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Store brands are becoming more popular during the pandemic

Kristin Schwab Feb 8, 2021
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The stigma of buying generic simply isn't there anymore, generally speaking. David Ryder/Getty Images
COVID-19

Store brands are becoming more popular during the pandemic

Kristin Schwab Feb 8, 2021
Heard on:
The stigma of buying generic simply isn't there anymore, generally speaking. David Ryder/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

More brand names are narrowing their product lines in the grocery store. Kraft Heinz is the latest to move to sell a big brand. It’s in talks to sell Planters, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s all part of a growing strategy among big brands to focus on its top-selling products as store brands, a growing industry, take a bigger hold of the market.

Mary Rysdale is a careful shopper. She compares unit cost instead of sale price. She drives an hour from her house in Southern California to go to Costco. And she prefers store brands. But there’s one item she won’t skimp on: toilet paper.

“I have certain brands that I really like, and unfortunately my politics of choice don’t always follow what my tush wants,” she laughed.

I received a lot of tweets and emails while working on this story from people saying they love copycat products from Trader Joe’s and Aldi. But there are also a few brand-name products you — or specifically, your kids — can’t live without.

Phil Lempert at supermarketguru.com said cereal is one aisle where copycats aren’t king. But he has some advice.

“Buy Fruit Loops, then buy the store-brand Fruit Loops when you’re out of it. Then put the store brand in the Fruit Loops box,” he said. “And the kids will never know the difference.”

The point is copycat products are much better than they used to be. And consumers are noticing. Last year, the private-brand industry grew almost 20%, while large national brands lost market share. That’s according to consumer insights firm IRI. Generics are now mainstream.

“That stigma isn’t there, that he can’t afford the real stuff so he has to buy the store brand. So it’s really changed,” Lempert said.

More people buy store brands during a recession. And during the pandemic, shoppers haven’t always had a choice when shelves go bare.

“Private labels always gain when people are forced to try them and then update their belief system, which makes them stick to them,” said Katrijn Gielens, a marketing professor at the University of North Carolina who researches retail and brands.

She said private labels will continue growing, though they do need name brands to crank out new products to keep playing copycat.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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