January 12, 2011
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Oh to be in England. Somebody wrote that once, when away from their home and lamenting being absent for a long time. I am lucky I get to be in England (my home country) fairly often. For so many reasons, but specifically this month, I will examine at close quarters the private label scene. It’s a good thing sometimes to take a good focused look at a highly-competitive market to try and glean insights and examples of best practices that we can bring back to our own businesses.
Thinking about the stages of private label development over time (with credit to PLMA’s Brian Sharoff), from generic, to me too, to quality and assortment, to dynamic, and finally to maturity brings me to thinking about this in terms of the U.K. What we can learn from this?
We all grow up and reach maturity. But does that mean it’s all downhill from there? Boomers the world over are facing this very challenge. Social media makes many boomers feel irrelevant. Texting and the rest make the speed of communication so much faster. How many people in our industry are constantly reminded of when we had no internet?
But those coming into this space have never known anything but. Some are applying this speed of light to product development, lifecycle management, stage-gate process implementation and the rest. Some are still harvesting the time honored produce of the soil. “There’s no substitute for experience” beams down from the walls of Marks and Spencer, just as a new chief executive takes control of the reins that never had the growing up experience of wearing M&S underwear, or eating the ready meals that have been its staple for decades. Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda slug it out for the price leadership and convenience position and surround their customers with multiple formats on every street corner. Aldi and Lidl continue to open store upon store like pop-up stores and try to own the discount sweet spot in the customer’s mind.
So where is this going? This is seemingly a market of maturity; uncertain of where to go. Step back and take a moment to see if this is a market of boomers heading for senility. Or, is it about to erupt back into the dynamic stage again? Take a look at Morrison’s with its good old-fashioned straightforward messages of fresh, in store, every day. This is old-fashioned food retailing brought up to date. Look at Waitrose, with its wonderful array of foodie treasures at every turn.

Private label penetration has slipped in the U.K. Brands have fought back. Some U.K. operators are wising up with their private label strategies. Some are floundering in that aging confusion, not sure if they can still be dynamic. Watch this space folks, because some day, we will all be there. The stage is set.


Tom Stephens is the founder of Brand Strategy Consultants, North York, Ontario. He can be reached at 416-391-1635 or VOIP him at: Vonage 416-907-9848 or Skype at stephenscrimson, or e-mail at Stephens says thinking “inside the box” is often appropriate, since answers to 90 percent of retail problems can be found inside the four walls of the store.


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