Brand Loyalty and the Impact of Private Label Products
Sit tight or fight back aggressively?
The struggling economy has given private label products a big boost on the store shelf and on consumers’ shopping lists. Between 2006 and 2009, the market share for private label products in the U.S. increased in nearly three out of four product categories within personal care, household goods and food and beverage according to Information Resources, Inc. In total, private label in the U.S. now accounts for more than 20 percent of grocery store sales and 18 percent of superstore sales.
What should national brands do about this growing trend? Should they sit tight and hope for a reversal as the economy improves? Or should they fight back aggressively?
“Stick with proven brand strategies and rely on the economy to put private labels back in their place.”
|Private labels always do better when times are tough. Once consumers have more money to spend, they will come back to the national brands they know and love.||The deep and prolonged recession prompted many consumers to substitute private label products for national brands. And many found they couldn’t tell the difference – or even preferred the store brand.|
|Other companies might need to worry, but our brands are bulletproof.||Research shows that very few brands are safe from the threat of private labels. Even elite brands aren’t completely immune.|
“Do everything possible to stop the bleeding and regain lost market share.”
|The severity and length of this recession is having a permanent impact on consumer buying behavior. Savvy shoppers are the new normal.||These things tend to be cyclical. When the economy improves, the problem could just disappear.|
|This isn’t just a battle for short-term market share; it’s a battle for long-term control of the consumer. Will the brands people buy dictate where they shop? Or will where they shop dictate the brands they buy?||What can we do to fight back? Today’s consumers are very price conscious, but aggressive price promotions undermine the perceived value of our brand.|
Pat Conroy, Vice Chairman and U.S. Consumer Products Leader, Deloitte LLP
National brands that are relying on an improved economy to stop the onslaught of private labels could be in for a nasty surprise, based on a recent consumer survey as well as an executive survey. According to a recent Deloitte study of more than 2,000 U.S. consumers, more than 9 of 10 say they have permanently changed their buying behavior during this recent recession. The survey shows that many consumers feel guilty and embarrassed about the way they used to shop (e.g., impulsive spending, wastefulness, knee-jerk reaction to promotion of products) and have become much more strategic and calculating in how and what they buy.
Many consumers who used to be loyal to national brands have opened their eyes, minds and wallets to private label products and many have found little or no difference between the two, according to our study conducted with Harrison Group. In fact, 80 percent of the surveyed consumers believe that most store brands are produced by the same company and are essentially identical. Interestingly, in our executive survey, less than half of the consumer product executives believed that consumers see store brands as manufactured by the national brands.
Also, according to a recent Deloitte executive survey of 193 consumer product and retail executives, more than three out of four consumer product executives and nine out of ten retail executives expect store brand market share to increase or increase significantly in the next two years.
To regain their competitive edge, national brands must demonstrate and deliver superior value to the consumer. Key strategies include:
- Develop a brand that retailers can’t. Focus on brand attributes that are difficult for retailers to replicate, such as exclusivity, product safety, social causes, innovation and sustainability.
- Create a “destination” brand. The leading brands are so strong that loyal consumers are willing to switch stores or make a special trip just to buy them. Such brands are difficult to replace with private label products, since many consumers are unwilling to accept a substitute. It’s important to note that while many companies believe their offerings qualify as destination brands, our research shows fewer than 1 in 3 brands in most product categories are viewed as “must-have” by those consumers who purchased the brand.
- Think local. Just because your brand is nationally distributed and marketed doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore local market needs. Identify regional or local variations in tastes and preferences and use them to create new and unique products that can compete effectively against the localized offerings of private labels.
- Make it hard for retailers to copy you. “Me-too” private label products that look similar to national brands encourage side-by-side comparisons at the store – often to the detriment of the national brand. Establish an aggressive cadence for product innovation, including frequently refreshed packaging and product obsolescence, that forces retailers and private label manufacturers to make continuous investments in order to keep up.
- Go direct to consumer. Use the Internet to establish direct relationships with consumers and increase your presence in the decision-making process. Build customer loyalty by offering existing customers direct replenishment through your website.
- Reduce reliance on price promotions. While price promotions remain an important marketing tool, if overused can steadily undermine your brand’s perceived value. Excessive promotions train consumers to wait for deals and shift the focus from product attributes to price – a shift that plays to the strengths of your private label competitors.
A view from the Life Sciences sector
Glenn Snyder, Principal, Life Sciences, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Pharmaceutical companies that sell over-the-counter name-brand drugs have direct experience competing against private label products. On the shelves of most drugstores, major branded medications often have a store-branded product right next to them that claims to be the same drug for less money. The fact that both products feature the exact same active ingredients tends to work in the store brand’s favor. On the other hand, the fact that consumers may perceive the decision to chose between the two brands as an issue of health and safety creates a distinct advantage for the better-known national brand.
Ironically, there are situations where strong name recognition can actually work against a national brand. Perhaps the most famous example is the Tylenol scare of the 1980s, which generated an extraordinary amount of negative publicity because it centered around a well known brand. In that particular case, the manufacturer Johnson & Johnson was able to salvage its reputation and even improve its long-term image through careful handling of the crisis. But the effort required a huge amount of money and resources.
One way for a brand name drug company to protect itself from private label competition is to modify the non-clinical characteristics of its products – adding a gel coating, for example. Another tactic is to aggressively cut prices on products that are nearing the end of their patent life. By reducing the profit margins on a particular drug, the company makes it economically less attractive for store brands and other “me too” products to enter the market.
A view from the Retail sector
Tom Compernolle, Principal, Retail, Deloitte Consulting LLP
For national brands, the threat from private labels might not be as ominous as it seems. And it certainly doesn’t have to escalate into a full-scale war. There is a natural limit to how much shelf space retailers can dedicate to their own private labels before brand-conscious consumers take their business elsewhere. Also, private labels have struggled in the past to move from the value category up to the mid and premium tiers.
Rather than launch a direct assault against private labels, manufacturers should try to reshape the conversation through retailer education and collaboration. What retailers ultimately are looking for is higher margins. Private labeling is just one of the many ways to achieve that goal and by no means always the most effective.
In fact, private labels might not be as profitable as they seem, given the hidden costs for marketing and brand-building, not the opportunity costs of displacing popular private brands, that retailers are likely to encounter as they expand their private label efforts. National brand companies should make sure retailers are aware of these hidden costs and then propose alternatives for collaboration that can help retailers improve their margins.
For example, a manufacturer could offer to help retailers re-merchandise entire sections of their stores to maximize sales and profits. Or it could offer to produce customized packaging that is more appealing and consumer-friendly. Also, in an assisted selling environment such as retail electronics, a manufacturer could offer to provide sales training that helps retail staff steer customers toward higher margin products.
National brands have invested a lot of time and money in understanding consumers and market segments. Many are willing to share some of this information and insight, often in exchange for more shelf space. If done in a spirit of true transparency, this can strengthen their relationships with retailers and help retailers boost their margins above what private brand offerings would achieve.
Join the Debates
As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.