‘Refrigerated and Frozen Food Retailer’ magazine wrote about price wars in food and grocery retail, between retailers, or between retailers’ private labels and national brands.
The comments about the difference between retailers’ own brands and national supplier brands are particularly interesting. The question, whether retailers’ own brands necessarily need to be cheaper and whether they can catch up later, is also very acute.
To me, the price difference here is really reflected by the difference between whether you are creating a brand (albeit one that is available only in one chain of stores) or a lower-priced private label.
A brand needs distinctiveness, a private label is mostly a me-too. A brand needs to build its own relationships and desirability beyond the store it is available in, while private label sells because there is an existing customer for something else that it is knocking-off. (Of course there are private labels that are not me-too and that are distinctive, but they are the exceptions proving the rule, so I would much rather go with the simplified view of the world for now.)
Finally, migrating up the price curve is difficult in the best of times. Believing that it can be done quickly after an introductory low price, in the current economic scenario, would be highly optimistic.
Price-optimization solution providers believe that retailers can increase private label prices:
DemandTec’s Derek Smith is seeing smaller price gaps between national brands and private label, with private label also adding more tiers. This allows one tier to fulfill the opening price point in a category, with the other tier playing roughly on par with the national brand or even priced above it…
“You also have to understand what price gap is necessary to get the consumer to trade up or down,” depending on your strategy, he adds. For example, you might want to incent shoppers to trade down to your private label, so you get more margin. So… do you raise the price on the national brand, lower the price on the private label, or do a bit of both? Once again, it will depend on your customer set and their purchasing history…
Lyle Walker, VP of marketing, KSS Retail, has seen some of the retailers he has worked with raise prices on their private label without losing sales – thus significantly increasing category profits. “We build demand models with two years’ worth of POS history, and then dynamically adjust elasticity values based on weekly updates of POS data,” said Mr. Walker.
Of course, Mr. Walker also qualifies the argument by saying that the increment may be “pennies here and pennies there,” implying that the discount for private label may still remain large enough for the customer not to notice the “pennies” being added on gradually.
Which sort of negates the whole question about whether retailers’ private label can really compete by pricing on par with national supplier brands, doesn’t it?
(The original RFF article is available here.)