Wednesday Word: Private Label

No Frills Potted Meat Food Product

Remember the generic brands stores like Pathmark used to sell?  A white label with black letters boldly announcing the product inside?

Those store brand products are known as “private label” inside the industry, or sometimes a “control brand.”

Years ago, private label products were a simple way to provide very affordable goods to a store’s shoppers.  Hence, the very generic and sometimes very low quality products.

Private label quality

Nowadays, private label products are often as good as — or better than — many national brand products.  Retailers like Wegmans have put focus on developing high-quality offerings that aren’t even necessarily available from any of the major manufacturers.

Trader Joe’s takes this to an extreme, offering almost exclusively items made just for them.  Ahold (owner of Stop & Shop and Giant) has a wide variety of its own brands that barely seem like store brand offerings — names like Nature’s Promise (organic and natural), Guaranteed Value (low-price offering), CareOne (health and beauty), Simply Enjoy (specialty), and several more.

In the middle of the twentieth century, some supermarket chains owned factories and manufactured many of their own private label products.  Notably, A&P owned dozens of factories, as told wonderfully in Marc Levinson’s The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America.

Specialized manufacturers

Nowadays, though, almost all private label manufacturing is contracted to specialized manufacturers, who produce goods without any marketing or sales costs, allowing products to be sold affordably on shelf.  Manufacturers are often happy to take the business, as it allows them to use excess plant capacity.

There’s some great info in the private label Wikipedia entry if you want to learn more.

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