Private Label Buyer
Private Eye: Paper Products

Paper Product Battle

Our secret shoppers head to their local grocers to find out what’s happening in paper products.

March 14, 2013
Secret Shoppers

Paper products are the fourth-largest category in private label by dollar volume, and fifth by unit volume, according to Nielsen records compiled for the 2012 PLMA Private Label Yearbook.

It totaled $3.7 billion in private label sales in 2011 with a 24.8 percent share of the category, up 0.2 percent from a year earlier. Total dollar volume was $15 billion.

Paper products accounted for 1.6 billion private label units sold in 2011, a 37.1 percent share of the category, up 0.2 percent from a year earlier. Total unit volume was 4.3 billion in 2011.

PLBuyer sent three of its secret shoppers to check out paper products at Ingles in North Carolina, a Supervalu-owned Jewel-Osco in Illinois, and a Safeway in Arizona.

We asked them to evaluate how their local grocers market and merchandise their private label paper products.

In addition to looking for in-store promotions and advertising, shoppers recorded prices of comparable private label and national brand paper towels, napkins, toilet tissue, and facial tissue. They then conducted their own product tests in one of these categories.

Here, we provide you with our gathered insight.


All three secret shoppers this month reported seeing store brand paper products shelved side-by-side with national brands. However, Sarah C. and Benjamin R. didn’t see shelf tags comparing the paper products’ prices in the Safeway and Jewel-Osco they visited. Bill K. only saw on-shelf price tag comparisons for the bath tissue and paper towels.

Bill also saw shelf tags advertising the store brand paper products at Ingles Market, but no other ads. Sarah reported seeing in-store ads for store brands at Safeway, while Benjamin saw no in-store ads at Jewel-Osco.

The largest gap in price was seen at Safeway, where national brand Bounty paper towels were $14.99 for 12 big rolls and the same roll count of Safeway brand paper towels was $5 less. It is important to note that Sarah C. did not record the number of sheets per roll, so it is possible the national brand offers more product overall. However, many shoppers might not think to compare products this closely, giving private label paper towels an edge.

In facial tissue, Kleenex Expressions and Ingles Market’s Laura Lynn variety both offered a 75-count box, but the national brand was priced 90 cents more. At Safeway, national brand Puffs offered just four more facial tissues than the Safeway brand and charged 70 cents more.

At Ingles Market the same count of Laura Lynn brand napkins was 21 cents less than Vanity Fair brand napkins. At Safeway, the retailer’s Bright Green napkins were $1 less than national brand Bounty’s same 200 count package. Safeway’s Bright Green napkins offer shoppers more value over the national brand than just a dollar of savings. They also are biodegradable, made from 100 percent recycled fiber, and whitened without elemental chlorine. 

In stores visited, private label packaging seemed to compete well with the name brands.

Bill reported that Ingles Market store brand packaging has recently been redesigned to be more visually appealing and unified in design. Benjamin noted that private label packaging at Jewel-Osco features stylish designs such as that of a higher priced, brand name item.


Bill tried the Laura Lynn paper towels and found no appreciable difference from the national brand. The Laura Lynn brand was priced $2 less than the same eight rolls of Sparkle paper towels.

Sarah, however, reported that she preferred the Bounty paper towels over the Safeway brand even though there was a $5 price gap.

“They are stronger and hold up better when wiping up spills,” Sarah told PLBuyer. “With little kids at home and various spills, it is worth the extra money for our family.”

Of course quality doesn’t matter to every shopper. Benjamin bought the Shopper’s Value brand paper towels at Jewel-Osco and told PLB that, although he thinks the difference in quality compared with other leading brands is obvious, this has not discouraged him from using the Shopper’s Value paper towels.

 “I have regularly purchased this product over the past several years,” he said. “It is always reasonably priced and serves its purpose as needed.”