This guest post comes from Chandi Gmuer is vice president of Consumer Research and Product Testing at Consumer Science and James Butcher is CEO of Solutions for Retail Brands (S4RB).

Supermarkets have been among the few businesses retaining intimate contact with consumers during the coronavirus lockdowns. They have done a great job as an essential service to the community, helping to ensure safety and boost trust.

In the short term, supply chain constraints led to increased purchase opportunities for Private Brand, as consumers have not been able to find certain manufacturer brands. In the medium term, economic constraints may drive a new wave of Private Brand adoption for value seeking consumers.

However, retailer Private Brand isn’t just about price. Retailers go to market with a wide range of Private Brand strategies, depending on their specific customer bases. They increasingly understand the need to treat their Private Brands like true brands, to ensure their propositions are appropriate for their specific customer bases. For example, some retailers have created wellness and sustainability-focused Private Brand strategies, including ingredients reduction and calling out provenance.

Keys to Enhancing Customer Engagement

How can supermarkets drive increased customer engagement with Private Brands in this shifting environment?

The key is to boost testing and benchmarking efforts to better understand how a retailer’s Private Brand meets consumer needs and compares against a wide range of manufacturer brands and other retailers’ brands across categories. 

Our two Private Brand-focused organizations, Solutions for Retail Brands (S4RB) and Consumer Science, have jointly launched a comprehensive new benchmarking strategy called “Consumer Experience Score.” This strategy involves a novel, holistic metric incorporating attributes such as design, packaging, sustainability and healthfulness, as well as traditional sensory and performance measures.

The new approach benefits from Consumer Science’s testing expertise and S4RB’s ability to visualize results in a way that informs better decisions on private brand positioning across categories and ranges.  

Benefitting From Improved Insights

Retailers leveraging this strategy, coupled with price comparisons, will benefit from enhanced insights compared to traditional approaches. Traditional strategies compare private brands primarily to national brands, or analyze only basic sensory attributes, or just one category. The new framework will enable retailers to successfully test a broader range of attributes against a wider variety of private brand and manufacturer brand competitors. This will help retailers to pivot quickly for changing consumer preferences, whether for value, premium or other directions.

The Consumer Experience Score brings a new standard strategy across multiple categories, to help brand owners enhance their private brand propositions. The strategy needs to be executed in a collaborative way so that suppliers can work with retailers to ensure products meet the objectives.

Analyzing Retailer Performance

The companies used the benchmarking approach to conduct independent research across a number of private brands, including those from Aldi, Albertsons, Ahold Delhaize, Kroger, Target and Walmart. The research, available from Consumer Science, identified a number of key insights about the state of U.S. private brands through comprehensive testing across multiple categories. Among the insights:

  • The top scoring private brands are consistently providing the best overall consumer experiences at good prices across categories.
  • Some retail brands are challenged by merely average experience scores coupled with higher pricing and disparity in brand value across categories.
  • Some store brands aren’t getting credit for their strong consumer experiences because of less than inspired designs and too-few callouts on packages. For example, in ground Colombian coffee, a category often thought of as premium, products whose designs lacked innovation and seemed outdated received lower Consumer Experience Scores.
  • At times a single attribute, such as texture or presentation, makes a big difference in which private brand items provide the best overall experience in a particular category. For example, the inclusion of croutons in some private brand Chicken Caesar Salad products represented a key differentiator by adding texture and crunch. In the Hummus category, decorative toppings made the difference for some items by boosting presentation.

What’s the upshot to all these insights? Only through deeper testing and comparisons will retailers be able to fine-tune their private brand products to boost consumer experience in this quickly changing period. The time to start is now.

Chandi Gmuer

Chandi Gmuer

Vice President, Consumer Science

Chandi Gmuer is vice president of Consumer Research and Product Testing at Consumer Science, which focuses on quantitative and qualitative testing in the Private Brand space.
For more information, contact Chandi at cgmuer@consumerscience.com

James Butcher

James Butcher

CEO, S4RB

James Butcher is CEO of Solutions for Retail Brands (S4RB), a global, consulting-led software business whose cloud-based Affinity platform boosts Private Brand innovation and retailer engagement with suppliers.
For more information, contact james.butcher@s4rb.com