Private Label Buyer
Doug's Drift

It’s a Branded World of Private Label

August 14, 2013

Although I’ve covered food in some respect for 20 years now, I’ve exclusively dedicated the last decade-plus to food’s life after harvest – the infinitely varied forms product manufacturers, chefs and others in the edible world lend to food ingredients en route to appeasing our ever-shifting dietary needs and desires.

And although private label surfaced here and there over the course of that decade-plus (with newfound emphasis over the last handful of years), the lion’s share of my journalistic efforts related to either foodservice (typically large-volume national chains) or branded product manufacture (Kraft, General Mills, Kellogg, etc.).

“Timing is everything,” as the saying goes, and my segue from covering chain foodservice and branded product development into all things private label has come at an ideal moment in retailing history. Every day, businesses throughout the private label supply chain – from ingredient and product processors and suppliers to retailers large and small – continue to look toward the branded realm for inspiration in terms of ingredient selection (label readers are everywhere), defining product characteristics, labeling, packaging, and marketing. And that could include social-media tactics, integration with smartphone and tablet apps, and in-store merchandising, as well as outright print, online, and broadcast advertising programs.

Some retailers even are beginning to formulate and manufacture their own private label lines, affording them all-important control over every variable of their efforts to further gain an edge on prevailing brands in nearly every retail category.

Although budget-minded private label absolutely has a place in today’s retail landscape, today’s market sees continual diversification. Retailers formulate, or create their own specifications, to not only match the sensory, quality, safety, and other characteristics of national brands, but often to surpass them, cultivating destination brands sought far and wide by a public grown private label savvy. Consider the reputation Costco has built through Kirkland Signature.

In some categories, the brand competes in quality metrics with premium national brands, but at a significant cost savings to Costco customers. And once Costco strikes gold, such as its Kirkland Signature Vodka (called superior to Grey Goose by some), Bordeaux Superieur, or European Cookies with Belgian Chocolate – inspiring consumers to endeavor attempts at deciphering whether or not the products are repackaged premium brands – the buzz grows self-perpetuating. (For more on the current status of the club and mass merchandiser channels, see this month’s cover story on page 20.)

 Today’s private label playing field continually chips away at any differences, perceived and real, between national and private brands. Expect to see this game grow in scope and intensity in the coming months and years. If you haven’t begun to look at your private label lines as potential contenders for category crowns, now’s the time.