Packaging must capture the attention of customers
Many remember the private brands of yore — when generic products sported white labels with black lettering and generally had no link to the store where they were offered. Price was the selling point and price only, but better store brands later emerged later that were linked in some way to the stores offering these still price-prominent products.
But many of today’s modern store brands offer quality both inside and out. Labels often appear on products in see-through bags, which allow customers to see the quality they are purchasing. Many labels may again be white or plain, but they are not like the generic products of old. These simple labels are part of a minimalist design movement to convey purity, simplicity and quality. Price is rarely the primary selling point with many store brands today.
Not long ago, some store brands displayed labels designed to resemble national brands. More than one customer mistakenly put the private-branded products in their shopping carts only to be surprised at their purchases when emptying their bags at home. This mimicking did not gain consumer trust, although it helped to reinforce a belief that store brands were produced by “the same places as national brands,” whether true or not.
Design for quality
There have been big changes in store brand design and in how customers perceive such products. Private-branded packaging continues to evolve to build trust with consumers as it seeks to display quality.
“Store brand design is changing across the board with brands we work with,” says Sheri Koetting, founder and consumer experience strategist with New York-based MSLK, a beauty-branding agency. “The brands don’t have to just compete on price now.” While price is still important, customers want to get “great quality at a great price,” Koetting adds.
The store brand design often seen today is understated, clean and modern — all meant to convey quality.
“Less is more seems to be foremost in design trending of store brands today,” Koetting says. “Design is meant to convey a sense of return to simplicity,” as seen in a wide range of store brand products from soup to soap. “It’s a stripping down to detail a sense of quality,” Koetting adds. “The knock-off stigma is being discounted.”
All-important millennial shoppers, a group growing by the day, do not want coupons or discounts on private brands, she notes. They just want quality, which can be reflected in a creative but simple approach to store brand packaging.
Younger generation customers are also looking for relationships with private brands and want to connect with those that share their values and beliefs. They want to be told, “We understand you. And to meet your needs, we created this product for you,” Koetting says.
The retailer view
Retailers want quality and customization from their store brand labels and packaging, according to Katelyn Bohr, marketing manager for Colordyne Technologies LLC, a Brookfield, Wis.-based manufacturer of digital inkjet printing systems.
“They are continuously looking for ways to elevate their store brands, and one of the most valuable ways to do this is through the packaging,” Bohr says. “Not only is product packaging a differentiator on the shelf, it is also one of the top factors in the purchasing process.”
A review of retailers shows that a move toward simple and effective design with packaging is wide-ranging with quick messaging playing a key role. Consider Albertsons Cos.' new Signature line, which was launched last year across more than 2,200 stores. Through the store brand, which includes six sectors including Signature Farms for fresh items, Signature Home for items used around the house and Signature Care for OTC medications and similar products, Albertsons aims to attract consumer trust with its messaging to not only get consumers to buy the products but to buy them again. For example, Signature Farms includes the motto “Quality You Can Trust” on the label and points out that its ingredients are from natural, not artificial, sources.
“The products [in the Signature line] were made to address consumers’ growing appetite for quality private label products from stores they trust,” according to Albertsons.
The Kroger Co. offers its premium store brand, Private Selection, which includes an array of products featuring an upscale design but no Kroger logo. Many customers may purchase these items without knowing they are another Kroger store brand. The gold-tinged logo of many Private Selection items continues the quality over price image. Kroger has many design variations for its other private label products. Some are multi-colored labels with non-mimicking designs while others follow the “white for quality and simplicity” path. Supermarket chain Publix’s private brand displays a white, quality-suggesting label with different colored tops on cans or packages. All feature the Publix logo in a black orb.
Amazon is making its presence felt in private brands. The mega-retailer, for example, offers a stand-up mostly clear pouch of cashews branded “Happy Belly” to show the quality being purchased. Another brand Amazon Basics, which covers a wide group of items including batteries, has an ultra-plain package. It must be working: Amazon batteries were up 93 percent in sales year-over-year growth. The company’s “Wickedly Prime” brand features minimalist packaging for chips and other snacks.
Swimming upstream against the new trend in store brand packaging design is German company Lidl, which debuted in the United States last summer and offers a 90 percent assortment of private brands. In some store brand categories, Lidl takes up the old “fool them or at least copy their quality image if you can” philosophy. In the beer category, Lidl places copycat labels next to Budweiser and Heineken. In cereals, a very similar cinnamon crunch label is seen, mimicking the national brand. There is even an amazingly similar version of Head & Shoulders shampoo on Lidl’s shelf.
“This diminishes the store brand’s full potential,” Koetting says. “Every brand has the opportunity to be unique. But it will be a long time before copycats go.”
Lidl’s Preferred Selection premium line of products takes a different approach, however, and adheres to a simple and effective design. Many of the products in the line are made in Europe.
“The packaging designs honor the authentic style and artwork one would typically find on premium products in that country of origin,” says Will Harwood, director of communications for Lidl.
Even more trust
Green has become the color synonymous with health and organic products as well as free-from products. Just as name brands are offering GMO-free products, for example, store brands are doing the same and often with green labels. According to Kaleidoscope’s “Top 6 Tips for Private Label: Trends and Consumers” by Account Director Alexandra Goff, GMO awareness has started a private brand trend in which retailers are demanding their suppliers reformulate to eliminate synthetic colors and ingredients. Many have requested and offer specialty lines of dietary-focused products with product packaging designs that convey this healthfulness.
Packaging can play an important role in reassuring consumers that the products they know and love are arriving to them safely and securely, according to the March 2017 survey “Packaging Matters Pulse” by WestRock, a paper and packaging company based in Norcross, Ga.
“Brands invest heavily in omnichannel marketing strategies, but in the end, the only element of that mix consumers are guaranteed to interact with is the packaging,” according to the company.
A WestRock survey found that 96 percent of consumers are either very or somewhat satisfied with private brands packaging. The majority of consumers surveyed (56 percent) believe private brands are the same quality as national brands, while more than one-third (36 percent) believe they are better. However, consumers do report slightly lower levels of trust for private-branded products.
Proper packaging can reassure consumers and strengthen connections to store brands, according to WestRock. Consumers are guaranteed to interact with packaging in order to consume the contents, so packaging is more important than ever in cementing consumer trust.
High-quality packaging is often interpreted as a high-quality product with consumers, Bohr says. “Retailers want to make sure their store brand packaging is unique and sets them apart from the competition,” she adds. “This means customizing the labels and packaging for each retailer. Customization is often seen as time-consuming and costly. But with today’s technology, such as digital printing, store brands can easily and affordably produce custom short-run labels and packaging.”
Fleenor is a freelance writer from Bristol, Va.