The Myth of Choice! National Brands & The MegaConglomerates Who Own Them


Standing in Americas grocers large and small manufacturer brands like Coke, Tide and Campbells are ubiquitous. They have claimed the high ground as National Brands – supposedly better and morally superior to those “compare and safe” mimicking private labels. They have convinced many consumers and the mainstream media that their marketing spin and spend give them the right to be real “BRANDS.” While all other pretenders large and small are somehow less.

But a closer look at who they are and what they do reveals a story of multinational conglomerates who own the majority of the real “BRANDS.” A study by the U.S. consumer rights group, Food and Water Watch, examined the market share of 100 common grocery items and unearthed a disturbing truth: American consumers who buy national brands, no matter what the name on the pack, are actually supporting 24 mega-conglomerates.

For instance, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, Shedd’s Country Crock, Imperial, Promise and Brummel & Brown seem to be competing margarine brands, but they’re all owned by Unilever. Similarly, ConAgra Foods owns Blue Bonnet, Parkay and Fleishmann’s. Between the two giants alone you have eight supposed margarine national brand choices. As many as 33 more categories are dominated by 2-4 big players. Clearly, that’s not much of a choice.

Despite the popular mythology of “national brand” there is nothing that makes these mega-conglomerates superior to any retailer or their portfolio of private brands.

  • Retailers and their brands must place customers at the center of all decisions.
  • Retailers and their brands must provide the relevant choices that consumers need.
  • Retailers must leverage their weekly interaction with customers to forge unbreakable relationships.
  • Retailers must stop apologizing for owning brands and start leveraging them to fill their customers unique needs in specific ways that nameless faceless mega-conglomerates simply cannot.
  • Retailers must own a robust portfolio of brands that address unique business needs and consumer needs.

Below is a fascinating infographic from Alex Hillsberg that reveals the ownership of manufacturer brands.


Prepared by business comparisons | Alex Hillsberg | Follow our Pinterest

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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.