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WHAT’S IN STORE FOR PRIVATE LABEL?

Now that inflation is easing, we asked an expert what retailers can expect in 2024 — and where they’ll find the biggest opportunities for frozen and refrigerated growth.

Megan Shumaker

2023 was a banner year for private label, with own brand dollar sales (+5.3%) growing at nearly double the rate of national brands (+2.7%) and store brand units edging up 0.1% in the face of a 3.3% decline for national brands, according to Nielsen. But what about private label frozen and refrigerated products? We asked Megan Shumaker, director of category solutions at Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon, to share some thoughts on own brand performance in the two departments — and what retailers can expect in the coming year.

How did private label frozen and refrigerated categories do in 2023?

Across frozen categories, private brands are tracking ahead of national brands, with dollar sales up 4% (vs. national brands +1.7%). While units are soft across the department, private brands are again tracking more favorably than national brands, down just 2.2% vs. national brand decline of 4.8%. Notably, frozen private brands are gaining dollar and unit share, with dollars up 40 basis points, reaching 23.8% dollar share, and units up 50 basis points, reaching 24.9% unit share.

Across refrigerated categories…private brand unit share is up a healthy 90 basis points to 33.6%, while dollar share has remained relatively steady at 30.5%.

Shoppers want private brands to provide more affordable products with functional ingredients.

Is inflation the only driver behind private label’s recent success?

Inflation was certainly a catalyst to increased private brand trial, but it’s the decades-long build of strong and differentiated private brand portfolios that have contributed to a rise in consumer acceptance, [which] shifted to consumer demand.

In fact, the 2023 Daymon Private Brand Intelligence report shows:

  • 92% of shoppers trust private brands as much or more than national brands, up 3 percentage points from 2021.
  • 85% of consumers view private brand quality as equal to or better than national brands.
  • 94% of consumers view private brands as just as good or better than national brands in offering products that fit their lifestyles.

Notably, 83% of consumers also view private brands as the better value, and, interestingly, this is up 14 percentage points from 2021, highlighting widespread shopper recognition that private brands are better at meeting complex consumer value equations.

Since inflation is starting to ease — and prices may follow suit — do you think private label growth will slow or that store brands will lose share in 2024?

We expect private brand growth will remain strong, and we haven’t seen any indicators that private brands will lose share. In fact, knowing increased trial and private brand growth tends to hold, we expect the growth to continue, alongside distinct innovation and retailers leaning into bold flavors helping to drive purchasing. We also expect to see more retailers…considering 100% private brand solutions where they make sense.

Grocery inflation from the latest December CPI sits at just 1.3%, so the rise of food prices has stabilized com- pared to the peak of over 13% August of 2022. In fact, commodity driven dairy is in a state of price deflation, down 1.3%. However, prices are still higher than they were…. The most important factor to keep top of mind is consumer perception of price, and associated shopper behaviors. The halo effect of prices that rose sharply means we’re seeing [more] cost-conscious consumers motivated to find the best value — an aspect private brands foundationally deliver on.

Thanks to a variety of new item introductions, frozen chicken was one of 2023’s biggest private label gainers.

What frozen and refrigerated categories saw the most (unit) growth in 2023 and why?

Across frozen categories, we’re seeing the greatest private brand unit gains in frozen meat and dessert toppings. Private brand frozen chicken is driving gains with expanded offerings, moving beyond just nuggets by introducing new wings, seasoned chicken breasts, etc., and delivering on lifestyle needs, like gluten-free. These options are convenient, have longer perishability than their fresh counterparts, and are budget-friendly for families.

In refrigerated, private brands have shown the greatest absolute unit growth in cheese, eggs, cream/ non-dairy creamers, and butter/margarine/spreads. Al- though inflation has certainly played a role in shoppers shifting towards private brands for staples like cheese and eggs, private brands are also leading with innovation in categories like non-dairy creamers, executing against bold flavors and plant-based (oat, coconut, almond) options.

Perhaps more importantly, what frozen and refrigerated categories do you think will see the most growth this year and why?

We expect functional products and ingredients to continue proliferating across frozen and refrigerated categories… immunity, gut health, mental health and more. This includes the expansion of products that hit lifestyle needs like gluten-free, keto, or dairy-free (excluding Boomers, more than one in four shoppers is interested in dietary-specific private brands). Additionally, 35% of shoppers want private brands to provide more affordable products with functional ingredients, creating a landscape ripe for private brand innovation.

Are there categories where some retailers are missing the boat by not offering a full or proper assortment?

We’re seeing private brands successfully move into categories and products that have historically been dominated by national brands. With strong consumer trust and quality perceptions, private brands now have permission to find new ways to better meet specific consumer needs — and across tiers.

Retailers should invest in frequently shopped and convenience-driven categories, such as frozen fruit, frozen vegetables and refrigerated creamers…. Private brand solutions in [such categories] are easy wins that retailers should capitalize upon.

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