that the store brand bread “was soft, but it crumbled too easily.”


The Price Factor

Christina said in order for her to try a store brand in the baked goods category, the price would have to be at least $1.00 cheaper than its name brand counterparts. This wasn’t the case with the products our shoppers surveyed. In fact, the best savings was found at Albertson’s where the Albertson’s brand white bread was $0.99 less than national brand Wonder bread (now made by Flowers Foods). In all the other products, the price differential was less than $1.00 savings for similar-sized goods.

When it came to packaging design, Michael noted that the Hy-Vee store brands have consistent packaging design, with store brands using the same color palettes and highlighting use of the store name.

 “By comparison, a large grocery cooperative in town creates a store/control brand that can be sold in different stores regardless of the store’s own brand name, which may vary within the cooperative.” 

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Recent Articles by Douglas J. Peckenpaugh

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