It’s boom time for supermarket own-brand ranges

It’s boom time for supermarket own-brand ranges at the moment, as recession-hit consumers are less easily seduced by brand names and premium credentials. Sarah Woods unwraps the latest trends in food packaging design

Brand snobbery is a trait that is clearly declining as consumers battle to survive the recession. It has become more socially acceptable than ever for people to buy supermarket own-brands rather than expensive alternatives.

According to a survey conducted by Empathy Research in February for, almost half of shoppers are buying more own-label products than they were three months ago.

At the same time, Sainsbury’s has disclosed figures for its Basics range, with packaging design by Williams Murray Hamm, showing sales growth of more than 40 per cent year on year. Two-thirds of the chain’s shoppers are said to buy something from the Basics range.

Worthy of mention is a Facebook group called ‘It’s all about the Sainsbury’s Basics’, boasting more than 1000 members, that has been set up praising the range. Each of the products are listed next to humorous, yet honest, Williams Murray Hamm-devised slogans such as ‘Mushy peas – more mushy, still lovely’.

While the supermarket own-brands are pulling in the punters, trust and quality at the right price is just as important to people in this financial climate.

The transformation in the way people shop demonstrates that branded and premium products must use design more than ever to convey their qualities on the packaging to attract consumers.

Richard Murray, founder of Williams Murray Hamm, puts the success of the Sainsbury’s Basics range down to the way the packs ‘highlight the product compromise in a witty way and let the consumers fill in the gaps.’ ‘Given that price has become such a key driver, there are limits to what anyone can expect packaging to do. Brand-owners can’t rely on a familiar logo alone to sell products; they need to demonstrate why a product is different, better and clearly worthy of a premium,’ he adds.

Conversely, the consultancy has designed the latest packaging for rice brand Tilda, which carries a hefty hike in price to value brands. ‘Tilda takes you on a real legendary journey to justify the premium – it shows that all rice is not equal,’ Murray adds. ‘I think today’s consumer has got wise to the tricks marketing people play. They respond best to unvarnished truth rather than visual hyperbole. The way we like to talk about what we do is “magnifying truths”.’

This sentiment of conveying honesty is echoed by Tamara Williams, founder of Parker Williams, who believes there is a place for own-label brands and fmcg products.

‘The successful brands are ones that feel more personal and in touch with the way we are feeling. We don’t want to feel misled. Give us the facts, don’t dress it up. Be original, be creative, but never lose sight of reflecting your brand truth through design in an honest and simple way,’ she says.

Empathy’s survey highlights that 67 per cent of respondents said that only the quality of some own-label products is as good as their equivalent brands, and just 22 per cent said that all own-label goods match branded items in terms of quality. This shows that respected brand owners do still have a slight upper hand and should play on their superiority.

Honey Monster Foods-owned cereal Puffed Wheat was redesigned in January by Dragon. The objective for the relaunch, in line with the shift in the way people shop, was to recreate its presence on the supermarket shelf and draw consumers away from own-brand competitors. According to the brand, it has not seen any lost share to supermarkets’ own brands.

‘The pack design has to communicate not only what the product is, but also what the brand stands for,’ says Puffed Wheat’s marketing manager John Price. ‘With so many brands fighting for space in consumers’ minds and hearts, packaging has to stand out on-shelf and connect with shoppers in the home. The previous packaging made Puffed Wheat look like a generic slimming brand, ignoring the natural simplicity of the product. The new packaging conveys this well. In difficult financial times, consumers aren’t simply looking for the cheapest product, they are looking for the best value,’ Price adds.

Dragon creative partner Samantha Dumont says, ‘Avoiding category generic design codes is important. Brands should behave above this and this is what own-label does anyway to mimic brands. There is a big drive towards simplicity – too many brands give consumers information overload, whereas the most popular brands are simple in their look and give a single, clear message.’

There is a place for supermarket own-label products and trustworthy brands to share shelf space and enjoy equal success by using design to express what they stand for in a transparent way. However, the brands that are relying on phoney or sensational storytelling could be the first casualties of the current economic climate.

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