Show your expertise. How can Private Brand retailers compete with expert food brands?

This guest post comes from frequent contributor, Tess Wickstead, Strategy Director of the international design agency Pearlfisher.

Show your expertise. How can Private Brand retailers compete with expert food brands?

The Private Brand food sector is booming. The quantity and wide array of choices now available is without question, but the quality – or perceived quality – is what really differentiates retailers. One area of growth is being driven by pressure from national brands with artisanal expertise. How can Private Brand brands mirror this highly desirable sense of ownership and expertise?

In the past 10 years there has been a huge global shift in food. We’ve identified a fake to alive shift that is driving the trend for fresh and hand-crafted, and artisanal producers are ticking all the boxes when it comes to delivering a unique and highly desirable proposition. This is an exciting time for brand strategy and design as we develop a new visual language and positioning for these emerging brands. We have had many of these brands coming through our own studio in recent months – from olive and antipasti brand Bodega to new challenger meat brand Mindful Meats. It is certainly a challenge for supermarkets to match these new offers and to find the right way to build a competitive expertise into their own brand.

Many of the Private Brand retailers and supermarkets have upped the ante through the continued evolution of their specialty areas. Morrison’s Market Street comprises a deli, fishmonger, and greengrocer, as does Hannafords. Wholefoods and Wegmans also do this well. Wholefoods often groups their artisanal cheese, olive and wine selections together to heighten the experience further, and Wegmans is exceptional at creating dynamic store-within-a-store areas like La Boulangerie. Using a dedicated brand space, a representative brand spokesperson, and supporting collateral like in-store recipe cards, magazines and shopping lists brands are able to dial up the impression of market expertise. Eataly exemplifies authority and authenticity in every category, using expert chefs like Mario Batali and Lydia Bastianich to serve as curators of the brand. Whilst definitely playing in a higher tier, Eataly is an incredible example of retailers flexing artisanal muscle.

On a packaging level, even our most well-known and best-loved brands are feeling the squeeze from this artisanal sector of the market. A news article in USA Today at the end of last year reported how giants such as Frito Lay and Vlasic were adopting “artisan” brand lines. Similarly, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has just launched a redesign of its organic private brand packaging resulting in a more ownable and bold solution with better focus placed on the word organic and using the current established green as an overall color for the packs. Finally, Fresh Market made a statement when it launched its artisanal chocolate range last year. Leveraging their high-quality, Italian-made product with a whimsical, yet sophisticated design, they’re using their new packaging to compete authoritatively with the best of the best in this specialty category. 

Brand design has a huge role to play in defining and bringing to life the expert quality of Private Brand products. When it is done right, Private Brand retailers can and will compete effectively with their expertly branded counterparts!

Tess Wicksteed is Head of Strategy at Pearlfisher –
Tess’s great talent is the instant ability to see the wood for the trees. As the creative force behind Pearlfisher’s strategic offer, she trades in originality, clarity and logic, getting to the point fast and delivering strategy that’s both creative and cohesive. A longstanding Pearlfisher person, Tess was Strategy Director in London for ten years before relocating with her family for a brand new challenge in New York.

As a literature student at York, Sussex and Cambridge Universities, Tess was keen to become first a clown, then a teacher. However, it was her belief that good culture matters that finally led to a career in design and an ongoing commitment to creating powerful brands that contribute positively to the world. Short and sharp in all things, Tess balances refreshing bluntness with disarming humanity. Her presence on a project promises fireworks – and guarantees results.

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Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.