Why 'just a bit better for you' can be a powerful direction for store brands

In our latest Viewpoints blog, Todd Maute, partner at CBX, discusses how private brands can better leverage healthier options.

Adoption of organic, plant-based and gluten-free store brands is growing by the day, but these
healthier products still amount to a niche tier. On the other hand, arguably the next best
thing—SKUs that are just a bit better for you in various ways—represents a powerful growth
area for private brands.

Health consciousness was already a huge trend prior to the pandemic, but it went into
overdrive as millions of Americans started using more of their time for self-care. In response,
grocers and national chain drugstores would do well to ramp up their efforts to eliminate trans
fats, artificial colorings, chemical preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup and other unhealthy
ingredients from their store brands.

Because of the pandemic and supply-chain crunch, Americans turned to private-label products
in record numbers, but that trend is starting to slow. By offering mainstream products that are
better for you, retailers can keep more of those newly acquired customers and build long-term

But it’s critically important that they effectively communicate these accomplishments—and
that’s where things could get unusually challenging.

grocery shopping

Pairs of Opposites


The brain likes to save calories by gravitating toward simple, binary choices: Either something is “healthy” (certified organic) or “unhealthy” (sugar-laden cookies or salty chips). But reality is about more than simple extremes; it is full of subtler gradations.

Trans fats truly are “bad for you.” If you take them out of any popular product, the marginal improvement could clearly illustrate that you are listening to consumers and proactively addressing their needs and wants. While it might sound counterintuitive, even something like an indulgent snack food can be made healthier.

These are precisely the types of changes that retailers should be making to at least a significant
segment of their store brands. Once committed to an initiative like this, the challenge becomes
how to communicate it. There is a tendency to subtly claim credit for the improvements, like adding a small panel along the lines of “no artificial colors or flavors, or just tinkering with the subdued Facts on Front icons. But if the signaling is too weak, your laudable efforts at making those products “better for you” may go unnoticed.

Seizing the Moment

Here are a few ways to take a bolder approach. Let’s say the retailer has pulled undesirable ingredients out of many national brand-equivalent products. Rather than keeping those better-for-you SKUs within that same tier, this could be an opportunity to give them their own identity. A branded approach to typography, imagery, graphics, color and other visual elements can instantly convey the better-for-you message at shelf.

Another option would be to take a more “meta” approach to the branding campaign. This requires a stronger commitment, to be sure. For example, the retailer might purge the unhealthy ingredients from all the SKUs in its portfolio—and then shout the news from the rooftops. In this regard, Wegmans comes to mind.

From the specialty grocer’s website: "We launched Food You Feel Good About in 1991 with a commitment of great taste with no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Since 2014, we have improved over 2,000 Wegmans items to meet our Food You Feel Good About standards, and today, nearly 90% of all Wegmans brand items are Food You Feel Good About with new items coming every day."

Wegmans has stayed on message for decades. As a result, consumers appreciate the grocer’s commitment to offering better food options. Other retailers and grocers could consider emulating this higher-level approach as they continue to improve their store brands. A final option would be to launch new, better-for-the-consumer store brands from scratch. This might sound like a tall order, but today new brands can be conceived and executed much more efficiently thanks to innovations like Agile Scrum and Design Thinking.

There’s a big opportunity here. Traditionally, retailers have focused less on product features and benefits and more on those blanket, easy-to-grasp categories like “organic” or “natural.” There’s room to grow in those subtler spaces in between the extremes.

Regardless of which approach you choose, if you are elevating the offering to meet the consumer’s need for healthier, better products, don’t listen to that voice that says, “But they are only marginally better.” Step forward and claim the credit you deserve.

Todd Maute headshot

Store brand industry veteran Todd Maute is a partner at CBX, the New York-based brand strategy and design agency. He works with clients across multiple channels of trade including grocery, pharmaceutical, mass, pet specialty, consumer electronics, convenience, office, home improvement, warehouse clubs, and auto parts supply. For more on CBX, visit:

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